Interculturalizing the Curriculum

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief  Ω

The world is getting smaller and smaller.

Not literally, of course, and it might seem obvious to say this, but it is becoming more and more common for interact with people from cultures that are different from your own on a regular basis.

It is with this in mind that TRU considers it important that its faculty have the opportunity to examine the issues and opportunities that come with this changing world.

“Mere proximity doesn’t develop intercultural competencies,” said Kyra Garson, co-facilitator of TRU’s Internationalizing the Curriculum workshop series and the school’s intercultural coordinator. “In fact it has the potential to do the opposite. So how do we work with students? We work with students through the faculty. What we do is provide a supportive environment and theoretical and pedagogical frameworks, intercultural research and so on to allow them to think about how this fits with their teaching style, curriculum, and program outcomes.

“We try to do is provide a space and the time for faculty to both develop more cultural self-awareness in terms of what they’re bringing into the classroom and maybe their own perceptions and how they may be perceived by culturally diverse students,” she added.

“It’s a very reflective process for the faculty involved.”

She said some instructors have come into the program and redesigned entire classes or courses — but that’s not usually how it works.

The series is not designed to replace curricular content, but to enhance it and to help students gain perspectives from different cultural or international — or local for that matter — perspectives that might make them more prepared to work in a more globalized environment.

“One of the main things we have them do is unpack or re-vision some part of their curriculum,” she added, meaning they break down a different amount of content from each instructor’s class work (based on how comfortable that instructor is with intercultural aspects already) and look at ways to incorporate different cultural ideas into small sections.

This may seem like a no-brainer for courses in sociology, history or language studies, but Garson said there is room in every curriculum for intercultural aspects.

“What we’re not necessarily doing is saying ‘how do we teach students to work with multiculturalism?’ We’re saying ‘how do we help students to have multiple perspectives within whatever field they’re in?’” she said.

“21st century learning outcomes should include some alternate perspectives for students to consider and also some actual skill-building in terms of working with people from other perspectives.”

She used the example of the sciences and how those involved not only deal with multiple levels of collaboration with people from possibly all over the world, but how it’s also of great importance for scientists to think about the impact of their work in regards to how it affects or is affected by various cultural perspectives internationally.

“Between international students, new Canadian students and Aboriginal students, we have a very high percentage of students that don’t necessarily share the mainstream worldview of the institution or the academy, and so trying to draw on the richness of that is a real opportunity we encourage through this program — not by putting students from other cultures on the spot, but by creating a learning environment whereby students are learning from one another as well.

“The advantage to the students is that the instructors are spending considerable time thinking about how their curriculum can be enhanced to develop additional competencies for students and also how to work with very multicultural classrooms.”

Despite having fewer faculty enrol this year than in years previous, the university was committed to continue the program, which is good, because according to Garson, “a few very keen faculty joined at the last minute after scrambling their schedules to commit to the full four days.”

“The Centre for Student Engagement and Learning Innovation is pleased to include a well-established and respected program like Interculturalizing the Curriculum in its offerings,” said Chistine Adam, TRU dean of students.

“This program is one of the many ways in which the Centre supports the implementation of TRU’s Academic Plan by providing support for faculty with quality instructional development.”

For more information on the program, email Garson at