May. 31st, 2016

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I believe that as educators, we have a profound duty to do the best job possible for all those who might learn from us. We are creating the world through our actions. We influence our learners by our example, and we can both give marginalized people space and help privileged people understand more about experiences outside their own.

When selecting learning materials, and when writing your own, please consider the impact of your choice of examples. Of course you want your examples to be clear and illustrative, but there is more than that. Try to select examples from a variety of human activities. Pick relatively un-gendered activities wherever possible. If you do pick gendered activities, I recommend using the unexpected gender first for the domain at hand. If it's a math book, make your first example cooking. If it's a knitting book, make your first example hockey gear. There is no particular need to gender either cooking or hockey, but most people upon hearing "cooking" will think of a woman before a man, and vice versa when they hear "hockey".

I also recommend examples that are applicable to the largest percentage of the population possible. If you are describing an experience, try to pick one most people can relate to. If you are teaching a class in North America, there is a fairly good chance that most people know something about driving cars, but there is an even better chance that your students know something about finding objects in a cupboard. If you are making online learning materials, cupboards may not be a universal experience. Try not to make assumptions about common experiences, especially emotionally fraught ones like immigration. First Nations people never immigrated to Canada, many African Americans are descended from people brought to No as slaves, etc.

The language used to describe examples also matters. If you are describing people, try to use neutral terms that are not based on stereotypes of race or gender or economic class. Try not to use objectifying language, like describing the sexual attractiveness of a woman. I think it's generally better to use animals or plants for categorization examples, but if you must use humans, use relatively neutral characteristics like height or shoe size.

Remember, your goal is maximal learning for as many students as possible. :)


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Jessamyn Smith

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