Intercultural Learning & Teaching/Trigger Scenarios

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Oil & Water[edit | edit source]

You have been teaching for a number of years to increasingly diverse student groups. You started off trying hard to create student groups that helped to mix internationals with local students. No matter what you tried they always seem to end up in their own culturally similar groups, especially when it comes to group projects when they need to meet outside class. You’ve discussed this with them several times over the years- each time similar excuses are cited by both groups:

  • We’d like to work more closely with them but often I can’t understand their English very well
  • They seem to want to stick together, we tried but they don’t seem very interested in mixing with us
  • (Locals say) Internationals sit back and take little initiative, making us do most of the heavy lifting

What can you do? What are the pros and cons?

Why Won’t They x%$#@ Talk?![edit | edit source]

You are teaching a group of Japanese university students who are here on a three week, intensive cultural exchange program. One of the selection requirements is that they have at least a conversational level of English language proficiency. They seem a little nervous, but are exceedingly polite and appear highly motivated to learn as much as they can while they are here. You do your best to speak slowly and clearly, explain any local language terms, make them feel welcome and to relax enough to discuss a range of cultural topics in the class.

Despite your repeated exhortations, however, after one week they still seem unwilling to answer your questions, to ask their own questions or to engage in any sort of class discussion. It is very difficult to know how much they are learning, whether you are meeting their expectations and how you can try to adjust your style to suit them better. You decide to be patient and wait for their confidence to grow as you get to know each other better.

A class size of about 20 allows you to learn most of their names. You use these to start calling on individuals for their personal reactions to particular ideas you feel sure they must be able to comment on. It is as if you have thrust them into the middle of the MCG on Grand Final day- each in turn visibly shrinks in their seats, displays signs of extreme discomfort and ultimately shakes their head slowly and apologises meekly.

What do you do & why?

I’m not a @#$%^ English Teacher[edit | edit source]

You are at home marking a pile of essays, about a quarter of which are by students from ESL background. The first few of these you correct closely, writing explanations about why they have breached conventional grammar, syntax and other expression issues. You realize that you cannot possibly assess all of the essays this intensively and feel frustrated and a little guilty that you are spending much more time on the internationals’ work. You want to be fair to all, including yourself, but find it very difficult to ignore expression errors.

How can you work out a feasible and fair way forward?

What do they @#$%^ expect?[edit | edit source]

You’re preparing for an international student graduate seminar program- the second time you’ve delivered it. Last year’s ‘Student Feedback on Subject’ (SFS) on Item 2 (‘The subject was well taught’) was only 3.2. This is below the critical 3.5 benchmark your Department considers an ‘acceptable minimum’. You need to identify what to change to do better.

On the surface, the students appeared to respond well to your efforts to make collaborative learning an important feature of the course. You allocated about one half of the contact time to collaborative work to consolidate course content and prepare for the assignments. There was a relaxed and informal atmosphere that everyone seemed to enjoy. You also feel like you bent over backwards to provide assistance when requested. The SFS results seemed to reflect this with a mean of more than 4/5 on the items:

In this subject, teaching staff showed an interest in the academic needs of the students.

I felt part of a group of students and staff committed to learning in this subject.

You know that the latest research and expert advice supports approaches that get the students more engaged in learning with and from each other. When you assessed their assignments you felt confident most students achieved the core learning objectives at a reasonable level.

At the end of the course, several students commented how much they enjoyed it, and how much they had learned through interaction with other students. It was the first time, they said, that they had been able to really get to know and work with other students, rather than simply sitting alongside each other while listening to a lecturer and making notes.

Nevertheless, according to department policy, the subject was not taught well enough. Of the handful of written comments in the feedback, one stung more than others:

I didn’t pay substantial fees to sit and listen to other students’ uninformed opinions.

What do you change, if anything and why?