Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning Series: Spotlight on Augsburg UniversityMar 19, 2018
First, let’s define intercultural learning, an often-misunderstood concept. Intercultural learning involves developing one’s intercultural competence. Intercultural competence can be defined as the ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively across cultural differences. Effectively means we achieve our aims. Appropriately means we do so in such a way that any other parties involved feel respected.
Learning about other cultures is not the same as intercultural learning. Ideally, as one develops their intercultural competence, they also learn about other cultures; however, learning about other cultures doesn’t necessarily lead one to develop their intercultural competence. Intercultural learning is developmental and involves building understanding and skills that can be applied in a wide variety of intercultural experiences.
It’s also important to emphasize that developing intercultural competence isn’t simply about engaging with people from different countries. In this globalizing world, cultural differences are all around us—when we engage with people of different nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, political viewpoints, socio-economic statuses, religions, etc.
[For more information about what intercultural learning entails, get your free copy of “An Educator’s Guide to Intercultural Learning” here.]
I have long advocated that to best support students’ intercultural learning, we as educators first need to focus on our own intercultural development. I’ve been happy to see a number of schools working to build the intercultural capacity of faculty and staff. Augsburg University is one example.
Augsburg University is a highly diverse school of approximately 3,500 students in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In a city with large Somali and Hmong immigrant and refugee populations, more than 30% of the 2017 student body identified as students of color.
Augsburg’s current efforts to promote intercultural learning are focused primarily on developing the intercultural competence of faculty and staff using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).
According to Jim Trelstad-Porter, Director of International Student & Scholar Services, Augsburg has been using the IDI in some fashion for approximately ten years, but has been doing so in a deeper, more intentional way the past several years. The key change has been that the school is working toward a deeper understanding of intercultural competence as a developmental paradigm, as opposed to an attribute paradigm. This has helped Augsburg bring together efforts related to social justice, diversity and inclusion, and intercultural development. Trelstad-Porter explains that many people think the intercultural framework doesn’t get into the “heavy stuff” that social justice does, for example, “but if you look at it developmentally, it absolutely does.” As leaders at the institution have come to recognize this, they have grown increasingly supportive of the intercultural development initiative.
Augsburg now has a team of approximately 15 faculty and staff members from across campus that have become Qualified Administrators (QAs) of the IDI; the QAs administer and debrief the results of the assessment with various groups and individuals across campus. The QA group is developing as a team, learning together, trying to coordinate efforts, and working to adhere to best practices. Their work together and in their respective departments is changing the nature of conversations on campus, according to Trelstad-Porter.
Most of the school’s leaders have now all taken the IDI at least once. More than 50% of faculty and staff have taken the IDI, and all new hires are given the option to take it and debrief their results with a QA as part of the on-boarding process. In addition, Augsburg has created a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program, which “is designed to help faculty and staff continue to grow in their intercultural competence and to build the awareness, knowledge, and skills necessary to create more inclusive campus spaces inside and outside the classroom.” All participants take the IDI.
Trelstad-Porter is quick to point out that getting to where they are now has not been an easy process for Augsburg, and continuity of the intercultural initiative depends heavily on the support of leadership. The focus on the intercultural development framework is often threatened by forces trying to reintroduce the attribute approach.
Trelstad-Porter also emphasizes that the IDI needs to be used not just for assessment or awareness, but for developmental purposes as well. This is something Augsburg is focusing on more heavily, trying to figure out how to make best use of the Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is basically a self-guided workbook individuals receive upon taking the IDI that they can use to work on their own intercultural development.
When asked what advice he would give to institutions interested in building their intercultural capacity, Trelstad-Porter encourages others to take the time to allow for thoughtful consideration of the intercultural competence (i.e. developmental) framework—what it is and what it offers—without bringing your own baggage or pre-conceived notions to the conversation. “There really is no other framework like it,” he explains, “because it includes so many areas—global and domestic diversity issues.”
Augsburg—like any institution—“is an imperfect place where we are all operating at our own developmental levels, and this impacts us every day,” Trelstad-Porter says. To be successful as educators, “we need to pay attention to how we’re navigating cultural differences and how it’s impacting our ability to be effective.”
For more information about Augsburg University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program, click here.
For an explanation of the developmental approach to intercultural competence, see the following chapter:
- Bennett, M.J. (2012). Paradigmatic assumptions and a developmental approach to intercultural learning. In M. Vande Berg, R. M. Paige & K. H. Lou (Eds.), Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it (pp. 90-114). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
What are you or your institution doing to foster intercultural learning? Share in the comments section below. Who knows—you might get featured in a future institutional spotlight!
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