International classrooms are more than just combining the various nationalities of the students and staff who participate in them. The benefits of internationalisation can be fostered and facilitated by teachers and students alike, through creating inclusive learning environments. This was the message of the inspiring “knowledge breakfast” that opened Day 3 of the Education Festival. Around 60 attendees discovered some of the innovations currently supporting inclusion and diversity across the university, while participating in a lively concurrent discussion in the chat. Intercultural awareness is not just top-down, and students too shared their experiences of participating in - and sometimes spearheading - efforts to foster diversity and inclusion.
Later in the morning, the second session picked up the theme of international classrooms. Through an interactive format, participants were asked to take a hands-on approach to considering how they could utilise the strengths of diversity in their classrooms
After this activity, the presenters shared the results of a parallel survey of first-year Psychology students, who were asked to consider the same issues. Common points of view emerged from a wide range of suggestions about actions teachers might take to deliver content in a more inclusive way: both teachers and students prioritised course structure, the nature of student-lecturer interactions, and clarity in learning goals.
The afternoon panels were defined by their interactivity and the broad range of current initiatives that were presented. What makes a student feel comfortable in the classroom? In a frank discussion on unconscious bias, attendees were challenged to consider their own vision of the world and how this related to their teaching environments. Some of the panels revealed innovative projects occurring across the university, including over 300 students taking part in the “Buddy Project” in the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences as well as the immense potential of “Virtual Exchange” programmes across national borders, both of which offer opportunities for students to experience prolonged intercultural interactions. From a teaching perspective, sessions such as “Teaching culturally diverse students, so what?” allowed educators to reflect on an intriguing claim: what makes a good teacher can differ depending on the classroom. For some students, a teacher who challenges them is of paramount importance, whereas other students look for compassion and understanding first and foremost.
Internationalisation was a core theme of the day, but discussions flowed in many directions – gender, race, incorporating perspectives of the Global South, and decolonising the curriculum were among the other attendant issues addressed in the sessions. Day 3 of the Education Festival raised awareness of immediate schemes to enhance diversity and inclusivity in all of its forms in the classroom, but its core message was that these topics can and should be foundational to our teaching philosophy. Nor are these static questions: challenges will evolve alongside the university, and so must our responses. In short, we must first build inclusion and diversity, but through dialogue and innovation, also remain attentive to ways to maintain them.
After these incredibly thought-provoking sessions, we turn tomorrow to the question of Assessments for Learning. To catch up with anything you’ve missed and to see what’s still to come, check out the Education Festival Programme!
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