Diversity and Inclusion

Day 3: How to Teach in a Global Classroom

Post written by guest author Dr Marina Iskhakova from the ANU College of Business and Economics
Image by sergign, downloaded from Envato

On Day 1, we acquired a core understanding of Cross-Culturally Responsive (CCR) philosophy while Day 2 equipped us with key CCR teaching strategies. Day 3 will focus on a sensitive dimension of CCR teaching – delivery.

Today, we will explore the key tactics, methods, and practices of teaching in a CCR classroom. In examining the four most critical areas for successful class delivery, we will consider some of the prevailing mistakes in these areas:

  1. Managing diversity in a classroom;
  2. CCR communications strategies;
  3. CCR feedback strategies; and
  4. Strategies for dealing with cross-cultural faux pas.

1. Managing diversity in a classroom

To manage diversity, educators need to first be aware of key cultural dimensions that characterise it. For example, are any of the following familiar to you (Hofstede et al., 2010; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2020)?

Students who are repeatedly and consistently told that their contributions and competencies are unworthy stop intellectually engaging in classroom interactions (Spencer et al., 1985, as cited in Holliday, 1985). To avoid this, and encourage students from diverse cultural backgrounds to reach their full potential, consider the following ways of managing diversity in your classroom:

  • Provide spaces and relationships where culturally diverse students feel recognised, respected, valued, seen, and heard.
  • Build confidence, courage, courtesy, compassion, and competence among students from diverse cultural backgrounds.
  • Be academically demanding, but personally supportive and encouraging.
  • Acknowledge social, cultural, ethnic, racial, linguistic, and individual differences among students without judgment.
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Discussion

Pick a key cultural dimension and tell us how you might take it into consideration in adapting your teaching.

2. CCR communication strategies

Similar to cultural dimensions, research identifies several communicative dimensions that CCR educators should be aware of (Hofstede, Trompenaars, Meyer). From this collective research, “Low-Context vs High-Context” has emerged as one the most important dimensions. “Low-Context” cultures expect the main meaning of a communication to be expressed explicitly in words. In contrast, “High-Context” cultures expect the main meaning to be hidden and read between the lines.

For example, in “Low-Context” cultures (e.g. Australia, Norway and Holland), the student who needs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the class just raises their hand and asks “can I go to the bathroom?”. However, in “High-Context” cultures (e.g. Japan, Brazil and Italy) it is not acceptable to ask in public to go to the toilet so the student raises their hand and asks, “can I go wash my hands?”.

Cross-culturally equipped educators can cater to various communications styles, including addressing the team rather than the individual where appropriate; keeping a comfortable level of formality, flexibility, and distance in communications; and understanding the various communication patterns across cultures.

3. CCR feedback strategies

The idea of what feedback is, how it is given, and how it will be received can be quite different across cultures. Expectations around feedback vary as follows:

Open, frank, direct and independent of context or circumstancevsHidden, between the lines, embedded in the context, polite, gentle, and vague
Bi-directional (educator provides feedback to the student and vice versa)vsFeedback is downwards-directed (only from the educator to the student; the latter has no right to speak out and must simply accept the feedback)
Part of the learning process, designed for improvement, and considered critical for learningvsThe final part of the conversation (if the educator provides negative feedback, it could mean removal of the student from class and even expulsion. The decision is final)
Transparent and objective (clearly written and shared in a timely manner)vsDeeply subjective (provided by the educator, manager, or head of the institution behind closed doors, often with a high influence of personal attitude to the recipient)
 
Click on the ( + ) sign to explore what the feedback process might look like in different countries.

Flag icons from Freepik, downloaded from flaticons.com

These examples highlight that the way you give feedback matters. It could propel a student’s learning forward or freeze any progress and lead to deeply hurt feelings which could, in turn, lead to disengagement with the course/lecture/topic of study, and even quitting altogether.

4. Strategies for dealing with cross-cultural faux pas

In one of my classes, I had a student who I believed to be Indian based on my observations of his appearance in terms of countenance, clothing, and mannerisms. Since we were discussing Indian business chains, I asked this student to provide commentary on his home country. He was silent for some time before apologising. He then shared that he was born in Singapore and has never been to India.

Then my time to apologise came …

 
Everyone makes mistakes; educators often more so than others. We are constantly exposed to a cross-cultural, dynamic, and changing environment where we react and respond in real time. While we cannot always prevent cultural faux pas, there are several steps we can take to minimise the likelihood of enacting one and correct our mistakes when they do occur.

