Higher Ed: The Biases We Bring To Information And Learning (They're Complicated)

Jan 13, 2019

Many external factors can impact the quality and effectiveness of a learning experience: the teacher; the other students in a class; the school's resources; even the student's surroundings and home. But what about the internal factors? In this episode of KUT's podcast "Higher Ed," Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton discuss the biases learners themselves bring to the information and process.

This episode was inspired by an experience Ed had in the classroom not too long ago. He had given the students a quote with some pretty declarative and forceful language and asked the students to discuss it and try to figure out who said it. As the students puzzled through who the speaker might be, Ed noticed something interesting.

He had given them a quote from Helen Keller, and Ed describes it as a "very strong quote, it was a very forceful quote; it was a quote that was about positivity, but it was strong.....While the conversation was going on, they [the students] themselves gave a gender to the individual," says Ed. "My students kept saying 'well, he meant this and he meant that.'"

Ed says gender was not the only metric students used to process and evaluate the quote.

"People thought this must be coming from an individual who is not a force of good in their mind's eye," says Ed, referring to the strong language of the quote, "and so therefore said 'I don't like the quote that much.' The moment that some of them discovered that Helen Keller said this, then all of a sudden they looked at it again and said ' Oh, well, now I actually get it and I like it.'"

Bias based on perceptions of gender or authorship are just some of what learners bring to the table in and outside of the classroom.  Listen to the full episode to hear more about bias and context and Ed's provocative question "Is it possible that we can find interesting or good elements in people that maybe we don't completely agree with, and how does that complicate the discussion or the conversation?"

It is also time for the solution to last week's puzzler about slicing and dicing. Don't worry -  it's a piece of cake!

This episode was recorded on Dec. 4, 2018.

For all of the Higher Ed episodes, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes here.