Research Finds Students Increased Their Cultural Awareness

Faculty at OSU, from Engineering and Business to language departments, are implementing intercultural pedagogy. The results from our spring 2021 study on Arabic, Persian and Turkish language and culture courses demonstrated growth in intercultural competence.  Online collaboration with students in countries in the Middle East allowed students to experience authentic culture and enhanced the assignments. The goals were to test whether the tools and methods we piloted in Turkish courses the previous year achieved similar outcomes in other language and area studies courses and to continue to improve and grow the potential of intercultural development (a foundational theme within the new General Education curriculum) in OSU humanities courses. We used the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) to assess student learning outcomes, specifically intercultural development. For each course, students completed the IDI at the beginning of the course and again at the end of the course to measure growth in intercultural competence. A paired samples t-test was conducted to compare the Perceived Orientation (PO) and Developmental Orientation (DO) scores of the students at the start of the course to the PO and DO scores of the students at the end of the course. The results from spring 2021 courses demonstrated growth in intercultural competence.

Our research was conducted in the following 5 courses:

  • AU20:
    • TURK3350DL Contemporary Issues in Turkey with Danielle Schoon
  • SP21:
    • AR 2112 Colloquial Arabic II with Marie-Therese Labaki
    • Persian 1102 Elementary Persian II with Mehrak Kamali
    • Turkish 2241DL Turkish Culture with Danielle Schoon
  • SU21:
    • TURK2241DL Virtual Education Abroad in Istanbul with Danielle Schoon

Our ePortfolio  assignments consist of online cross-cultural conversations and collaborations (based on the principles of Collaborative Online International Learning – COIL – ), reflection assignments, and the IDI. Online discussions took place between the students enrolled in the above courses at OSU and students at schools in Turkey, Iran, and Lebanon. Please see our presentation “Implicit Bias in American Classrooms and the East/West Dichotomy” for the 2021 Innovate Conference for our latest approaches, tools and pedagogies. Video of the presentation: Video transcript: or download the PowerPoint:

Image of infinity symbol, with text: "reflect, gather, feedback"

By Mosborne01 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

As a result of this work we have created evidence-based, practical, ready-to-use tools for faculty who would like to implement specific learning activities for intercultural development, such as the online cross-cultural conversations on our Toolkit page. A community of practice is forming at Ohio State – across a wide range of disciplines, from Engineering and Business to languages departments – who use principles of intercultural awareness development – whether by implementing the IDI or by using curriculum designed accordingly, or both. Many are participating in webinars organized by the Global Education Office, the Innovate Conference, and the new learning community sponsored by the Office of International Affairs and the Drake Institute of Teaching and Learning.



Learning Templates for Global Competence

We are currently planning a project to finish our evaluation of the learning outcomes of our online learning work.  We also requested funds for creating or revising learning templates, and creating a content-independent module faculty from different departments can easily implement in their courses. So far, it does seem like the learning templates work best in humanities and social sciences but we are making progress toward a truly generalizable framework for intercultural learning.

The approach we take entails collaborative online international learning (COIL), cross-cultural skill development, and reflective e-portfolio work. We especially focus on communication skills through online discussion forums to help faculty integrate this type of learning in their courses. We have been evaluating the learning outcomes of this work in Turkish 2241 Beyond Harems and Belly Dancers: Introduction to Turkish Culture and Turkish 3350 Contemporary Issues in Turkey, taught by Dr. Danielle Schoon.

We are busy finishing up our evaluation of learning outcomes from Dr. Schoon’s classes and will begin tweaking the learning activities with our insights this fall. Our next steps are to:

  • implement our learning templates in more culture and language classes
  • pilot a syllabus module

These steps are a part of the larger picture of the curriculum at Ohio State where we are busy teambuilding across education abroad, area studies, and language departments to foster intercultural learning and authentic cross-cultural experiences through online learning. We will scale up our learning activities to more courses by creating user-friendly, content-independent, learning templates faculty can integrate into their syllabi. Additionally, we intend to create a module utilizing several of the learning templates faculty from a variety of departments can use.

As you can see, we are working hard to evaluate the learning outcomes from last year and to create easy-to-implement templates of the most effective learning activities for faculty in any department. Soon we will share more results from our evaluation study, including a comprehensive assessment of student gains in intercultural awareness. We also hope to pilot a module Spring semester in Dr. Schoon’s course. We have many other exciting ideas percolating as well. Please follow this site for more updates.

Project Team: Dr. Cindy Jiang, Dr. Danielle Schoon, and Dr. Melinda McClimans.

image of Istanbul beach

Image of Istanbul beach by Melisa Akbulut. All Rights Reserved.



Keys to Success for Intercultural Pedagogy and Cross-cultural Online Conversations Presentation

My colleagues and I recorded the presentation for the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) which is taking place entirely online due to the Corona Virus. Please watch the 17-minute video. We delve into our learning approaches and what kinds of assignments you can easily include in your syllabus. We share some keys to success for intercultural pedagogy and cross-cultural online conversations. I talk about ground rules for online communication, active listening, how to approach challenging topics.

