Deepening Understanding of Multicultural Online Education: Teaching Presence for English Language Learners

Deepening Understanding of Multicultural Online Education: Teaching Presence for English Language Learners

Alex Kumi-Yeboah (University at Albany (SUNY), USA), Patriann Smith (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, USA), Guangji Yuan (University at Albany (SUNY), USA) and Christina Nash (University at Albany (SUNY), USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9582-5.ch019
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In the 21st century, online education provides an alternative instructional medium for teachers and students in United States educational systems and the world at large. Technology transforms how, when, and where students can learn, as well as the trends and use of instructional tools by students and teachers in the teaching-learning process. Online learning has developed during the past two decades to support traditional face-to-face classroom instruction and provides an opportunity for students to “interact with faculty and peers about substantive matters” (National Survey of Student Engagement, 2007, p. 7). The increase in minority students within U.S. schools has created a rise in socio-cultural, personal histories, educational, religious, and language/linguistic differences within the virtual classroom, requiring online instructors who teach in these contexts to be prepared to meet students' diverse needs. Despite the increase in online instruction, many questions remain unanswered with regards to how one group of minorities, particularly, English learners, adjust to instructional processes and teacher presence in an online learning environment. This chapter addresses the role of teacher presence in multicultural and online education, potential challenges of online learning for English learners, and teacher presence in multicultural online education.
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The population of minority students, and particularly, students classified as English language learners (ELLs) or English learners (ELs) has grown steadily in the past three decades. About 8.7 million United States children have at least one-foreign-born parent, a figure which has doubled since 1990. A recent survey of over 50 United States online learning program directors who belong to a consortium of colleges and universities that offer fully online university degree programs responded to a survey in October 2002 in which they projected that the proportion of their students enrolled in totally online courses would increase from 20.2% to 36.6% in the next few years, but that those enrolled in “blended” courses would increase at an even faster rate, from 7.6% to 21.1% in the near future. In addition, the percentage of public school students who are ELLs in the U.S. has increased. For example, the percentage of ELLs increased from 8.7% in 2003 to 9.1% in 2011/2012. In contrast, during the latter part of this period, between 2009 /2010 and 2011/2012, the overall percentage of ELLs remained about the same (National Center for Education Statistics, 2014). Reports show that foreign students enrolled in institutions of higher education in the United Stated increased from 547,873 in 2001 to 690,923 in 2009. This growing ELL population has drawn the attention of educators to offer suitable instructional strategies that meet ELLs’ learning needs. The large number of ELLs in U.S. schools requires urgency in education reform if U.S. schools are to provide equitable learning opportunities and environments. The growth of diversity among students’ population requires educators/institutions to seek and choose appropriate teaching methods and learning content in school, and to solve the cultural differences that exist between teachers and students who speak English as a second language (Taliaferro, 2011). During the past two decades, online instructors have attempted to teach to meet the needs of students in an increasingly diverse and inequitable society and interconnected world (Merryfield, 2001), but the questions of how mainstream classroom teachers can teach effectively in a multicultural learning environment continue to remain unaddressed. Despite long existing calls for mainstream teachers to change their beliefs, values, and attitudes toward English as a second language students (Clair, 1995), the problem persists even in the wake of new modes of teaching and learning in online education.

If language pedagogy and multiculturalism are to be leveraged successfully in the teacher education curriculum, and specifically, in educational technology courses, teachers and educators in all content areas must begin to demonstrate the rigor and systematic reflective teaching that allows for re-examination of their own beliefs and practices (Major & Brock, 2003). Several researchers such as Bandura (1982), Gay (2000), and Nieto (2000) contend that the cross-cultural perceptions, beliefs and behaviors of classroom teachers can negatively affect the academic and social development of their students. Research indicates further that these beliefs and behaviors are instilled early in one’s personal life (Richardson, 1996).

Technology educators responsible for inculcating the ideals of multicultural education can foster the kind of dedication necessary for facilitating educational experiences in which all students have equitable opportunities in a digital classroom. In this context, ‘digital equity’ is taken to mean ensuring that every student, regardless of socioeconomic status, language, race, geography, physical restrictions, cultural background, gender, or other attribute historically associated with inequities, has equitable access to advanced technologies, communication and information resources. Sufficient evidence is available (e.g., Beckett et al., 2003; Brown, 2004a; Damarin, 1998; Merryfield, 2001; Orly, 2007; Roblyer, et al., 1996; Sleeter & Tettagah, 2002; Wassell & Crouch, 2008) to reflect the ways in which technology is associated with multicultural education. Much of this literature indicates that professionals consists primarily of monolingual, middle-class European American females who may lack the requisite background knowledge, skills, and dispositions to teach effectively children from racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse backgrounds in traditional classrooms (Cummins, 1994; Gay, 2010; Howard, 1999; Nieto, 1999), and by extension, in online instructional mediums.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Learning Resources: Any digital material used for supporting student learning that is delivered in multiple delivery models.

Online Learning: Education in which instruction and content are delivered primarily over the Internet. ( Watson & Kalmon, 2005 ) The term does not include printed-based correspondence education, broadcast television or radio, videocassettes, and stand-alone educational software programs that do not have a significant Internet-based instructional component. (U.S. Department of Education Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development Policy and Program Studies Service, 2010) Used interchangeably with Virtual learning, Cyber learning, e-learning.

Distance Education: General term for any type of educational activity in which the participants are at a distance from each other--in other words, are separated in space. They may or may not be separated in time (asynchronous vs. synchronous).

English Language Learners or ELLs: Students who are unable to communicate fluently or learn effectively in English, who often come from non-English-speaking homes and backgrounds, and who typically require specialized or modified instruction in both the English language and in their academic courses.

Multicultural Education: A progressive approach for transforming education that holistically critiques and addresses current shortcomings, failings, and discriminatory practices in education. It is grounded in ideals of social justice, education equity, and a dedication to facilitating educational experiences in which all students reach their full potential as learners and as socially aware and active beings, locally, nationally, and globally. Multicultural education acknowledges that schools are essential to laying the foundation for the transformation of society and the elimination of oppression and injustice (Banks, 2004)

Distributed Learning: Any learning that allows instructor, students, and content to be located in different locations so that instruction and learning occur independent of time and place; often used synonymously with the term “Distance learning.”

Distance Education Course: Any course offered at a distance. See “Distance education.”

Diversity: Used to communicate a term inclusive of historically marginalized sociocultural educational discrepancies associated with race, ethnicity, social class, gender, religion, languages (other than English), and sexual orientation.

Synchronous Learning: Online learning in which the participants interact at the same time and in the same space.

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