Building the foundation for cross-cultural online conversations begins by setting expectations for online engagement and developing a working definition of culture that you and your students will refer to throughout the semester. Before embarking on any cross-cultural communication assignments, set expectations for conduct, standards for assignments, and a practice of ongoing reflection. We recommend Merryfield’s ground rules.
The following are essential elements for learning from cross-cultural online conversations.
- Groundrules for online cross-cultural communication. Students should sign an agreement regarding groundrules and privacy in order to be allowed into the conversations.
- Standards and expectations for each online discussion or cross-cultural collaboration assignment.
- Reflection-based learning. Students reflect on themselves as they learn about the other and become aware of the fact that their own worldview comes out of their cultural background, just as the worldviews of other people are distinct and come from life experiences set in a different cultural milieu.
Set expectations that the class is focused on intercultural learning from the very beginning. Here is an example of a brief introduction to the class in your LMS:
You are embarking on a journey of cultural learning and authentic cultural interaction.
What you can expect:
You can expect to read challenging texts (and other media) introducing you to literary and cultural themes tied to values, beliefs, and norms in Turkey. You will learn about history and how it connects to identity in Turkey. You will also learn through experience by working directly with students in Turkey (online).
Tailoring the class to different levels of learning:
The foundation outlined above can then be built upon with our global learning model to address a range of learning levels and to facilitate ongoing reflection on self and other. The level to which you are able to implement the model will depend on the content you are teaching, the goals for your class, and your personal comfort level with cross-cultural learning strategies. Regardless of where you situate your course on that continuum, we highly recommend discussing intercultural awareness goals explicitly with the students. This could be as simple as creating a working definition of culture for the class and then evaluating how it evolves over the semester, or as sophisticated as implementing Intercultural Development Inventories (IDI) for each student and coaching them on their intercultural learning goals as the semester progresses.
This module is best executed using an eportfolio learning model. One of the benefits of an e-portfolio learning model is that it can be content-independent. It functions in tandem with the formal curriculum to boost students’ metacognitive work as they are learning about a particular subject. Metacognitive and reflection-based assignments can be articulated with any area of the curriculum. This approach to learning is grounded in student experience and is considered a High Impact Practice (HIP). These practices often create meaningful links between courses and towards the personal and professional skills students will need upon graduation. As in service-learning and education abroad, and lab work in the sciences, one of our premises is that it is essential for learning to go beyond classroom. We are focused on real-world skills and abilities, including:
- “Soft skills” of cross-cultural communication, active listening, and online communication, soft skills that are gaining more cache in the job market.
- “Hard skills” of media production aspects provide hands-on training for technical skills used in media production.
- Research skills, as students work as curators who analyze primary and secondary sources, and learn how to learn from their conversation partners as informants.
Our philosophy is that university teaching should include learning how to learn and how to “do academics” while also teaching the core literacies and skills of the liberal arts and professional curricula. ePortfolios are excellent mechanisms for accessing metacognitive dimensions of learning while in college. The following approaches work well when used along with eportfolios and help students achieve academic success and make it easier for professors to individualize the learning:
- Encouraging a growth mindset through reflection exercises
- Inquiry-based learning, offering students concepts that they can use as lenses of analysis and apply to any topic they are personally interested in or which they consider to be of global importance. For example, East vs West
- Project-based learning, challenging students to use all of the skills, mindsets, and academic approaches you are teaching them together. To see how they aid in completing a tangible result. Often in teams.
Stages of Conversation
Students will enter conversations with different experiential backgrounds and various levels of ability to integrate information that contradicts their worldview. Students with very limited histories of interaction across socio-cultural differences will come from a more ethnocentric frame of reference. At the same time, many participants will likely have a perspective that negates differences and insists on universals of human experience. This is based on Bennett’s developmental model of intercultural sensitivity (Bennett, 1986). The goal of these conversations is to get students to engage with cultural differences and to learn about their own cultural lenses.
When students are at the stage of minimizing differences they will tend to minimize certain experiences of students from another background, especially experiences of oppression or collective marginalization. Conversations can therefore be organized around these different levels of ability to grapple with “difficult knowledge” (Britzman,1998). To make the organization more manageable, we outline three major stages of conversation. The stages of learning are grounded in theories on intercultural awareness development, cross-cultural communication, online global education and engaged pedagogy.
There are three main stages in cross-cultural conversations: 1) an “intercultural icebreaker” stage in which participants build trust, 2) a sharing stage in which their learn about their conversation partner’s cultural context, and, 3) a cross-cultural collaboration stage in which they work together to achieve a common aim. The icebreaker stage is followed by opportunities to share daily life experiences from each culture. These two stages are assessed via the Global Community Building Buckeye Badge. The culminating project is team-based, requiring students to demonstrate their ability to work in cross-cultural situations. This collaborative stage requires effective cross-cultural communicators and develops teamwork skills, which we assess via the Global Media Project Buckeye Badge.
We designed the learning to take place in three stages: the “icebreaker stage,” the “community-building stage,” and the “collaboration stage.” The first stage, the “icebreaker stage,” is needed in order to build the trust required for cultural sharing. This is the community stage, and is where students practice online cross-cultural communication and begin sharing and learning about how their cultural experiences have shaped them.
The second stage, “the community-building stage,” is the substantive cultural learning stage and is where students gain academic knowledge about each other’s countries – it is recommended, if possible, that they be assigned a partner from the partner institution for each topic. We also recommend that students exchange some of what they learned from their partner with the whole group through a final group conversation on each topic.
The third stage, “the collaboration stage,” is the stage which requires students to take responsibility for the completion of a group project. Students form a cross-cultural team to co-author a text or media item, such as an e-book, website, video, or other type of media. They must take on a particular role to work primarily on one essential aspect of the final product – this creates interdependence to motivate students and holds them accountable to the group as a whole. We award Buckeye Badges for successful completion of stages two and three; namely, the Global Community Building Badge and the Global Media Project Badge.
Intercultural Icebreaker Stage
In this stage students become acquainted, build trust and trade brief stories about their lives. In learning from “the other” students also become aware of themselves as cultural beings (Gay, 2010, p.69). We recommend starting with cultural autobiographies (Merryfield,n.d.), personal geographies (Schoon and McClimans, 2018) and other ways of sharing lived experiences. This concept differs from a typical icebreaker activity in that it focuses on cultural awareness and requires reflection and active listening. The ultimate goal is for students to both acknowledge cultural difference and see that the self/Other concept of cultural difference can’t encompass human universals that they and their conversation partner share.
Substantive Culture Learning and Perceptual Knowledge Stage
Students learn about a foreign culture from an open-minded, yet critical standpoint. Students accept the cultural differences between themselves and the community they are learning about, and seek to understand the historical background and circumstances of the practices. The learn academic knowledge which is at the same time transformative of their approach to learning about the community. The develop new perceptual lenses from which to build new knowledge about the world and distant places.
Advanced Conversations Stage
This stage corresponds to the Global Community Building Buckeye Badge. Students have demonstrated perspective-taking skills and are able to gain an understanding of their conversation partner’s views whether or not they agree with them (Appiah, 2006). They are able to engage with difficult topics, such as politicized debates, and recognized their cultural situatedness. They are able to learn about traumatic histories (Britzman, 1998) and controversial cultural practices from multiple perspectives, and listen actively when their conversation partner challenges their opinions.