The presentation came about from our research on language and culture courses at Ohio State in which professors are intentionally scaffolding their students’ learning toward cultural differences. We are assessing students’ intercultural awareness with the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) at the beginning and at the end of the courses we are studying to measure any gains in their intercultural awareness. We also assess students’ perspective-taking and communication skills in cross-cultural conversations.  

There are several courses at Ohio State in Italian language and Turkish Studies which my colleagues and I  are studying and teaching. Assignments in these classes are geared toward reflection on self as cultural being (Gay, 2010, p. 69) and an understanding of diverse cultural perspectives.  Students learn how to tell the difference between a generalization and a stereotype and are taught to think about their own history as they learn about historical events in Turkey – a reflection on self while learning about an “other” is critical for gaining intercultural awareness. Please watch the presentation to learn more about us and the work we are doing!


image of text about how to implement successful online conversations (also written in blog post)






A Definition of Culture is Critical for Learning

Culture has many connotations and definitions and you might be surprised by the variety of ways your students think about culture. If you are thinking of using this e-portfolio or are planning to do any kind of cross-cultural experiential learning, it’s important that you and your students get on the same page about the meaning of the word “culture.” Establishing an academic definition of culture also challenges students to think more critically and inoculates against superficial ways of thinking and speaking about cultural differences.

How to get started? You can choose a definition and stick with it*, or develop your own working definition. If you develop your own definition, the class should consider different theoretical frameworks (anthropological, social, psychological, classical, etc.), contrast them with commonsense definitions, and agree on a definition the class will refer to throughout the activities. But at the very least provide a definition for the class to refer to throughout the activities.

Graphic of an iceberg

This graphic of an iceberg shows the different aspects of culture, visible (above the water), and invisible (below the water). Iceberg, by Olga Berrios, Flickr, CC 2.0,

Recommended classroom activities for your “working definition” of culture:

Do a word cloud with Polleverywhere or another interactive tool in one of the first classes. Read and Discuss: ‘Culture’ from Keywords by Raymond Williams At the end of the semester, do another word cloud exercise and compare your results to the initial word cloud – how has our definition evolved? Reread article – new things appear more prominent in the second reading – share quotes you found significant. Reflect on how the class’s understanding of culture changed from the beginning of the program to the end. We found this worked really well and generated rich discussion.

If your class is directly focused on a particular country or culture you may want to dig even deeper into the meaning of culture and make a goal of your class to develop intercultural awareness. Here is a lesson for teaching your students a new way to think about culture and begin developing self-awareness regarding one’s own cultural background.

The key is to get your students thinking about how they think about culture. Feel free to be creative! Just don’t neglect this step. It is an important part of the learning for any class which seeks to develop students’ intercultural awareness and global competence.


Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York; Teachers College.

*this could be as simple as “shared beliefs and values of a group of people.” This definition is brief but it focuses on aspects of “deep culture” – those things which can’t be seen but which drive culture as in the iceberg visualization of culture (see above). It’s important to emphasize deep culture in class discussions and to encourage students to consider underlying factors in their analyses.




What is Culture?

Learning objective: Our goal in this class is to not only look at what the cultural practices, traditions, and norms are, but to ask why they came to be.  We will be giving you direct feedback on how well you understand cultural diversity. We will be looking at the reasons for and circumstances of particular traditions and practices in order to learn about deep culture. We will think like anthropologists – ie use the research tools of anthropology while learning about the art, literature, music, dance, clothes, and other forms of visible culture.  Reflections will also be an important part of the writing you do this semester, as will the intercultural development interview.  These allow you to think about not only Turkish culture, but how you think about cultural diversity. We are learning to be cultural learners.
Let’s start by considering one analysis of culture. What do you think of this quote?
“It has long been recognized that culture is very hard for humans to think about culture. Like fish in water, we fail to “see” culture because it is the medium within which we exist.” (Cole, 1996, p. 8)
Image of a fish in a fishbowl

Fish, by mohamed_hassan, Pixabay, CC0

What is the water? What do we take for granted as understood when we’re in our own culture?
What do you think about this quote?
“Encounters with other cultures make it easier to grasp our own as an object of thought.”  (Cole, 1996, p. 8)
Let’s make a word cloud to capture our thinking –
What would you tell someone from another country about culture in your home town?
So. . . Are there aspects of culture we do see?
  • Material Culture
  • Cultural Practices
Write your thoughts down about your own culture and save for the autobiography assignment.
Would anyone like to share?

Visible and Invisible aspects of culture:


Graphic of an iceberg

This graphic of an iceberg shows the different aspects of culture, visible (above the water), and invisible (below the water). Iceberg, by Olga Berrios, Flickr, CC 2.0,

Cole, M. (1996). Cultural psychology: A once and future discipline. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. /z-wcorg/.