Your cultural frame – A Teaching Online Meetup (TOM) for promoting diversity in the classroom

An initiative launched by the Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI) and supported by MEA, Teaching Online Meetup (TOM) is an interdisciplinary support network allowing educators and professionals to test out new tools and conduct hands-on activities to support  online learning and promoting social connections in the classroom. An open and friendly community of practice, the TOMers meet every three weeks on Wednesday for an hour 12 PM to 1 PM to participate and share practical experiences aiming to increase interactive and social learning in an online environment.

Having both enjoyed and benefited from previous sessions, I could not decline the invitation from my colleagues from MSDI, the organiser of TOM, Dr. Zainurul Rahman and Bowen Yang to co-facilitate the #27TOM session. Reflecting on current challenges in promoting cultural diversity and inclusion in non-traditional learning settings, I proposed to introduce to participants a cultural activity that I had been running in the face to face class for years to be structured for the first time as an online class activity.

Adapted from Hofstede and Pedersen’s book Exploring Culture, this activity requires participants to share their thoughts on ambiguous pictures triggering a wide range of interpretations.The traditional live group discussion in class was designed as a fully online activity using Google slides and Zoom chat. In the first activity step, the TOMers were allocated to work in pairs, then invited to exchange in writing via Zoom chat about what they thought they were seeing in a specific picture. They then extracted the finding from the chat in the Google slide. This was done before the next step, a live review on others’ thoughts in the Google slides and then engage in the discussion to share their thoughts, ask questions or provide replies about the pictures. Then the discussion went to a deeper conversation, a collective live review in which they answered the usual debriefing questions - What happened? How did you feel? What are some of the things you will take away?

Finally, the DAE model was presented as a potential follow up for this activity. Well known in cultural awareness training as a frame shifting strategy, this model allows participants to structure their reflection and discussion around three successive steps - Describe, Analyse, and Evaluate.

The session was well received with positive feedback in which participants acknowledged the importance of conducting a cultural activity in an online classroom activity to create the sense of cultural awareness among the students. Among all comments, the two following are particularly illustrating the intrinsic value of this activity, as well as its successful translation in the online environment:

I love the variation of interpretations.’

It’s hard to predict what other perspectives others will have without actually engaging in exchange.’

Experiencing the impact of our own ‘cultural frame’ when we evaluate and judge a critical situation, understanding the importance of eliciting different perspectives in the classroom (and beyond), accepting and appreciating others’ opinions are all different facets of cultural awareness activities like this one.

While face-to-face has long been the preferred way to deliver cultural awareness programs or activities, like other practitioners and scholars around the world, I have to find new ways to foster intercultural dialogue in virtual learning. The #27TOM session was a great opportunity for me to go out of my comfort zone, and to test a re-imagined cultural activity in an online environment.

If you would like to learn more about this initiative, please contact Nadine Normand-Marconnet at nadine.normandmarconnet@monash.edu.

The article is written by Dr Nadine Normand-Marconnet, Senior Lecturer, Monash Intercultural Lab.