Have you ever stopped to consider how your syllabus—and even your institution and country’s educational system—is influenced by cultural values, beliefs, and assumptions?
Our educational institutions—and everything we do within them—are socially and culturally constructed. We all have beliefs, values, and assumptions when it comes to what “good” and “bad” education look like, and it’s important for us to reflect on what those are, where they come from, how they shape our work, and how they might be perceived by and impact others.
But where to start? How about with your syllabus!
Examining the syllabus as a cultural artifact is a helpful exercise for educators to deepen our own self-awareness and create more inclusive communities on our campuses and in our classrooms. In addition, it can be a great activity to do with students who are studying in another country so they can examine their own assumptions and expectations, and consider how education in their host country may differ from what they are used to.
To engage in this exercise, grab a syllabus from a class you teach (if you don’t teach, this can be helpful to do with any syllabi from courses on your campus). Try to imagine that you are from a completely different planet; you know nothing about Earth or this particular country, and have just arrived to participate in an educational exchange. You received this paper (the syllabus) about the first class you are going to take. Examining the syllabus with curiosity and an open mind, answer the following questions:
What did you learn through this reflection?
Now, imagine yourself as an Earthling once again. Based on your understanding of the diversity on your campus, consider the following:
As a next step, you might want to find some syllabi from other countries with which you are involved in some way, leading study abroad programs to those countries or teaching international students from there (or learn whether such a thing even exists; if it doesn’t, reflect on what that difference might mean). Compare and contrast these documents with the syllabi from your own cultural context, using the following reflection questions as a guide:
Exploring these questions can help us better understand our own expectations, assumptions, values, and beliefs surrounding education. Becoming more aware of the fact that others may have different expectations, assumptions, values, and beliefs around education can help us learn more effectively and adapt in new contexts, appreciate rather than judge cultural differences, and create more inclusive learning spaces.
I’d love to know what you learn, if anything, through this exercise! Please share in the comments section.
I'm Tara Harvey, Ph.D., Founder of True North Intercultural LLC. I started this blog to provide resources and support to educators interested in fostering intercultural learning. Thanks for reading!
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