Amidst a global pandemic and Malaysia’s first lockdown in March 2020, the disruptions forced me, as an educator, to rethink, shift, and implement immediate changes to my teaching methods. I was anxious about what I was to do with my classes and students. I knew I needed to change my teaching methods, but how would I do that exactly, and what would my classes look like in such new and strange settings?
I knew I had to start with a blank slate, so I listed down a set of intentions for my classes, one of which is called Arts and Society in Malaysia. This was a large class of 80 students, but I was determined to make a conscious effort to build a class community with my students. Simultaneously, I wanted the Arts and Society class to connect important elements of Malaysian history, culture, and even politics, to local artistic practice. I also wanted my students to understand how a variety of artistic expressions like film, music, visual arts, and theatre could be intricately connected to Malaysia’s history and everyday life. The topics we were to cover in class would include — but were not limited to — Malaysia’s alternative histories, the National Culture Policy, indigenous communities, and artistic resistance. I was aware that many of the topics broached would seem “sensitive” to many students given that these were subjects not often discussed, let alone taught, in schools. Enter Diversity by Default (DBD).
At the height of the pandemic in 2021, I was invited to participate in a series of DBD
playtests over Zoom. Despite physical limitations, I was amazed to discover how groups of
strangers were brought together through a series of thought-provoking questions to stimulate meaningful and respectful conversations. I was struck by the depth of conversations my playtest group had about topics like nationality, race, and culture; I knew that I had discovered an important tool that I would soon adapt for my classes.
Following the playtests, I began to incorporate a handful of DBD questions into my pre-
recorded lectures to encourage students to articulate their personal views. For instance,
during a week when the class learned about Malaysia’s left-wing struggle for independence,
I adapted a DBD question on visibility to get students to reflect about Malaysia’s national
narrative: What in Malaysia is not visible to you? What do you wish you could see clearly?
In another pre-recorded lecture on indigenous communities in Malaysia, I posed these modified DBD questions to them: What is the biggest misconception people have about indigenous communities in Malaysia? Which aspect of indigenous struggle do/did you have difficulty explaining or accepting?
Students were tasked to summarise their learning points before connecting them to their
personal views in the form of weekly written responses. They then posted their reflections on a shared class platform, where I would respond to each of their submissions. While time consuming, this written exercise enabled everyone in the class to learn from a variety of viewpoints and observations — the students’ as well as my own.
During online class meets held over Zoom, I continued to utilise DBD-inspired questions to
encourage real-time discussions. Given the large class size, I utilised an app called Mentimeter that allowed students to participate in polls, create word clouds, and respond to open-ended questions. This allowed students to respond to questions anonymously, creating a safe space without losing the ability to gain insights from their thoughts and opinions.
During the final week of class, I gave my students the opportunity to reflect on the module as a whole. I wanted them to individually process what they had learned from the class material, from their friends’ written responses, and from the DBD questions that had been posed to them in pre-recorded lectures and class meets. These are a selection of student responses:
I did so much research, diving deeper after every class. Reading my classmates’
reflections every week gave me so much insight into what people’s perceptions of
the country are.
The class taught me a lot about the other sides of things and the views of those who were actively part of the scenarios that had occurred in the past. This class felt very informative and useful, especially the aspect of always looking at the other side
of the story.
This six-week module was filled with a series of diverse topics to help us reflect on how art and society are not mutually exclusive. It turned out to be way more interesting than I could ever imagine…I am really grateful to have been part of this journey and I express my most sincere gratitude to Miss Christine for making this class (which could have easily been a dud) an amazing experience, and for encouraging us to savour the questions rather than long for the answers.
I attribute many of these positive responses to the questions contained within DBD that
enabled students to articulate their thoughts and open their minds to a variety of viewpoints.
While DBD was not played in its typical small group setting of 4-6 players, the incorporation of this game into my classroom demonstrates the capability and relevance of DBD to foster critical thinking and build communities within a variety of classroom frameworks. Needless to say, DBD will continue to be a staple in my classes.
Christine May Yong is Programme Leader of the BA (Hons) Contemporary Music (Audio
Technology) programme at Sunway University, Malaysia. She teaches a variety of subjects
including Arts and Society in Malaysia, Malaysian Music, and World Music. Very recently, she was recipient of the university’s 2022 Award for Excellence in Teaching.