How to build dispute resolution practices into your digital learning

“Conflict is inevitable; combat is optional”

Max Lucado

Whether it’s developing a syllabus, building a Canvas site, or navigating online platforms for teaching and work, differences in perceptions and expectations arise over time between (and among) users and developers. Many resources exist on campus and in the CSU to settle disputes between students, staff, and faculty. However, principles derived from conflict-management systems design can reduce the chances of conflict escalating into combat. The Ombuds Office is here to help.

There is no better time to engage ombuds help than next week as organizations and governments worldwide celebrate Ombuds Day on October 12, 2023!

Here are some principles to consider in the meantime:

  • Regularly acknowledge that differences in understanding will arise and that it’s okay. Then, when differences do arise, acknowledge that it is normal and that you are hopeful about resolving differences fairly.
  • Understand that feelings of exclusion and incivility often arise from accumulated interactions vs. one defining incident. Express a desire for early intervention, even if the particular interaction at issue seems relatively trivial.
  • Develop (collectively if possible) a set of guiding principles that support expectations of respect. Focus on specific behaviors that enhance feeling included and valued. Make clear that these are guidelines for aspirational behavior and not job or class requirements.
  • Express that “lost in translation” moments will happen in your communications and that you want to improve. Normalize pausing to address these moments when you sense them and invite feedback when you don’t. Express an openness to providing clarification. Apologize for any harm experienced that you may have caused, even if unintentional or seemingly small, and from your perspective.
  • Build in mechanisms for reducing the impact of everyone’s implicit biases, knowing that implicit biases always infect discretionary judgments involving human beings to some degree. In designing mechanisms to minimize unintentional discrimination, seek input from people with identities from historically marginalized groups when possible. Take care not to make them de facto “spokesperson,” however.
  • Create simple templates for raising issues and sharing them with you, perhaps via a link on a webpage.
  • Add a link to the Ombuds Office in your digital platforms.

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