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Dec. 13, 2018

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A new video and learning guide developed at Wilfrid Laurier University aims to help educators address issues pertaining to inclusion in the classroom.

Collaborating Across Cultures: Intercultural Group Work, a video and learning guide for educators and students, was created by Deena Mandell, professor emeritus from Laurier’s Faculty of Social Work,Nadine LeGros, an educational developer in Teaching and Learning, and faculty and student partners as part of a project funded by Mandell’s Laurier Teaching Fellowship and the Faculty of Social Work.

Learning to collaborate successfully with people from a variety of cultures is a vital skill in contemporary academic environments. Effective collaboration goes beyond idea sharing within a group – it requires establishing a receptive, inclusive, and productive learning environment. But what if ideas are stifled during the process due to pre-existing barriers?

There are many ways in which cultural preconceptions and adverse behaviours make it difficult for students previously educated outside of Canada and from marginalized cultural groups to collaborate effectively in academic settings.

“The way we engage with students in the classroom sets a tone for the interactions amongst the students themselves,” says Mandell. “Some actions, or lack of action, can tacitly signal permission to exclude certain members of your class or team.”

The Collaborating Across Cultures video and guide address microaggressions – verbal or nonverbal slights that demean someone from marginalized groups. Microaggressions can make learning environments toxic and interfere with learning.

“These new resources provide insights into how these issues may be reflected in our own classrooms,” says Mandell. Collaborating Across Cultures also goes beyond these insights to explore strategies for addressing exclusion and promoting inclusivity.

The learning guide includes instruction about how to use forum theatre, an approach which gives a platform to marginalized voices and provides opportunities for the audience to enact change.

The video shines a light on the lived experiences of students from a number of marginalized groups, focusing on those who have been previously educated outside of Canada. Faculty were also consulted about their perspectives and experiences teaching in multicultural classroom environments. In the video, Laurier student actors from a variety of backgrounds enacted scenarios based on the real stories of fellow Laurier students. In the video, Mandell and LeGros play instructors who are unaware of how their behaviour may be contributing to the problem.

Given the diverse student populations in Canadian universities and the increased enrolment of students previously educated in other countries, it is critical for everyone engaged in higher education to reflect on their own behaviours and to be able to analyse classroom and team dynamics to foster better intercultural collaboration skills.

To gain free access to Collaborating Across Cultures, including the video and the learning guide, contact Nadine LeGros directly at nlegros@wlu.ca.

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