• Dallas C. Tatman

Why Do We Have to Do [This]?

Everyone who teaches at any level, in any subject, and via any medium⎯has undoubtedly fielded this question from a student or two. The CLICK team’s answer is to focus on the action, the verb “do.” “Doing” emphasizes that experience breeds expertise.

I was thinking about this while looking over one of the projects we are currently supporting at Gazelle Intl - World Maternity. Students from ROC Midden Nederland (Utrecht) and Waukesha County Technical College in the United States are collaborating on a project that compares issues like maternity leave and maternity traditions between countries. Instructors Bibi Vlek and Asma Hassanin (from ROC MN) and Tiffanie Kloida (from WCTC) have designed a virtual “3rd Learning Space” where teams of Dutch and American students who would normally never meet each other are actively practicing intercultural collaboration. This kind of student experience doesn’t happen by accident; it begins with a strategic intervention based on solid pedagogical theory and practice. That intervention is our CLICK system and it operates on the premise that the learning “experience is (actively) constructed.”

When surveyed by Gazelle Intl. prior to starting their virtual exchange CLICK project, neither Dutch nor American students seemed overly worried about the difficulty of subject matter. Their main concerns were soft skill challenges like working across time zones and overcoming language barriers. More than 90% of students surveyed “Agreed” or “Strongly Agreed” they already had an “appreciation for other cultures.” By voicing the gap between appreciation and ability, students were also articulating that international teamwork requires a Cultural Competency they did not currently possess. One anonymous student worried that international students would not “understand each other and not just because of the language.”

This incredibly honest and thoughtful reflection by the students supports why the CLICK approach aligns with Dr. Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). The DMIS is a continuum upon which people can be located between the poles of ethnocentrism (“My own culture is reality.”) and ethnorelativism (“Culture is contextual”), giving us a way to understand and articulate where students are…and how to implement teaching practices that will move them toward cultural competence.

Cultural competency is much more than “awareness” or “sensitivity.” Certainly, Awareness and Sensitivity are included in cultural competence, but they are not forward-moving actions. Cultural competency necessarily involves a demonstration ⎯ “Enaction” not Inaction. CLICK projects reflect this key concept illustrated by the DMIS ⎯ merely having knowledge about culture differences does not translate into cultural sensitivity; active experience (doing!) is necessary.

Which brings us back to the familiar student question, “Why do we have to do [this]?” The World Maternity CLICK project embodies the axiom that competence is kinetic, active. Rather than teach students about multicultural maternal practices, Vleck, Hassanin, and Kloida are giving their students a safe and structured environment in which to “do.” Students are developing expertise that will mean they can actively close the “appreciation-ability” gap. Yes, their students will learn subject matter. Yes, their students will develop critical thinking skills and practice problem solving. But, most importantly, the Teacher-Teacher, Student-Teacher, and Student-Student relationships will build cultural competency that will impact the futures of everyone involved with this Global Maternity CLICK project.

Dallas Tatman