In January, with the support of Langara’s Office of Internationalization I enrolled in UBC’s Strategies for Effective Intercultural Communication course. I was hoping to improve my intercultural awareness and communicate better especially with our international student body. Like other faculty my colleagues and I have been struggling with the increased cultural diversity of the student population and I thought by taking this course I could really support our adoption of more inclusive pedagogies.
Over six weeks we explored topics like “What do we mean by Culture?” “Cultural Values, Behaviors, and Assumptions” and “Context and Communication”. I found the module on “Power and Privilege” particularly fascinating. But it was not just the content that was relevant, how we learned about theme like “Personal Approaches to Intercultural Communication” mattered. For each unit we did our readings but then we had to write personal responses to prompts, and reflect on how the material connected to our own experience. Little did I know this course would be invaluable later that semester when due to the COVID-19 pandemic I and other instructors at Langara would be faced with ending the semester online.
On March 13th I made the decision, ahead of the college to deliver the remainder of the two courses I was teaching online. I don’t I would have had the confidence to do this if it had not been for the Effective Intercultural Communication course. It was a powerful learning experience and it gave me a template for how to support my students going forward. I continued to provide them with the same open access resources we had been using earlier in the semester, but substituted our face-to-face class time with online discussion forums, and reflective writing assignments that asked them to make connections between the art historical content and their own lives, even their own experience of the pandemic.
In these uncertain times I am especially interested to explore how this sudden pivot to online learning can help support effective intercultural communication. This summer our department is offering two survey classes of the history of art and one on Asian art. Many of the students enrolled have returned home, to various places around the world. Unintentionally we have created mini-collaborative international learning (COIL) experiences.
As we move forward in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) times, I have been thinking about the learning theory Connectivism. Coined by George Siemens in 2005, Connectivism is a theoretical framework for understanding learning in the digital age. Siemens along with Stephen Downes explain how internet technologies have created opportunities for people around the world to learn and share information across nodes and links of the internet. One of the first principles of Connectivism is that “Learning and knowledge rest in diversity of opinion.” Being sensitive to, aware of, and curious about diversity is of course at the heart of intercultural communication.
In summarizing Connectivist teaching and learning Stephen Downes explains “to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect.” After practicing and reflecting in the Strategies of Intercultural Communication course, now it is time for me to model and demonstrate empathetic, authentic, culturally awareness in these challenging times.