How to support learning in a diverse classroom
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How to support learning in a diverse classroom

Karima Ramji (International coordinator, UVic
Co-op and Career Services): I would say that given the diverse cultural backgrounds of
the students that are in the classroom, one of the first things lecturers can think about
is get a better understanding of the cultures that these students come from. And that will
then enable them to be able to strategize and determine “how do I make their classroom
experience most effective?” With the four dimensions of cultural intelligence: the motivation,
the knowledge, the strategy and the behaviour, I think those fit in really well when it comes
to thinking about “how do I interact with my students more effectively?” Because if
this student comes from a certain culture, and the instructor is aware of the cultural
norms from where they come, then they are able to plan out their lectures in a way that
they are acknowledging those different cultures, as well as making sure that the students are
comfortable with the cultures that they are engaging with. So then the instructor has
the ability to say “what will this student be comfortable with? And how can I tailor
my lessons so that they are able to contribute and gain from that experience? We saw an example of that in the session this
morning, where one of the faculty members asked about how to help students who might
be coming from a culture that’s very
high power distance. So coming from a culture where the role of the student and the role
of the professor – there is a big gap between those two roles. And you come from a culture
where you wouldn’t question that, you wouldn’t put your hand up or engage, because that could
be seen as disrespectful of the professor or questioning the professor. So from the
perspective of the faculty member, it may seem like the student isn’t engaging. It
might be that the student is falling behind, but the professor doesn’t know, because
the student isn’t asking questions and the professor can’t determine that. And in the
session today some of the students who are from that kind of culture gave some very helpful
suggestions to that faculty member about how to best manage that. Their suggestion was
to take those students aside, in private, quietly, do it alone and not in front of the
whole class so there isn’t any exposure or embarrassment in front of the group. And
that’s an effective way to get the check-in that you want, as an instructor, to be effective,
but also in a way that supports and respects the culture that’s in the classroom. The Foreign Affairs website has a section
called the Centre for Intercultural learning. And in there, someone could explore what certain
norms are in various countries. And so if you picked a certain country, you would see
what the management style is like, what is conversational style like, what is the dress
code, how do people greet each other. So that is a good way to get a good understanding
of what are the social and cultural norms for that particular context. That can give
an instructor a really good basis to start. I think there is a lot of literature out there
on cultural intelligence that people can read about. There are articles on how to work with
students in different contexts, which can be very helpful as well. I imagine various
teaching and learning centres might centres of resource and support, and I think that
would depend on the institution. I know at the University of Victoria, we’ve had a
Learning Without Borders program, which has been offered through the learning and teaching
centre here, which supports the internationalization of the campus and the curriculum. And we received
some seed money with a grant from that program which helped us further our work in cultural
intelligence – so that’s been another place of resource and support and might exist
on other campuses as well.

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