donderdag 21 oktober 2010

ISSOTL2010: keynote on transcultural education

At the moment I am at the ISSOTL (International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching & Learning) conference, where I will present the results of Abdullah Almodaires' PhD study on Technology-Supported Reflection in Kuwait. I will tell more about this in a next post.

The interesting part of this conference is that it is not "just about teaching and learning" (which is in itself interesting enough), but special attention is payed to cultural diversity. Several presentations are about learning in different cultures and learning across cultures. At this moment Jude Carroll of Oxford Brookes University is doing her keynote presentation about "Learning across cultures: opening our minds as well as our doors". She works on the Teaching International Students project (2009-2011). She states that
- there are differences in academic cultures and in learning approaches
- we need to learn from flows of people and ideas across cultural academic traditions
and she wants to do that with a "transcultural" approach in contrast to a cross-cultural approach.

Before she moves on with her presentation she stops... and asks us if we already know what she wants to tell us, what the structure of her presentation will be..
We think we do, but Jude explains that it really depends on the "lens" that you have, it depends on your academic culture. It would be interesting to "reverse the lens" and see that, even though you would use the same words, there will be different meanings and practices. But it is very difficult to reverse the lens. Everyone is used to his or her own culture. But one of the reasons to try to do this is because different views are quickly translated as "binary" or "opposite". And when you are working with people from other cultures it might be a good idea to avoid this. And.. as Jude says... we should avoid the idea that "west is best"..

I think this is very interesting in relation to our own master program. We have Dutch students, but also students from Africa and Asia. And yes, there are differences between these students. They are used to other forms of education, other forms of communication, etc. And we are labelling the students from other countries as "international students", which really makes them different. But everyone is international! But we are making a difference and we are labelling students.

Can we do something about it? One of the solutions that Jude mentions is that we as a teacher have to make the learning practice more explicit: explain the rules of the game and assisting the international students to become skillfull "players" of the academic game of the other country. We have to work with students "as a source of mutual adaptation". And that is were the term "transcultural" comes from. How do we do this?
- recognizing and valuing other academic and cultural practices
- see students as bearers of culture, not bearers of problems
- keep the dialogue open
I would be very interested in hearing from our "international students" if we are already doing this, or that we have to pay more attention to it!

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