To harness the power of a diverse classroom, we must be deliberate in shaping our learning environment so that our various intercultural perspectives can complement and build on each other. Each time we engage with a new group of learners, there is an opportunity to learn from each other’s perspectives and reconcile expectations.
Starting with a combination of self-awareness and awareness of others leads to a renewed perspective on how we and others make meaning–helping us to make sense of our own values and assumptions and how they might be culturally similar or different from others’.
- Consider beginning a course, activity, or other learning experience with you and your students sharing stories about your experiences as learners and what you hope to gain from your learning experience together. What are your most memorable experiences that are relevant to the topic? How might those experiences connect with your hopes for the future? You can go first, setting the stage and helping participants get to know you a bit better. This exercise works well when learners talk in pairs to interview each other and then introduce their partner to the group. If you are concerned about time, this narrative exercise can also take place during an “introductions” discussion (within Canvas, if appropriate) or even a 1-minute paper that is shared privately with you.
- Consider other ways of teaching and learning beyond the methods most commonly used in your discipline. Dimitrov and Haque (2016) offer several examples of how educators can incorporate new perspectives on course material. One example is Winter’s (2007) use of social justice issues throughout advanced mathematical curricula to engage students and to illustrate how mathematics can be a tool for understanding the challenges faced by different societies and cultures.
- Demonstrate for students that there is a great deal of ambiguity involved in cross-cultural communication and let them practice appreciating cultural differences. A brief activity can illustrate how accepted norms for communication differ across cultures. For example, students can be asked to simulate what it is like to interact with someone who has different norms for conversational distance (e.g., standing too close or too far) or eye contact patterns. Debrief with a discussion of the affective, cognitive, and behavioral responses that occur when others violate your expectations for social interaction (Dimitrov & Haque, 2016).
Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A. (2016). Intercultural teaching competence: A multi-disciplinary model for instructor reflection. Intercultural Education, 27(5), 437–456.
Winter, D. (2007). Infusing mathematics with culture: Teaching technical subjects for social justice. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 111, 97–106.