Monday, October 20, 2008

Cultural Diversity

Flexible teaching and learning practice along with sustainability issues is now at the forefront of my thoughts when developing or redeveloping courses within the design school (funnily enough!) and I have begun to note more consciously how our international students manage within our programme and context as well.
We dont have many international students enrolled however most are from an Asian background with english as a second language. We have exchange students from IED design schools from Italy and currently two from Spain so the issue of language, cultural differences and understanding are ongoing.
It has recently become more clear to me that the language barrier is sometimes much greater than realised as are the actual cultural references for these students and the difficulties they have in integrating into our context. It has generally been expected and accepted by these international students that they will mostly "fit in" to our programme with support from the International Dept as required. This tends to mean these students often achieve at a lower level and the time and energy required by tutors is far greater than with regular students.
We are mostly working with conceptual and design development paradigms that are often very unfamiliar to these students and extremely hard to explain verbally. I have found visuals and examples of student work to be the best form of explaining complex ideas but have recently wondered about converting some of my PPs and resources to another language or providing other language alternatives - will investigate this further.
Modelling of best practice and making excellent examples of course requirements available is key. I have considered using other students within the class as mentors for the international students however am afraid this will put undue stress on the other students. Sometimes the mentoring process happens as a matter of course especially within group projects although the frustration of miscommunication is at times obvious. More regular formative feedback for these students would be an advantage too.
Another tool for better communication would be to have international students talk about their own experiences as part of a formal class reflection session.
Overall I can see this is an area to work on as currently I believe that many, but not all, international students appear to be at a disadvantage within our current teaching and learning contexts and delivery.


Brian Barker said...

Language barrier?

Perhaps there is a case for Esperanto after all.

An interesting video can be seen at

Leigh Blackall said...

In one of the other courses I run: Facilitating Online Communities, I stay in touch with the internationals and ask their help in explaining things. Some of my course outline and key resources has been translated into Spanish and Mandarin, which may turn out to be a great help. I also wonder if I may be able to develop teaching networks around various subject areas where I can offer support for native English speakers studying in countries where it English is not the language being used, and same the other way (and probably more likely) that the teachers I network with internationally may be able to offer support to students I take locally who's first language is not English.

To a small degree this has already happened in the Facilitating course. A Chinese colleague of mine (same one who has translated some of my materials for use in his own courses) is currently communicating with a student in my course who is based in Manakau, and who's native language is Mandarin. She is getting help with one of her assignments.

All that is a long term suggestion for you to consider.

Another suggestion I might make is to remove the word "Asian" from our vocabulary (I know its just an habitual expression). You are specific on nationality when you speak of your Spanish and Italian students - who you might call Europeans, but it wouldn't be of any use right? Similarly, being specific as to what Nationality, language and cultural values your students from the continent of Asia carry might be of more use.

Great to see you back online and progressing with DFLP Tracy.. The cut off date for this year is fast approaching though... I think it was November 11 right?