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Intercultural Competence workshop by Janet Bennett

Date:31 January 2018
Author:Sake Jager, project manager
Workshop picture
Workshop picture

On Friday 12 January, the ENVOIE project had the privilege of hosting a workshop for the team by Dr Janet M. Bennett, executive director of the Intercultural Communication Institute, Portland Oregon, and one of the principal trainers and advisors of the University of Groningen on intercultural competence development for academic staff and students.

Intercultural competence (IC) has been identified by the ENVOIE team as a key competence in the virtual exchanges which the project is currently setting up in over 10 disciplines across the university. A critical challenge in designing the educational scenarios for the online exchanges remains how to link up IC development with the disciplinary content learning which is central in the exchanges. 

After introducing the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), an internationally validated model for IC development, Dr Bennett engaged the workshop attendants (consisting of teachers, educational supporters and international officers affiliated with the ENVOIE project) in hands-on activities familiarizing them with critical concepts of the framework and introducing them, through a series of beautifully crafted drawings, to the different stages in intercultural development. The workshop participants were thus invited to relate their own or their students’ levels of development to one of the following stages of development:

I. Denial of Difference
II. Defense against Difference
III.  Minimization of Difference
IV. Acceptance of Difference
V. Adaptation to Difference
VI. Integration of Difference

The discussion that followed from these tasks touched on important insights with regard to IC training:

  • That real progress from lower to higher levels can be achieved in a specified amount of time, provided proper task selection, preparation, execution and follow-up are provided);
  • That several instruments, including self-assessment instruments, for evaluating IC development are available, such as the AACU Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric;
  • That it is unlikely that the final stage of development (Integration) will be achieved through teaching alone.

Although the workshop did not specifically address how to integrate IC in disciplinary tasks carried out by students from geographically remote, culturally diverse international backgrounds, the workshop was extremely useful for familiarizing us with the IC framework which during the past few years has become one of the overarching frameworks for intercultural development and internationalisation in the UG.

Virtual exchanges (as promoted by ENVOIE and related projects such as EVOLVE, EVE, etc.) offer innovative opportunities for intercultural engagement, which we must seek to use for intercultural learning. Dr Bennett’s presentation and the follow-up activities suggested by Michaela Carriëre, partner in the project on behalf of the Language Centre, have been very helpful to make us realize what is at stake, and the framework is giving us tools to interpret intercultural encounters and create learning opportunities for this. It also protects us against unrealistic expectations, such as that after one or two online meetings in which IC is not the primary objective of the meeting students' IC will have improved considerably.

This drives home the fact that Virtual Exchanges (OIE) should be regarded in the wider education programme context, in which they have a role to play, together with  training in IC, physical exchanges / mobility, and other forms of internationalisation of the curriculum, which should be aligned in such a way that truly international learning takes place. We continue to develop OIE/VE in such a way that they are making sense in the wider institutional perspective.


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