An introduction to internationalising the curriculum
14 August 2014
A practical guide to adding an international perspective to taught courses
In order to prepare students to become global citizens, the internalisation of each curriculum is a priority at UCL. Whatever their discipline or level of study, students should gain an international perspective on their subject, on its application and on themselves.
Although it will be easier to demonstrate internationalisation in some disciplines than others, when it comes to taking practical steps, there are plenty of options available.
The suggestions below may be combined or may feature to varying degrees in individual modules.
Teaching and learning
Wherever possible, staff writing or reviewing modules should explore case studies, texts and other materials from more than one culture, national background or geographical area.
Ask ethical questions
Wherever possible, the taught material should be presented and explored in ways that encourage students to confront the ethical challenges inherent in the material, and to reflect on their own value judgments and those of the group.
Students studying material with a clear UK- or other country-specific focus should be encouraged, wherever possible, to contextualise this material against their knowledge and understanding of practice in other countries and cultures.
Good practice for theory
There may be some instances where these principles can't be applied - where material is highly theoretical, deals with universal principles, or because this approach is otherwise methodologically inappropriate, for example. In those cases, staff should try to ensure that the international dimension is reflected throughassessment, delivery and student support (see below).
Students in disciplines that are particularly theoretical should, ideally, be encouraged to study at least one module in which they can apply their knowledge to scenarios and problems that can be presented in terms of national, cultural or methodological difference.
Assessment and feedback
Staff should explain the rationale behind chosen assessment models to students and ensure that international students in particular are supported to adapt to UK HE modes of assessment.
Across a degree programme, students should be exposed to a range of assessment models, including those that test students’ ability to work collaboratively, to present effectively and to work in culturally sensitive ways.
Clarity on topics
Wherever appropriate, teaching materials should be clear about the reasons why UCL teaches a topic in a particular way. For example, in contrast to institutions in other countries and contexts.
Students should be encouraged to select topics with reference to their own cultural and intellectual background. Whether students are encouraged to choose topics that reflect their cultural background or encouraged deliberately to tackle unfamiliar contexts, they should have the opportunity to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each approach with support from a tutor.
Debate, discussion and presentations should be structured so as to encourage students from different backgrounds to contribute their views, and to challenge mono-cultural interpretations of a particular problem or challenge.
Where students are studying UK-centric material, the different cultural backgrounds and assumptions of the class should be used to explore and extend students’ understanding of the material.
Diversity among teachers
Departments should encourage students to appreciate how the variety of their teachers’ cultural and national backgrounds can enrich their learning.
Problems can be a solution
Problem-based learning refers to the use of problems or challenges to scaffold students’ learning.
Working with guidance, groups of students tackle a problem grounded in reality, identifying gaps in their knowledge and undertaking activities that will enable them to propose solutions. The ‘real-life’ focus encourages exploration of problems from across the world, and from a variety of cultural perspectives.
Staff should encourage students to appreciate why a subject is being taught in a particular way. For example, because of the national education culture; to draw out the varying experiences and perspectives of a diverse cohort; to comply with the standards of UK professional bodies.
Where appropriate, students should be given the opportunity to examine a problem, argument or idea from more than one methodological perspective.
Where possible, the lecturer’s preferred approach to a topic should be placed in a broader context, with students given the opportunity to consider how a different culture might approach the subject, or how geographical location might affect how the problem is tackled or the significance it is assigned.
Students should also be aware that methodologies can be determined by professional contexts, with academics approaching problems in ways that might differ from the approaches taken by practitioners.
An internationalised programme allows students to develop the skills required for future employment. These skills include teamwork, communication and the ability to present to an audience. Students should be given the opportunity to develop these skills across their programme.
UCL recognises that teamwork is appropriate to varying extents in different disciplines, and course convenors should continue to use their discretion to ensure that the needs of their students are balanced against what is appropriate to their discipline.
Opportunities for all
A study abroad programme can be an important component of an internationalised curriculum, and departments should aim to facilitate study abroad for all students who wish to pursue such opportunities.
All departments with students studying abroad should make sure that students have the opportunity to reflect on their experiences in a structured way, and to incorporate the knowledge and cultural understanding they have developed into their work in the period after their return.
Study abroad isn't always appropriate in particular disciplines (e.g. those with strict accreditation guidelines set by professional bodies). Where study abroad is not possible or desirable, departments should take extra care to facilitate an internationalised curriculum in other ways.
Not all students will be able, or will wish, to study abroad. Those who do take advantage of the opportunity should have strong academic credentials and be adequately supported for the personal and cultural challenges of a period overseas.
Collaborations with institutions overseas
Departments should encourage staff to make the most of opportunities to learn from good teaching practice in other institutions, including through exchange opportunities and collaboration with former colleagues. This process can be supported by staff in the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT), including through the Erasmus staff mobility programme.
Departments should be encouraged to exploit new technologies – including podcasting, video-conferencing and blogs – to strengthen teaching links and opportunities with overseas institutions where this will enrich the taught curriculum. Support for this is available from E-Learning Environments (ELE).
Staff should make use of personal tutoring sessions to encourage students to take advantage of opportunities to develop a broader global perspective (e.g. through module selection, departmental activities, study abroad and extra-curricular activities).
Personal tutorials also provide an opportunity for staff to monitor whether students are developing the skills they will need for future employment, including the ability to communicate well in mixed cultural groups.