Growing up in a male-dominated family, I have been struggling with significant questions related to self-identity for many years, particularly since I started pursuing my higher education at the age of 17. Although I became one of the youngest lecturers of computer sciences in a Chinese university at the age of 23, I still struggled between the distorted, constrained self the society and my family imposed on me (being an easy, fun young lady, living with a stable job), and the real-self entrenched inside of me (which was still vague to me at that time). It is the experience of the preparation for my PhD applications, and the pursue of my PhD degree in US, that has given me a chance to critically understand the tension and contradiction, and to reflect on my fears, doubts, and hopes in my life. Through 5-year of hard working, exploring possibilities, and self-reflection during my PhD journey, I ultimately grow up with an inner peace, recognizing a significant part of my true self without self-judgment – enjoy myself, being resilient, working hard and letting things unfold naturally. I particularly thank the inclusive, supportive, non-judgmental environment my PhD program has provided that has helped me seed a spirit within myself: being myself, enjoy what I do, and do my best without expectations. Because of my experiences, I truly understand how important it is to providing a warm, inclusive, supportive environment that can empower learners to pursue learning in the way they enjoy.
In addition, the research experience on a gender analysis research of female scholars’ publications within educational technology journals has enhanced my awareness regarding inequality and difference in the field of Educational Technologies (ET). The results of this study demonstrate that although female publishing rates continue to increase over time, there remains discernible disparity in women’s representation in scholarly publishing in the ET-related journals. We concluded that women in the field also need to be more visible as a means to provide diversity of perspective and to serve as role models for female doctoral students and colleagues (Scharber, Pazurek & Ouyang, 2017). As I recalled similar experiences of invisibility when I worked as a female scholar in the field of Computer Sciences, I realized that gender disparity within technology-related fields is consistently a common topic all around the world. I, as a female minority scholar in ET, should make efforts to nurture genuine communities with the inclusivity, self-awareness, vulnerability, commitment, openness, freedom, and equality.
Acknowledging the importance of community building, I strive to experiment and develop relevant pedagogical strategies in my classes. Informed by my research, one primary goal of my teaching during my PhD is to create interactive, collaborative, engaged learning, where students and I can become co-creators of supportive learning communities, co-constructors of knowledge, and co-facilitators of inquiry and learning. I have experimented with multiple strategies in my teaching practices. To forge a closer connection between curriculum development and student learning goals, I have used several “role-sharing” strategies, such as inviting students to co-construct syllabi and class guideline, asking students form learning facilitation groups to design and lead class sessions, and giving students the right to form and disband small groups in terms of emerging goals. In this way, students are empowered to not only take responsibility for their own personalized learning by reflecting on prior knowledge and setting new learning goals, but also take initiatives for collaborative learning by planning learning agendas, designing and facilitating group activities. In addition, to help students become more critical and reflective, I encourage them keep a “critical learning moments” journal (Brookfield, 1995) to reflect on their own learning. I asked students to reflect on questions like this: “How does learning and inquiry differ when you interact and collaborate with your peers online?”, to help them become more aware of their learning preference and style in different learning situations. Moreover, in addition to using summative assessment, I have integrated more authentic and dynamic assessment strategies, such as asking students to propose research purposes and questions and make self-assessments on research projects, using the peer-review process in a writing-intensive course and making group assessments based on students’ self-reflection of their group collaboration.
In addition, as a foreign, minority student, I understand the importance of equal participation and the difficulty students sometimes face in class participation. I strive to apply strategies to engage students from all backgrounds and encourage equal participation in face-to-face discussions. Several strategies I have learned from transformative learning books and have applied in my teaching practices are: (a) providing readings from contradictory points of view to stimulate student dialogue from different perspectives, (b) developing discourse procedure within the group at the beginning of the class, (c) asking group members to take roles of checking the direction and procedure of the discourse, and ensuring equal participation of each member, (d) avoiding dismissive statements or definitive summaries at the end of discussions, (e) encouraging quiet time for students’ self-reflection within any discussion exchange (Cranton, 2006). These attempts have helped improve students’ engagement on elaborating different perspectives, and help me keep a good balance between discussion management and nurture of inclusivity and democracy. I strive to nurture an inclusive learning environment where diverse perspectives, needs and goals from students are recognized, respected, valued, and seen as a source of strength.
In summary, I am very committed to providing an inclusive, equitable, democratic learning environment that empowers both learners and educators to pursue learning. I hope through my teaching, research and service, I can make contributions to class and school community building, helping students interact and collaborate with each other, nurture mutual empowering, and make a long-term commitment to well-being (their own, one another’s, and the group’s). I know this is a high call. I will consistently study, experiment, and develop strategies in my teaching, research, and service practices that can provide respect for and engagement with diversity in the class, foster positive learning experiences and outcomes through respecting difference in the class, and enhance diversity, openness, inclusivity in class and school communities.