Culture in the Classroom: Final Session Summary

Our final meeting for the Culture in the Classroom series took place on November 20th.  Although this was our last meeting, in some ways it felt like we were just getting started.  Clearly, eight hours spread across four sessions was only enough to scratch the surface.  Many participants indicated that they would have liked to have had more time to go deeper and explore more of the theoretical and pedagogical issues that arose during our time together.  For this reason, we continue to ask ourselves as facilitators how to best meet the needs of faculty, staff and students interested in continuing the dialogue and growing their skills working with international students here at VIU.  One idea is to have longer, or more sustained interaction, with students as members of the group too.  As an educational developer, I continue to ask myself how we can involve students, so integral to our processes, in our workshops, series, and seminars.

We started this session with a recap of World VIU Days, and as expected, many participants took in at least one event.  Participants described how they participated and their impressions of the events and of the week.  Some participants had attended the final international talent show and described the incredible energy in the upper cafeteria as many different students from many different places showcased their talents.  Other highlights included the Jackson Kagiri talk(s) and the Italian cooking demonstration.

We also discussed the upcoming Learning at Intercultural Intersections Conference at Thompson Rivers University on March 11-13, 2015.  See for details.  Anyone interested in attending is encouraged to contact Kathleen Bortolin for more information.

From there, we decided to take an appreciative inquiry approach to discuss the ways in which working with international students benefits us and the students with whom we work.  During the previous session we focused on pedagogical challenges and solutions to working with a range of learners, and this discussion left us wanting to move away from a “what are the problems” (deficit-orientation) to a more “what’s working” (benefit-orientation) look at working with international students.  In a partner-rotation exercise, we shared stories of how working with international students had affected our pedagogy and our selves.  It was an important reminder of the power of positive reflection.

Finally, we divided into groups and encouraged participants to brainstorm criteria for a culturally inclusive classroom.  We were wanting to canvas the group for this list as a way of creating some guidelines for faculty, staff and students at VIU.  In this way, we likened the list to a JOB AID, or set of guiding principles for faculty and staff working with international students.  The first draft of those criteria includes:

1.       Instructor has to have openness to other perspectives/ ways of knowing/thinking beyond conventional categories.

2.       Instructor hesitates to make assumptions/is able to critically reflect on assumptions.

3.       Instructor collects data and information on students and where possible adapts accordingly (e.g. how do you learn best).

3.       Flexible teaching style.

4.       Making connections with students and between students – getting to know students (gathering data and debriefing results of a survey or questions with whole class).

5.       Students and instructor have an awareness of their own cultures and opportunities to explore this awareness are incorporated into class.

a.       Culture and diversity are discussed in class, and connected to course concepts and themes.

6.       There is an awareness of culture/context of a variety of educational settings/cultures.

7.       See all students as students and scholars; not just “Saudi” or “German”.

8.       Appreciate all students for their existing potential skills/ability and knowledge.

9.       Consider cultural diversity in the choice of resources used to convey concepts and themes (case studies, visuals, photos, names).

10.   Create am opportunity for reflection and adding cultural context.

11.   Flexibility in assignments/choice in assignments.

12.   Not holding the expectation that a student could or would represent a whole country, culture, or people.

This list is not finished, and we’d like to continue to shape it with more voices, especially of students, domestic and international, as we move toward considering deeply how inclusive our classrooms are, and for whom.

We wanted to finish the session by asking participants what they would take away from the series, but our discussion of the above criteria took us right to the end.  But I can reflect on what I take away from the series, and that is that our work is only just beginning.  It was great to see such enthusiasm and participation in a series we have never offered before and clearly members of our community are invested in continuing to enhance their inclusive pedagogies.  There appears a desire to go even deeper, however, and have richer conversations around some of the themes and concepts that we touched upon in this series.  Personally, I would like to see this series offered again but with students, both domestic and international, included.  I would like to witness what happens when these ideas are taken up and deepened through participatory dialogue with the very group we seek to serve–students.  I would like to see our offerings, especially around diversity and inclusion, open to faculty, staff and STUDENTS because I believe that’s where even more empowering, transformative change will unfold.

So stay tuned…

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