Internationalisation opportunities for teachers

The teacher – as a person – defines the teaching and learning experience for students (Cranton, 2001) and students recognise their teachers as the most important aspect of internationalisation. If the teaching staff themselves are not internationalised the students ask ‘how can their curriculum be internationalised?’ Recent literature on internationalisation has, therefore, begun to focus on teaching staff, arguing that ‘teachers as individuals must operate from a base that extends beyond local and national perspectives’ (Sanderson 2008:277).

On a personal level Teekens sees staff as needing to reflect on their personal attitudes towards diversity, and on a professional level they may require opportunities to engage in critique of their own accepted discipline beliefs in knowledge and how that knowledge is taught. Attitudes that we are seeking in our students (such as broadmindedness and understanding and respect for other peoples and their culture, values and way of life) need to be demonstrated by ourselves.

An appreciation of one’s home culture as a producer and cultivator of one’s personal and social worldviews is an essential starting point. ‘Culture is not a vague or exotic label attached to faraway persons or places, but a personal orientation to each decision, behaviour, and action in our lives’ (Pedersen,1988: vii). Teachers’ understanding of and openness to other cultures is first and foremost grounded in their appreciation and awareness of their own culture. To question one’s own cultural values and think more deeply about the qualities required to teach in an intercultural setting is to also necessary to challenge established notions of professional quality. Teekens draws together the issues that we need to consider under internationalisation, and you and your colleagues may like to discuss how these factors impact on you and your discipline as you begin to engage with internationalisation:

  1. Issues relating to using a non-native language of instruction with your students;
  2. Factors related to dealing with cultural differences;
  3. Specific requirements regarding learning and teaching styles;
  4. Insight into cultural implications of using media and technology;
  5. Specific requirements connected with your academic discipline;
  6. Knowledge of foreign education systems;
  7. Knowledge of international labour markets; and
  8. Personal qualities.

Sanderson also emphasises a ‘cosmopolitanism’ which is not limited to knowledge about other cultures and to having travelled great distances. He argues that a cosmopolitan outlook can be achieved by any member of teaching staff, and is underpinned more by attitudes of openness, interconnectivity, interdependence, reciprocity and plurality. Furthermore, the cosmopolitan outlook should be rooted in one’s appreciation of one’s own culture – what Matthews and Sdihu (2005) call ‘grounded cosmopolitanism’.

Generally lecturers need to feel secure in their disciplinary knowledge and the ways the knowledge is taught before they are able to deviate substantially from a well-established cannon and deal with totally unexpected questions and perspectives.

Dealing with cultural diversity in the classroom is to a large extent dealing with language issues because language expresses so much more than what is literally said. Staff need specific skills as each national group uses the lingua franca in its own way, in their own cultural context, not realising that others may be understanding the words but not comprehending the meaning as it was intended. Humour, body language and other nonverbal signals communicate messages that can be easily misinterpreted. In diverse classrooms knowledge of specific behaviours in different cultures may be useful but not necessarily helpful in a particular situation that requires an immediate practical solution. What is needed is an understanding of the differences that are affecting communication in the educational process.

Much has been written about staff perceptions and assumptions of international students. International students are often perceived to be too teacher dependent, lacking independent study skills and tending to adopt rote learning strategies. However, some research indicates that international students often outperform their peers academically and that such conceptions may be misguided (Kember, 2000). For example many students see memorising and understanding as complementary processes resulting in high quality learning (Biggs, 1999). They use repetition and memorising to create a deep impression to discover new meaning whereas for western students repetition is used to check that they have remembered something. Western students often see understanding as a process of sudden insight whereas Confucian-heritage students often see understanding as a long process that requires considerable effort.

The self and peer assessment questionnaire highlights some areas of importance in relation to internationalisation for teachers and may help you to identify knowledge and skills you would like to develop to assist you to internationalise your teaching.


  • Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for quality learning at university. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.
  • Cranton, P. (2001). Becoming an authentic teacher in higher education. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing.
  • Kember, D. (2000). Misconceptions about the learning approaches, motivation and study practices of Asian students. Higher Education, 40 (2), 99-121.
  • Matthews, J. & Sidhu, R. (2005). Desperately seeking the global subject: International education, citizenship and cosmopolitanism. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 3, 49-66
  • Pedersen, P. (1988). A handbook for developing multicultural awareness. Alexandria: American Asssociation for for Counseling and Development
  • Sanderson, G. (2008). A foundation for the internationalization of the academic self. Journal of Studies in International Education 12(3) 276-307
  • Teekens, H. (2003). The requirements to develop specific skills for teaching in an intercultural setting. Journal of Studies in International Education, 7 (1), 108-119.


Valerie Clifford and Lys Alcayna-Stevens, April 2009