4 Using content and learning resources that represent diverse perspectives, paradigms, or disciplinary approaches
An interculturalized curriculum provides students with opportunities to explore their course and discipline through multiple lenses. Interculturalized curriculum content can include readings, case studies and simulations that explore different cultural perspectives. Content can also include experiential learning in intercultural contexts, and guests presentations from individuals that can offer their own cultural perspective on course content.
The process involves the following five considerations (adapted from Georgetown University Centre for New Designs and Scholarship)
- Choosing course materials that offer a wide range of perspectives, created by individuals with a range of backgrounds and experiences.
- Analyzing dominant perspectives within a discipline, placing them within their historical context.
- Intentionally giving voice to a range of perspectives in class.
- Ensuring that course materials are easily available to students.
Why Offer Diverse Perspectives?
Offering culturally diverse curriculum provides several benefits to students: (1) providing an environment of welcome and inclusion to students through representation; (2) broadening students’ knowledge base to support global engagement; and (3) supporting students’ development in integrating multiple perspectives.
Curricula that centre dominant culture perspectives, even when this is unintentional, can communicate messages of unbelonging. Sue and Spanierman (2020) refer to environmental macroaggressions, which take place when a minority group is misrepresented in ways that do not honour their culture, or when their cultures are not visibly present in the university environment. Conversely, when individuals see their cultural identities present and positively represented, they are more likely to experience cultural safety (Purdie-Vaughns et al., 2008).
In addition, part of the task of the intercultural classroom is providing space for students to learn to engage with diverse perspectives; this requires on going efforts to “engage multiple perspectives and ways of seeing” (Lee et al., 2017, p. 102). This not only develops students’ intercultural skills, but helps them to develop the perspective-taking skills necessary to be able to respectfully interact with different points of view.
Choosing Course Materials
A key step to interculturalizing course content is to assess current representation in the course reading list and learning activities. Whose voices are currently present in the materials students access? Whose voices are missing? Where might it be possible to replace or augment current content with voices from different national contexts, and add contributions that represent different social identities?
In some disciplines, a barrier to interculturalization is the assumption that the course content is largely universal in scope, with little space for intercultural variation; this can be particularly true in scientific disciplines (Leask, 2015). In such disciplines, the imagine phase in Leask’s (2015) internationalization process may require more careful attention and thought to identify what might be possible. Consider the following examples:
- Meffe (2003), observing a lack of international representation in published conversation biology papers, observes that national borders are irrelevant when considering the significant environmental crises of our time, and therefore, consideration of the global context should be considered central to the field.
- Clifford (2009) suggests that faculty in science disciplines, when pursuing internationalization, should consider not only the theoretical concepts in the field, but the challenges that students will encounter when they use their scientific knowledge in a global world. This expands the knowledge base to include ethical practice in different cultural contexts.
- Chamany et al., (2008) propose integrating biological concepts with social issues. Their examples include a capstone course on “Math and Science in Context” that supports integrating scientific knowledge with global applications.
In summary, in some disciplines, particularly Arts and Humanities, interculturalizing the curriculum may be easily accomplished by modifying existing readings or learning activities to include a broader breadth of voices. In other disciplines, the interculturalization process may involve consideration of how content knowledge that is often more consistent across contexts may have ethical or social implications as it is applied in a variety of real-world situations.
Analyzing Dominant Perspectives
Analysis of course content includes assessment of dominant disciplinary perspectives, including historical analysis of how knowledge comes to be constructed within a discipline. This includes consideration of threshold concepts in a discipline. Threshold concepts are foundational understandings, ways of thinking, and worldviews within a discipline, without which a learner cannot progress deeper into the field (Meyer & Land, 2006). Often, threshold concepts become “taken for granted” within a field, and are frequently unquestioned. Additionally, for experienced academics and practitioners with a discipline, these threshold concepts may become implicit to the point where awareness of their contextual specificity is lost (Middendorf & Shopkow, 2018).
For example, Chamany et al., (2008) identify evolutionary theory as a threshold concept in biology, noting its consistent inclusion as a foundational concept in a variety of courses. To explore the concept historically, contextually, and socially, they propose a unit teaching that history of evolutional theory as a way of critically exploring its development and current dominant status as a key idea within biology.
Once the threshold concepts and other disciplinary norms have been identified, it becomes possible to critically analyze the development of these ideas and their rise to dominance. From there, it may become easier to identify which voices are missing, and which alternative or complementary perspectives may be added to enrich students’ learning.