First, do as much preparation as you can. Treat CCR teaching as you would your own research project.

Second, be aware of your assumptions and biases and work towards removing them. We recommend that you keep a diary, where you identify and list all current cultural biases you have and constantly work and reflect on your own conduct towards addressing and reducing those biases. This routine will help you to reduce the number of potential cultural mistakes you might make.

Importantly, if you do make a mistake, apologise, and then reflect on the mistake and learn from that. Through self-reflection, we can expand our bank of cultural knowledge, further expanding our cross-cultural competence map.

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Discussion

Have you experienced, or made, a cross-cultural faux pas? Were you aware of it at the time? How has this experience informed your approach to learning and teaching?

This concludes our introductory journey into CCR teaching! However, as practice is a very important part of this process, you are warmly invited to a very interactive and practical CCR Teaching Strategies Workshop where key strategies will be illustrated and practiced.

References

  • Hofstede, G., Hofstede G.J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed, McGraw-Hill Education, Sydney.
  • Holliday, B. G. (1985). Towards a model of teacher-child transactional process affecting Black children’s academic achievement. In Spencer et al. (Eds, Beginnings: he Social and affective development of Black Children (p 117-130), Hilllsade, NJ, Erlbaum.
  • Trompenaars, F., & Hampden-Turner, C. (2020). Riding the Waves of Culture, 4th ed, McGraw-Hill Education, London.

Additional Resources & Recommended Reading

  • Drese, G. (2019). My Culture and Me, Penguin Books, Melbourne.
  • Hofstede, G., Hofstede G.J., & Minkov, M. (2010). Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed, McGraw-Hill Education, Sydney.
  • Livermore, D. (2019). The Cultural Intelligence Difference, Amacom US, New York.
  • Meyer, E. (2014). The Culture Map, Public Affairs, New York
  • Thomas, D.C., & Inkson, K. (2009). Cultural Intelligence. 2nd ed, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco.
  • Trompenaars, F., & Hampden-Turner, C. (2020). Riding the Waves of Culture, 4th ed, McGraw-Hill Education, London.
  • Trompenaars, F., & Nijhoff Asser, M. (2011). The Global M&A Tango, McGraw-Hill Education.

12 thoughts on “Day 3: How to Teach in a Global Classroom

  1. Power Distance – or the attitude towards “authority” in the context of education is the most obvious observation in my interactions with students of different cultural backgrounds. Students from all cultural backgrounds are equally keen to learn. However, students born and educated in Australian tend to have more relaxed interaction with me asking questions and challenging my talking points in lecture and consultation. They would engage in feedback in two ways and try to argue for their work. Students born and educated in Asian cultures tend to be more intense in interactions and are reluctant to be critical of “authority” and tend to accept feedback as given.

    1. Hua, also Power Distance is the very visible dimensions, but at the same time the dimension that takes the longest – to adapt to. As the attitude to authority and the power distribution in the society is so much ingrained into us from the childhood, we act automatically right after assigning a status to the person. For Asian students Academic/Lecturer/Educator/Teacher/ always will be be a higher authority, with a higher distance between than comparing to more flat less-hierarchical societies. For example, I haven’t been living in Russia for the last 10 years, but still when I see Police in Canberra, I assume they have full power and it is better don’t interact with them just in case.

  2. It’s interesting to click through the various cultural norms of giving feedback. When I give feedback to students, written or verbal, I usually take a quite direct approach of negative feedbacks and of course I always emphasize their efforts and the strength of their work in the first place. I feel that this way makes the negatives more likely to be accepted and show them that I do care about how they perform. I used to have a training of giving effective feedback but not hurting students’ feelings. The strategies I learned from that workshop are quite practical and effective in terms of delivering my message across and genuinely helping students to improve their work. I find students of different cultural backgrounds would appreciate such approach of feedback that respects their work and provides actionable suggestions.

    1. Hua, so well done, thank you for sharing your fantastic experience and practices. I’d say providing efficient feedback is probably one of the most difficult dimensions in cross-cultural delivery. As cultural specifics interplays with individual specifics but also with the academic rigour and requirements. In some subjects – like humanity fields – flexible and broad feedback is possible, in math – not, only correct/or wrong. So then the way and time and format of feedback communications is starting playing a more important role there

  3. 1. Pick a key cultural dimension and tell us how you might take it into consideration in adapting your teaching.
    One aspect that I am interested in exploring is language-based, namely accepting that a great number of speakers of English are actually L2 (or L3, etc.) English speakers. While preserving academic integrity and quality, I am interested in exploring how we can better capture that reality in the way assessments in English are rated in our subjects. In other words, to what extent can we expect exquisite native-like writing and oral proficiency in L2 English speakers? I know there is research on L2-to-L2 communication, especially for world languages such as English, so I think this is a good opportunity.

