Questioning space to see science as a world collaborative effort
Faculty of Science, Monash University
Jasmina Lazendic-Galloway is a staff member in the Faculty of Science at Monash who has committed to introducing content from different cultures into her curriculum. As an international student originally herself, Jasmina noticed that most of the examples used in the classroom of contributions made to science were west-centric. She feels that by highlighting the contributions made by other cultures to our scientific knowledge, we are able to make all people feel more included.
For instance, in astronomy, the subject that Jasmina teaches, there have been contributions of varying magnitude from all over the globe. What can be seen in the sky depends on your location on the globe, so astronomy naturally lends itself to this. However, Jasmina notes that all areas of science depend on a large amount of small contributions from all around the world. Though she warns against including different culture’s contributions for the purpose of tokenism, she states that if the contribution is truly meaningful, it will highlight that science is an international collaborative effort, and not just a product of the west. Allowing students from minority backgrounds to see contributions from those countries enables them to more easily visualise themselves in academic roles and industry.
Another method used by Jasmina to share diverse perspectives is class discussion. In these discussions, Jasmina aims to create a safe space for students to share their opinions on potentially controversial topics, such as ethics, without offending each other. One such area that she has found controversial with students in the past is the discussion around race and genetics in her astrobiology course. She highlights that students, though not offended, can be confronted by some of the facts in this discussion depending on their points of view, and therefore need to approach it from what she refers to as a “questioning space”. To do this, she employs role modelling. This involves her declaring her points of view and where they have come from. She highlights that no idea is necessarily better or worse, and that many issues are not clear cut. Arguments need to be defined precisely so as to ensure that all people are discussing the same thing. Moreover, she encourages her students not to bring emotion into their arguments. The aim is not to bring others down, but rather to learn from their perspectives.
She adds that technology is a useful aid to this discussion. She finds that extroverted students may be more than happy to contribute in class, whereas introverted students may remain quiet. The use of forums to continue the discussion after class has, in her experience, allowed the more quiet students to have their voices heard. They are also a great place in which to summarise the arguments made during the class.