Drawing on diversity: The international classroom at Maastricht University and beyond

Dr Donna Carroll – EDLAB, Maastricht University

Session Report by Ian Gray

Maastricht University is the most international university in the Netherlands with 53% of students and 42% of academic staff coming from overseas. With its emphasis on small-scale, collaborative and student-centred learning, this diversity can have a big impact on group work, projects and tutorials as prior academic experiences, communication styles, expectations and learning preferences are so different.

Donna Carroll presented a recent initiative that has been undertaken at Maastricht to produce training for teaching staff, to help them to draw out the benefits of these diverse groups and varied perspectives, and prevent intercultural communication problems.

To highlight the kind of problems that can arise, Donna started by showing us some abstract, flashcard-style images created by Graphic artist Yang Liu in her series East Meets West. For example:

Representation of how different cultures queue at the bar – Yang Liu, East Meets West

We all had red and blue paper squares in front of us and were asked to hold up which image we most identified with. The results were sometimes quite surprising.

Donna Carroll leading the session

After this, we reflected on how our own in-built biases were often invisible to us, and how it is vital to try to think outside of these in order to ensure that learning providers can best support a wide range of learners.

Donna detailed the kinds of training and support that Maastricht are developing, and the delegates than broke off into group discussions on questions such as “How does culture play a role in giving and receiving feedback?” and “Should students’ development of intercultural competencies be formally assessed?”.

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