"My role is to create a sequence of experiences that will build...that will force students to think about things critically and confront their own biases."
~Kevin, Anthropology Professor
Myth vs. Reality Since students self-select into education abroad programs, faculty often assume that the students are ready and willing to engage with the host culture.
But research shows that students often lack the social skills and confidence to participate in intercultural learning. They get overwhelmed by the experience, inhibiting their ability to engage with the host culture. To address this issue, faculty need an intercultural learning framework--or scaffold--to help students build intercultural competence (Laux, 2021).
The Research New research explores faculty members' experiences with scaffolding. Scaffolding is the process of designing and implementing a framework that supports intercultural learning (Laux, 2021). The research reveals 4 key findings about scaffolding:
Scaffolding occurs in 3 phases: staging, building, and transferring
Staging prepares students for intercultural learning experiences
Building is an incremental escalation of activities that helps students develop intercultural competence over time
Transferringsystematically helps students process intercultural learning experiences and apply their learning across contexts
Faculty report that scaffolding improves students' ability to engage with the host culture
Effective scaffolding is highly responsive to students' emotional and social needs, ensuring that students aren't overwhelmed by their experience
Faculty need a high level of mentoring or coaching skills to effectively implement a scaffolding strategy
The Solutions Building a scaffold helps students develop intercultural competence, but it's a challenging task. The 5 design principles help faculty create a scaffold that works for their course. Getting started is easy. Faculty can:
1. Identify intercultural learning activities that focus on the students' needs. "You can't just design experiences because you think they would be good. You have to have empathy for the student you’re designing for."
~Eric, business professor
2. Develop a staging process that prepares students for each activity.
"Just by making the city more familiar to them and making their interactions easier, it helps students spread their wings. I want them to be thoughtful and willing to read the room, not to make them afraid or intimidated or overly cautious."
~Rebecca, performing arts professor
3. Incrementally increase the intensity of intercultural learning throughout the course.
"It was through that building [process] that we brought students into local life, which eating in restaurants and meeting tour guides or officials would not do."
~Kim, international relations professor
4. Systematically integrate ways to help students transfer their learning to other contexts.
"We would come back after every experience and connect it to competencies. Not just to better understand the experiences, but also to have an experiential literacy that students could use post-program in their school, personal lives, civic life, and religious life."
~Eric, business professor
5. Recognize that the faculty role is different, requiring more attention to student wellbeing in the course design.
"It is much more of a coaching experience than it is a teaching experience. It’s knowing the ways people learn [and] the ways they don’t. [You have to] push just enough and not too much."