Fighting our Implicit Biases (CTL Report #1)

I attended the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) workshop titled Difference in the Classroom on October 28th, 2019. The description for this workshop is below:

“This workshop is facilitated by Kim Turner, Director of The Multicultural Resource Center at UNC Charlotte. The real-life implications of implicit biases can create invisible barriers to opportunity and achievement for some students — a stark contrast to the values and intentions of educators and administrators who dedicate their professional lives to their students’ success. This workshop will focus on understanding our lens, and dissecting implicit bias and its effects in the classroom. This workshop counts towards the Essentials of Teaching and Learning Certificate.”


Here is my reflection on this workshop. : )

To summarize what I’ve learned in this workshop: we all have implicit biases whether we like it or not. However, there are ways to unlearn these biases. The first step is to simply become aware that they exist so that something can be done.

What is implicit bias?

Implicit bias refers to “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner” (“Understanding Implicit Bias”). These biases cultivate in our subconscious and have formed over time due to society and our environments.

Implicit biases are very real.

Once again to emphasize: implicit biases occur in our subconscious and we often don’t even realize we have them.

We watched this video below — one episode of What Would You Do? (WWYD) — where we see bike thieves of different races and genders, and the bystander’s very different reactions to them.

For the first bike thief shown (a white male) many people ended up helping him get the bike, even if some were a little bit hesitant. However, when the show brings in a black male to become the bike thief, things are immediately different despite both actors behaving the same way and having the same reason for attempting to cut the bike loose (losing their keys). Some bystanders even threatened to call police and took his photo. But the show doesn’t end there. They bring in a third actor, an attractive woman, and we then see how quick to help some of the bystanders are.

What I noticed throughout all of these scenarios was that when the bystanders discovered they were on WWYD and were asked about their actions, most of them claimed that their behaviors had nothing to do with race or gender. Those who helped the white male and female stated that they would have helped anyone. However, those who confronted the black male and even threatened to call police talked about the importance of keeping the neighborhood safe and that they, too, would have done the same if they saw anyone else appear to be stealing a bike.

The actions of all three actors were the same. But the people’s responses to them were very different.

And no one thought they had any biases. They thought they “would have done the same for anyone” regardless of the situation.

How can we avoid biases in teaching?

As mentioned, the first step is simply knowing that these biases exist. Once we accept and become aware that they are there, then we can start taking the steps to take action against them. We want to look long and hard for these potential biases so that we can figure out what to do about them.

One thing that was discussed during the workshop was the potential for these biases to affect grading. For example, if we know that a student is a “good” student and oftentimes gets good grades, we may be more likely to pass over their assignments while grading in the future and pay less attention to details since we already expect good work. This is something that I realized I was very guilty of while TA’ing and grading students’ programming projects. One way to help avoid this would be to use a feature of the Canvas speed-grader that was mentioned — this feature hides students’ names so that the instructor (or TA) can keep assignments anonymous while being graded.

In conclusion…

I definitely enjoyed this workshop and it made me think about things that I hadn’t realized previously. Again, just knowing that implicit bias exists and its implications is a step in the right direction. I hope to use this knowledge in the future whenever I begin teaching so that I can do my best to give students a learning environment that is fair to everyone.

As a side note, this also reminded me of the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell on many of the unconscious, mental process that happen without us even realizing it.

Have a good day!~ 🙂


Resources

“Understanding Implicit Bias.” The Ohio State University. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, 2015. http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/. Accessed 25 Nov. 2019.

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