Engaging with the world from your home classroom: tips for internationalising the curriculum

Tanja Reiffenrath shares advice on giving curricula an international dimension that helps students develop global perspectives

Tanja Reiffenrath 's avatar
University of Göttingen
9 Sep 2021
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Advice on building global perspectives into your curricula to internationalise your teaching from home

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The internationalisation of teaching and learning has seemed, in recent months, to be almost synonymous with digital cross-border scenarios. Formats such as virtual mobility and virtual exchange have been widely adopted. No doubt, these can be highly engaging and inspiring formats. But they present just one way of internationalising the curriculum and providing all students with an international experience on their home campus.

Betty Leask, professor emerita of internationalisation at La Trobe University, describes internationalisation of the curriculum as the “incorporation of international, intercultural, and/or global dimensions into the content of the curriculum as well as the learning outcomes, assessment tasks, teaching methods, and support services of a program of study”.

Incorporation is key here. The goal is not to squeeze even more content into already-crowded study programmes but to open the curriculum to new perspectives. Internationalisation of curricula can therefore be linked to different didactic approaches, such as research-oriented teaching, problem-based learning, project- or practice-oriented teaching or service learning. It can find a place in basic lectures as well as in more advanced classes.

Begin by clarifying why an international dimension or a global outlook is important for your students, the degree programme in which you teach, and your discipline. Then spell out what “the international” means in your context. This will give you important pointers for implementing internationalisation of curricula. Depending on your context, these can be vastly different, but the following can be starting points:

  • Stimulate a change of perspective

Expand your reading list and invite students to engage with other points of view through case studies or texts from other cultural contexts. Similarly, colleagues from other parts of the world might join your class for a guest lecture or a discussion session. Talk with your students about how these unfamiliar takes on a subject matter clash with their own perspective or how they work to counter or, on the other side, reinforce a paradigm. A change of perspective will become particularly engaging when you challenge your students to critically reflect on canonical works in your discipline and acknowledge regional differences in how these works are received.

  • Encourage and foster exchange among your students

You do not have to rely on the presence of international incoming students. Even without their presence, you are likely to be surrounded by a diverse group of students: They might have different faiths, different social and cultural backgrounds, be first-generation academics, live in a rural part of your country, and so on. Maybe some students have already been mobile and spent time abroad. Maybe some have experienced migration or flight. Get to know your group and use the diversity in the room as a resource by inviting students to contribute knowledge about local contexts and share their experiences. You might also have your students work in teams during a part of the course and design the assignment in such a way that the diversity of the perspectives in the group contributes to the solution of the task.

  • Consider the local dimensions of internationalisation and globalisation

Challenge your students to look for “the international” not only in the distance. They will be able to identify effects of globalisation and migration in their own city or region or to think about local circumstances when it comes to global questions of, for example, sustainability, climate change or equity. Here, community-based student research projects and excursions or the cooperation with local stakeholders and community members can go hand in hand with social engagement.

  • Raise comparative questions

Ask your students to consider a question in their discipline from a comparative perspective. This will work for issues as diverse as inheritance law, questions in macroeconomics or breeding strategies for staple crops. Your students will be able to identify differences and similarities but, more importantly, they will also be able to understand why local or national systems are “that way”. To take this further, you may also set up or have your students join a simulation game that requires them to take on different roles and points of view.

  • Enable your students to participate in international networks

Motivate your students to see themselves as part of an international community of researchers and/or professionals during their studies. Introduce them to cross-border collaboration in an academic setting or another professional context (such as projects, studies, publications or presentations they prepare together with students from partner universities). Your collaboration in your international network might even culminate in a student conference, a student journal or an online exhibition.

Many of these examples do not require English as a language of instruction. Engaging with new, perhaps unfamiliar, points of view and incorporating global contexts can happen regardless of the language of instruction. What is important, though, is that these activities are not incidental moments in a study programme. Crafting learning outcomes at module level will not only help you design activities and assessment methods that fit your context, but will also enable you and your colleagues to approach internationalisation of the curriculum systematically. Then this process can fulfil its promise of helping all students in the programme develop important international and intercultural competences – regardless of international mobility.

Tanja Reiffenrath is project coordinator for internationalisation of the curricula at the University of Göttingen.

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