    2. Have you experienced, or made, a cross-cultural faux pas? Were you aware of it at the time? How has this experience informed your approach to learning and teaching?
    Yes, in both ways, as teacher and as again student in an Anglo university. One issue I had once was mixing the names of some of my non-Anglo students, something I was mortified about because I know how annoying it is when non-Anglo name is misinterpreted. I apologised and made an effort to remember their names better for the following class. This may seem like a minor issue, but I think it helps in creating a more inclusive and welcoming learning environment.

    1. Manuel, thank you for sharing really great examples from your experience.
      I’d say because we don’t teach Language specifically (in all other disciplines, except Languages it is difficult to expect that students from different backgrounds will demonstrate “native” level standard in written language, because of that the diversity of assessments that doesn’t test only grammar and written style ( in Economics, Finance, Commernce, etc)but also math skills, creativity, problem solving, presentation skills, team work is getting more important.

      I really like your comment on names. I had idea for 5 years already to have mandatory foreign names workshop, so before the start of each semester we have “ZOOM workshop where professionals teach how to pronounce names of international students. May be ANU CLT could arrange one like that in the future – so each of us much more confident when it comes to names.

  4. Collectivism vs Individualism is the issue I have been trying to tackle in my teaching for the last few years (it is a bigger challenge that teaching during COVID-19). Students in computing have to learn to work in teams, then for their last assessment we ask them to detail what they learned and achieved individually. That is a legitimate question, as it is something they will have to do in their career. But I don’t really know how to teach students to work in a team while achieving as an individual. The best we have come up with is take them through the experience (click on my name for details).

    1. Tom, what a great assessments. May be one of the idea for the Team performance evaluation could be that 15% of mark goes to the level of individual progress, assessed as self-assessment. May be at the start a very clear set up of roles for team assignment, with very clear individual targets could motivate students to work hard individually and exceed expectations as a team as well. I.e. in soccer defence is training defence techniques to contribute to the team success.

  5. I have committed many cross-cultural faux pas. Those I remember most were to do with corporate culture, where working for a civilian government agency is different to the military and to a university. As an example, I was told everyone must be wearing a security pass in the government. So I stopped someone and questioned them. That they were in a military uniform should technically not make a difference, but was a faux pas (to such extent the person reminded me of the incident when we met again, 30 years later). After that I became more aware of how what people are wearing effects how they relate. So I will dress up for international audiences and down for local technical computer ones. In an extreme case I borrowed a uniform and a military helicopter, so the defence industry would listen to me (click on my name for a photo).

    1. That’s a real top level of demonstrating an ability to work efficiently across cultures!! A good learning here is that our mistakes, especially major mistakes teach us and make us more aware. So don’t be afraid of cross-cultural mistakes and also enjoy watching some HSBC lessons: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xJ_hbD4TQA

  6. Manuel, the question of assessing written expression is one I also worry about. While English is my only language, I have never been good at spelling and grammar, only just passing English at school. Perhaps this makes me more sympathetic to students. What helps in computing and engineering are templates for writing standard reports and explaining to students that simple direct wording is preferred. Unfortunately students tend to learn bad habits when they try to make their writing more academic.

  7. I was employed as a TA a couple of years back explicitly as part of the course convenor’s CCR strategy. He found that being a male convenor, and having a male TA meant that a number of the female international students simply wouldn’t/couldn’t approach them for individual consultations.
    My job was to be a stepping stone to reduce the Power Distance equation – young and female and friendly, and to help them approach the convenor directly if they wanted, or to solve their problems myself if preferred! It’s interesting to think that a gender blind approach in this case wouldn’t have met the students where they were at.
    I found myself making a cultural faux pas just two days ago! I was discussing something in a small group, and I said, ‘this is something [in the text] that would be foreign to us as Westerners, who think of religion as private and individual’, and even as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was excluding the Iranian migrant sitting to my left. It was a kick yourself moment, because if I had phrased it differently, it might have been a great opportunity to highlight the diversity of lived experiences of people around the group.

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