Dominant disciplinary perspectives also arise through the ways in which disciplines are “siloed” from one another in many university contexts. Interdisciplinary thinking can foster additional opportunities to include diverse perspectives in the classroom. De la Garza (2021) proposes that interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches to curriculum design are sites for integrating intercultural knowledge. This, as de la Garza highlights, can include Indigenous knowledges, which, because of their more holistic and integrated epistemologies, provide space to bring traditionally separate disciplines together for meaningful inquiry. Interdisciplinary work can be another tool in creating curricula that genuinely reflect multiple ways of seeing, knowing, and learning, giving genuine expression to the fact that a single topic can be explored through multiple lenses.
Giving Voice and Modelling
Clancy and Bauer (2018) highlight that students may feel hesitant to express a perspective they perceive as different from that of their peers; students also may lack the skills needed to challenge harmful perspectives about other cultures or social groups expressed in class. Making our own work as instructors transparent by modelling our own efforts to seek out diverse perspectives and grow interculturally supports our students in developing this capacity (Lee et al., 2017). In addition to integrating content from different perspectives, taking the time to give voice to different streams of knowledge and viewpoints, particularly those that are not dominant cultures, is important to helping students develop this same capacity.
Other strategies for giving voice to diverse perspectives in a course include:
- Intentionally seeking your own opportunities to learn from those who give voice to underrepresented perspectives in your field (for example, through webinars and at professional conferences).
- Integrating guest speakers (either live or through the use of well-selected videos) into class sessions.
- “Filling in the gaps” where a particular cultural perspective may not be represented among your students. (Georgetown University Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, 2021)
Making Course Materials Accessible
A final consideration in selecting course content and learning resources is the availability of the resources to the students. In a study by Jhangiani and Jhangiani (2017), less than 20% of British Columbia students reported being unaffected by the cost of their course materials, while 54% reported declining to purchase at least one required textbook. The high cost of many commercial textbooks hinders students from accessing these materials, pushing them towards alternative strategies such as downloading internet copies, sharing textbooks, and relying on library copies. Possible outcomes of textbook inaccessibility include taking fewer courses, dropping a course, or receiving a poor grade; these negative outcomes are more likely to affect visible minority students and students who report working more hours to finance their education. Conversely, students who are assigned open textbooks perform as well or better on exams as students assigned commercial textbooks (Jhangiani et al., 2018).
In addition to their role in ensuring students have equitable access to course materials, the use of open textbooks provides a platform to incorporate diverse voices into students’ learning materials. Open textbooks with Creative Commons licenses can be adapted and modified to meet the needs of a particular course; this offers the opportunity to expand typical foundational or dominant culture content with other perspectives. By integrating multiple perspectives within a core textbook, students experience a visible demonstration that understanding through multiple lenses is both normal and valuable.
In addition to core texts, course materials can be offered to students through the provisions of fair dealing (for example, a journal article or single book chapter can be provided to students for academic purposes in the learning management system). This can provide additional space for integrating additional perspectives in ways that are accessible to all learners.
Traditional course materials may reflect a single dominant perspective, and may leave out many voices that offer a richer perspective within the discipline. Interculturalizing the curriculum strengthens engagement of underrepresented students through improved representation, and improves the ability of all students to recognize and learn from multiple perspectives. Interculturalized content can be achieved through a number of strategies, including selecting readings, videos, and presenters that give voice to non-dominant perspectives, modelling ways of learning from multiple voices, and using open educational strategies to make content accessible to students.
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Clancy, K. A., & Bauer, K. (2018). Creating student-scholar-activists: Discourse instruction and social justice in political science classrooms. New Political Science, 40(3), 542–557. https://doi.org/10.1080/07393148.2018.1489091
Clifford, V. A. (2009). Engaging the disciplines in internationalising the curriculum. International Journal for Academic Development, 14(2), 133–143. https://doi.org/10.1080/13601440902970122
de la Garza, A. (2021). Internationalizing the curriculum for STEAM (STEM + Arts and Humanities): From intercultural competence to cultural humility. Journal of Studies in International Education, 25(2), 123–135. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315319888468
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Purdie-Vaughns, V., Steele, C. M., Davies, P. G., Ditlmann, R., & Crosby, J. R. (2008). Social identity contingencies: How diversity cues signal threat or safety for African Americans in mainstream institutions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(4), 615–630. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.525
Sue, D. W., & Spanierman, L. (2020). Microaggressions in everyday life (Second Edition). Wiley.