Invite the world into your classroom
A workshop at the University of Victoria helps professors think about how to internationalize their course curriculum, whether it be torts, fine art or household economics
Internationalization is a hot topic on Canadian campuses these days. Nearly every university in the country has named this a priority in its strategic plan. But for all the talk in high places, most teachers remain uncertain about what the term means and how it relates to what goes on their classrooms.
"Most faculty don't know what internationalization is," declares Sheryl Bond, who co-wrote a 2003 report for the Canadian Bureau for International Education about the role of faculty in internationalizing the undergraduate curriculum (http://www.cbie.ca/news/index_e.cfm?folder=releases&page=rel_2003-05-20_e). "The word," she says, "doesn't convey anything clear to anybody."
Hazy terminology isn't the only impediment discovered by Dr. Bond, a professor of educational leadership at Queen's University. She and her co-authors, Jun Qian and Jinyan Huang (both doctoral students at Queen's), also found that Canadian instructors who attempt to internationalize their courses generally aren't supported or recognized by their universities and colleges.
"Where you do have people engaging meaningfully with the concept, they're working totally alone," says Dr. Bond. "They're scattered across the disciplines and tend to be very few in number and they're not coordinated in any way, so they can't collaborate as you would normally do in an emerging field." As a result, "their efforts sometimes fall by the wayside as time and money get tight, or [the instructors] just wear out."
Fortunately, says Dr. Bond, a small but growing number of Canadian universities are changing, by embracing a new culture of learning with an international dimension. Among the leaders she points to is the University of Victoria, which has developed an innovative workshop to help faculty understand internationalization and apply it to their own courses.
UVic's five-day Course (Re)design for Internationalization Workshop aims to help faculty change the curriculum of one of their courses by integrating an international, intercultural or global dimension into the content, perspectives and delivery of the course.
The workshop is a cooperative venture between the university's Learning and Teaching Centre and its Office of International Affairs. That relationship is "indispensable" insists Sabine Schuerholz-Lehr, assistant director of UVic's international affairs office. By working together, the international office can contribute its expertise in internationalization issues, while the learning centre can bring its skill and experience in pedagogy and course and curriculum design. "The two units co-existed for a long time," says Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr, "without realizing the synergies that could be achieved from collaborating."
The first workshop in course redesign for internationalization was offered in June 2004 and the second in May 2005 - both building on the learning centre's more mature workshop in generic course redesign.
The four professors and two sessional instructors who took part in this year's workshop represented five diverse disciplines. The courses they chose to redesign were in intermediate microeconomics, human sexuality, quantitative and qualitative analysis, torts law, and an introduction to world history in art. Some of these were required courses while others were electives, and class sizes ranged from a couple of dozen to more than 100 students.
Several participants had signed up specifically because the workshop focused on internationalization, while others simply wanted help with course redesign and had chosen this session because the timing was convenient. Yet, by the end of the week all of them had gained insights into the concept, had developed ideas about how they might put it into practice and had endorsed the course redesign process.
"It's interesting that I never thought about [internationalization], even though I have international students in my class and I'll be teaching in Uganda for three weeks in August," says Elsie Chan, a sessional lecturer in the school of social work. "I never realized that I can actually incorporate it into my course design. I always talk about how to be inclusive . . . but I forgot that the international students will think differently."
Ms. Chan started teaching for "world-mindedness" before the workshop was even over. During her Wednesday evening statistics class, she talked about what she'd been learning and got her students discussing how to make questionnaires sensitive to potential cultural differences among respondents.
Throughout the week, the participants work closely with each other and with the workshop leaders, in small groups or one-on-one. Each of the first four days is dedicated to exploring a single aspect of course design: concept mapping, learning outcomes, instructional strategies and methods of assessment. At the end of every afternoon, participants present the results of their day's efforts to the whole group, receiving valuable feedback from their colleagues and a videotape of the presentation to take home. On the fifth day, each participant unveils a new vision of their complete course package. These presentations are also videotaped.
Linda Welling, a professor of economics, says she didn't find the internationalization focus particularly relevant to the content of the microeconomics theory course that she brought to the workshop, but she found it interesting to see other participants coming at the same issues from slightly different directions. Throughout the week, another course she teaches - on the economics of the household - is also on her mind. "There's a lot of scope in there for bringing in more international aspects," she says later. "Things like looking at dowries, multi-generational households, marriage as determining whose family you live with. I'd like to make sure everybody has more exposure to them."
