It was tasked to me this year as part of a role as faculty fellow on the welcome program for international students at UBC, to expose their minds to life in the academy. I did not wish to spend seven days giving them tips on how to study, take notes or use the library. Rather, I wanted to expose them to these aspects of learning and others through a content based approach.
Many of our international students at UBC have come from international schools in their native lands but this does not mean that they have been exposed to a wide array of cultures. Additionally through my teaching on the international program for first year students I have witnessed miscommunication and hurt due to lack of understanding: not linguistic misunderstanding but rather cultural. This experience coupled with my desire to enable students to acculturate into a welcoming common learning environment, led me to embark on designing a syllabus that focused on multiculturalism, globalization and identity. It might seem an accessible endeavour given my research interests and disciplinary approach, but designing a 7-day syllabus was certainly a challenge. I wanted to introduce discussion, group work and reflection but not make it seem tedious and pedantic to students. I wanted to have them realize that the world was right were they were but also have them marvel at its vastness and diversity.
I had a group of 33 students who were from 16 different countries a phenomenon in itself when we think about the vastness of the places they have come from for the single aim of gaining a good education. With a premise of engagement and critical thinking the first hurdle always faced in this instance of a diverse group of students, is cultural norms around speaking publicly or indeed in offering one’s opinion at all. It is a slow process for many students and one that they must be gently coerced into through their engagement in classroom activities. I decided to adopt a scalar approach where I had students begin by thinking about themselves, their routines, their worlds, before asking them to think about how their lives are connected a a global sense of being. Each day was based around a series of short activities framed by images, videos or audio that addressed an aspect of individual identity. Additionally each day students worked in groups of 4 on a project that showcased the multicultural nature of their group. They were given the creative freedom to produce a final project from a range of options including a video, a google tour map (you’ll remember from previous posts how much I like this tool), a poster or a power-point presentation. One of my groups actually made their presentation into a talk-show format for our last day presentations. At the end of class each day I asked them to reflect in their individual journals on what the activities had triggered for them. On the final day they reflected on their group work and project; some excerpts are below used with the students permission.
“I had a lot of fun doing this project and exploring the idea of what a home is. I realized that home doesn’t always have to be a physical place, rather it can be an aspect of yourself that reminds you of home, or even an object. This also brings to mind the fact that by reminding of ourselves of aspects of our home in this foreign country, we do not forget our roots and truly show the meaning of multiculturalism, since we want to create a more diverse society at UBC. With this movie I hope that I can show some aspects of this multiculturalism to the people watching it and also keep it as a personal memento of something that we did in our first weeks at Jumpstart and something that we can show in the future. ”
“Overall I found the week to be both enjoyable challenging but also quite
intellectually stimulating. This was because for the first time I was working on a project with individuals with whom I could share ideas with the intention of having them critiqued and refined into a more coherent thought. What I feel I learned most from working with my classmates was that despite the obvious presence of our diverse backgrounds there was something we all shared in common. All of us from every corner of the globe had chosen UBC out of a multitude of universities, we then had to be chosen, sorted though if you will, and eventually we all ended up here together, diverse yet at the same time united.”
The experience was really rewarding for me and I sense that the students benefited from it immensely as well. Over the course if the 7 days I witnessed an excitement growing among the students as they realized how much of their realities they could apply in an academic setting in order to grasp larger social science questions. The moment when a student pushes aside the belief that they are expected to memorize ‘facts’ from a book or regurgitate every word their professor says. Their opinions and thoughts matter – they must question their reality in order to understand it. Now I would be naive to think that a 7 day 3 daily hour course could accomplish this but it is a step. It has also triggered a research interest in me to explore cultural approaches to active learning, and how this affects students ability and indeed confidence to be a critical thinker.
Below I include my syllabus for the 7-day program as well as my daily slides where appropriate. Please feel free to use these adapting them to your purpose. The material I incorporate is all available open access online but please remember to cite creative commons and share the sources with others. As always do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or comments.