Lessons Learned from Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning

best practices Aug 27, 2018

In this fifth and final post in a series highlighting how different institutions are supporting intercultural learning, we examine some of the themes and lessons learned from these institutional spotlights.

If you haven’t yet read the previous posts in this series, I’d encourage you to do so before you continue reading (but if you seriously just want the Cliff Notes, I understand; I wrote this post especially for you):


The following are some of the key lessons we can learn from these institutions:


The importance of supporting faculty and staff’s intercultural learning.
Augsburg, Purdue, and Taylor are all focused on developing the intercultural capacity of faculty and staff, and have shown that doing so can have direct, positive impacts on students’ intercultural learning.

In the Wofford example, we saw how participating in intercultural training influenced and shaped Professors Dan Mathewson and Britt Newman’s teaching and led them to develop an intercultural living and learning community.

Many of the educators I spoke with at these institutions emphasized the importance of faculty and staff intercultural development. Purdue’s Katherine Yngve says it’s been very important to get faculty “to own their own intercultural development,” to realize focusing on their own development is meaningful. Taylor’s Charlie Brainer concurs, advising other institutions to “invest in faculty development.”


Buy-in from leadership is critical.
Most of the institutions highlighted in this series are able to focus on intercultural learning to the extent that they are thanks largely to having an intercultural “champion” in leadership. It’s critical that leaders are not only supportive of intercultural learning, but truly understand what that means and entails.

While many schools say they value intercultural learning, what exactly that means and how to go about fostering such learning often remains understandably ambiguous. Leaders need to invest in their own professional development in this area in order to get a more concrete idea of what intercultural learning entails and how to foster it so that they can initiate, encourage, and support tangible means for achieving these objectives. Then they must walk their talk.

We can see examples of walking the talk in Purdue’s faculty grants and, at Taylor, efforts to compensate faculty and staff who attend workshops during their normal release time. Providing monetary incentives to faculty for their involvement in intercultural learning is a great way for an institution to very literally demonstrate the value it places on intercultural learning. Of course, this is often not feasible, but there are plenty of other ways to do so, such as by finding creative ways that intercultural efforts could help faculty achieve tenure (like how Purdue now includes mentorship as part of the tenure process and mentoring is a key component of its Growing Intercultural Leaders program). Augsburg’s move toward incorporating use of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) into its new employee onboarding process is another example.


Needs to be an ongoing process that starts with the “low-hanging fruit.” For most of these schools, supporting intercultural learning is about more than one workshop or training. Instead, it’s about taking a long-term, systematic—albeit organic—approach.

Instead of forcing buy-in, they’re focused on cultivating it. None of these schools started by forcing anything upon anyone. Instead, they provided training and support to faculty and staff who were most interested. In turn, those faculty and staff went out and used their new learning, talked about it with colleagues, and collected (and shared) data when feasible, thus widening the circle of interest.

Purdue and Taylor Universities started by providing intercultural training and support to faculty involved with study abroad. The impact, however, has been much broader, changing the nature of conversations on campus. For that reason, Yngve suggests, “Start with the people who want to play. Give them the tools to become leaders in their department; support them. Then widen the circle.”

Brainer offers similar advice: “Look for faculty with interest and desire to grow in intercultural learning and invest in professional development for those who also have the capacity and interest in mentoring/coaching other faculty. Each faculty member who moves into a training role greatly extends the effort and reach of our efforts. Resourcing their efforts with release time or other incentives will pay back significant dividends.”


Importance of having a conceptual framework. Several of the educators I spoke with at these institutions stressed the importance of having a solid construct to guide their intercultural efforts. As Charles Calahan of Purdue says, “You need a research-based model to hang your hat on.”

In most cases, the institutions highlighted here are taking a developmental approach—in line with the Intercultural Development Continuum, often using the corresponding assessment tool, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). Purdue pairs this with AAC&U’s Intercultural VALUE Rubric.

At Augsburg, Jim Trelstad-Porter believes the current momentum is due in large part to the fact that the school is working toward a deeper understanding of intercultural competence as a developmental paradigm, as opposed to an attribute paradigm.

Even in the case of Wofford’s Intercultural Living & Learning Community, the origin of the program can be largely attributed to professors Newman and Mathewson attending workshops that helped them develop a conceptual framework through which to more effectively approach intercultural teaching and learning.


Intercultural learning is about more than study abroad. Something that is apparent from these examples is that intercultural learning is about so much more than study abroad. We cannot ensure our students will develop their intercultural competence simply by increasing the numbers of bodies moving between countries, and we should not assume that students can only develop their intercultural competence by going abroad.

The institutions highlighted in this series have developed programs—such as the intercultural engineering course at Purdue and the Intercultural Living & Learning Community at Wofford—that are positively impacting students’ intercultural learning that do not involve going abroad. These programs are a direct result of faculty and staff’s own intercultural learning and development.


The importance of gathering and using data. Another thing these institutional examples point to for me is how our intercultural efforts can be aided by data. Collecting both quantitative and qualitative data can help us better understand what is working and what’s not, and make changes as we go. Data can also help generate buy-in and develop momentum. As Calahan says at Purdue, “You have to have data or you just have opinion.”

Data is also important because it is a key component in faculty research and publishing. By gathering and sharing data about their intercultural efforts, faculty can both move their own careers forward and help inform our understanding of the intercultural learning process.


In Conclusion

These are some of my key take-aways from this blog series, but I’d love to hear what you’ve learned from these institutional spotlights and how you might be able to apply some of these ideas in your particular context. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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