Collaborating and applying tools
Geraldine Van Gyn, director of the Learning and Teaching Centre who developed UVic's original course-redesign workshop, says the redesign process is based on two key elements: one, collaboration, and two, learning to use a set of simple conceptual tools. Dr. Van Gyn worked with Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr of the university's office of international affairs to apply an international lens to the workshop, and the pair have co-led both internationalized versions.
Like Dr. Bond, Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr finds that the very word "internationalization" blocks people from accepting the concept. During the first workshop in 2004, participants spent many hours discussing the term, cutting into the time available for some course design modules.
"We approached it a bit differently this time," says Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr. "We put it right up front as a disclaimer that this is a working term that we use because it is widely used, but we are not completely comfortable with it. It has a bit of a connotation of globalization and people often get it confused because it sounds so similar." She invited participants to focus on broadening their thinking rather than worrying about terminology, effectively averting the kind of semantic soul-searching that dominated the previous year. Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr also suggested several alternatives to "internationalization." "World-mindedness" proved the most popular, inspiring the design for the T-shirts she and Dr. Van Gyn handed out at the end of the workshop.
Getting the definitions out of the way early left plenty of time to discuss the meaning of internationalization in terms of student demographics, course content and pedagogy. These three things - who, what and how we teach - are at the heart of the matter, says Dr. Bond of Queen's (who gave an optional half-day seminar on internationalization the week before the workshop).
Some people become preoccupied with the first one - student origins. "Internationalization is not about having foreign students on campus," says Dr. Bond. "It's not fair to put this whole process on their backs. Everybody has to participate and in their own way." She views all students, foreign and domestic alike, as resources and notes that Canadian students often have international and intercultural experience and expertise that goes unrecognized.
Co-op studies abroad
One way domestic students gain international experience is by going abroad for exchanges or co-op programs. Last year, UVic won a Scotiabank-AUCC Award for Excellence in Internationalization for its overseas co-op education program, which finds out-of-country placements for many UVic students. These kinds of programs benefit both individuals and institutions says Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr, especially when students have a chance to "debrief" on their return home and when their experience is recognized as valuable to their overall learning. "It's good if they have a chance to talk about their experience," she says. "It's even better if it becomes part of [their course or program] evaluation."
However, 90 to 95 percent of students willnot work or study in another country during their university years. For them, their ability to relate their new knowledge and skills to the diverse and interconnected cultures of the world will partly depend on how willing and able their instructors are to internationalize the courses they teach. And while many faculty members may want to change the way they teach, few instinctively discern the best way to include an international dimension without some assistance.
In the CBIE study, Dr. Bond found that most faculty members who were trying to internationalize their courses used "add-on approaches," such as bringing in a guest speaker, adding a foreign film or book, or devoting one session to an international topic. "They weren't actually rethinking the core of the course from different perspectives," she says. "They hadn't gotten to that point, which is sophisticated and difficult."
But that's exactly where art professors Catherine Harding and Erin Campbell, who brought an introductory course in world visual culture to the workshop, were headed by the end of the week. "What happened this week has been a fundamental breakthrough," Dr. Harding announced during their final presentation.
She expands on this later: "I'm now using the concepts to rethink all my courses in terms of world-mindedness. On an individual level, it's been transformative."
The project leaders know that when the internationalization workshop participants leave on Friday afternoon with their notes, concept maps, videotapes and massive binders full of reference materials, they might not all be at the point of transformation - and that's fine by them.
"It's an incremental process," says Ms. Schuerholz-Lehr. "We really encourage people to take baby steps rather than thinking, 'Oh my God, I've got to do it all at once.' It's better to start slowly, maybe with getting to know the international students better or incorporating two readings that come from a very different angle."
Aiming to change too much, too quickly can be disastrous, she warns. "They will be overwhelmed and then things will go really badly, they will get a bad evaluation and they won't do it again."
Her second piece of advice for faculty members who want to internationalize their courses is to take advantages of the resources available on campus. "The Learning and Teaching Centre is not there just for one workshop. People can always go and ask for advice and they can always come to our office to talk about what they're trying to do and how we can support them in that."
At UVic they might also look for someone wearing a blue T-shirt with the words "Teaching For World-Mindedness" emblazoned across the back, and ask her to share her experience.