Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Reflective practice in cross-cultural university teaching

Susan H. Hall
Teaching Learning Group
Curtin University
This paper is a report on a research and development project undertaken within the implementation of the Cross-Cultural Education Policy at Curtin University, Western Australia in 1994. The project involved a curriculum development program in which a group of five lecturers, assisted by an action research facilitator, undertook to review and develop projects in one of their classes during second semester. The collective aim of the five projects was to develop more appropriate curricula for cross-cultural learning situations. The action research facilitator (the author) worked as a participant observer to conduct case studies within the epistemological frameworks of critical and grounded theory. Each of the lecturers made discoveries and development within their classroom curriculum (through changes to the designs and implementation of a particular unit) which led to observed improvements in student learning. They also expressed a sense of satisfaction from undertaking the program in terms of improvements to their own teaching and professional development. In the series of papers which follow in this symposium four of the lecturers describe their professional and curriculum development as an outcome of taking a self-critically reflective approach to their work and sharing this within a critical group.


The main purpose of this paper is to give an account of the program for self-reflective practice which was undertaken by the lecturers whose papers follow within this symposium. To begin, the aims of the project are addressed in terms of the underpinning definition of curriculum. Next, the nature and structure of the program are outlined and the actual review and development process within which the self-reflective practice occurred is explained. From here, the research method is described briefly along with a summary of the findings. Finally, some of the implications of the program for quality teaching and learning in universities are proffered.

The aims of the Cross-Cultural Curriculum Development Project

The aims of this program, as a policy implementation initiative, were to:
  1. Produce curriculum development which would make a difference. That is, to help lecturers move from a monocultural curriculum to a curriculum which is more appropriate for the diverse cultural composition of present day university classes.

  2. Introduce the notion that, as a lecturer, making your curriculum more culturally inclusive involves examining and critically reflecting on your own attitudes and beliefs.

  3. Create a "ripple effect" so that other lecturers could hear of the program and hopefully feel inspired to take part in future cross-cultural education policy implementation activities.
These aims were interpreted according to a broad definition of curriculum which was later expressed in a video about the project as:
All that constitutes the experience of teaching and learning within a particular program. For example, context, content, methods, materials, processes, assessment, interaction, language, administration and more. (Hall, in Jones, 1994)

The Curriculum Development Program

The lecturers entered the program by responding to a call for expressions of interest in undertaking cross-cultural classroom curriculum development. Funding for the project provided the lecturers with teaching relief from one class for a semester.[1] The program, which ran over one semester, involved the lecturers in workshops, a series of individual conferences with the facilitator, a series of group reflection sessions and on-going curriculum review and development activities within their respective classes. The program outline and timeline was as follows.

The program outline and timeline

18th July *
Pre-semester workshop: Full day workshop on action research process, initial planning of individual projects and negotiation of procedure for working with the facilitator.
Week 1Individual project work-refining thoughts about specific aspects of curriculum to focus on.
Week 2 *Individual conferences with facilitator - Preparing for first round of data collection, or planning for action as appropriate
Week 3 *Group reflection session - supportive critique of plans
Week 4 Individual project work
Week 5 *Individual conferences with facilitator - analysis, replanning
Week 6Individual project work
Week 7 *Group reflection session
Week 8Individual project work
Week 9 *Individual conferences with facilitator - analysis, replanning
Week 10Individual project work
Week 11Individual project work
Week 12 *Group reflection session
Week 13Individual project work
Week 14 *Individual conferences with facilitator - analysing and examining outcomes
Week 15 *
Full day workshop
Presenting on outcomes and process
Considering further dissemination strategies - on campus
Publication possibilities
* = sessions with the facilitator

The program outlined above indicates the series and sequence of the main events but the actual review and development procedure requires elaboration which is provided forthwith.

The review and development activities mentioned earlier were carried out through the process of action research (Carr and Kemmis, 1983). Through this process, and the assistance of the action research facilitator, the lecturers identified one class and an area of the curriculum which would benefit from development. From here they set out to systematically collect data on the curriculum as it unfolded, reflect on the data, plan and implement changes and monitor those changes. This process was repeated in a cyclical manner as ideas and hunches were tested and teaching practices and course designs were changed to alter the learning experiences of the students involved. In some cases the students were enlisted as data collectors and so took an active part in creating a more culturally inclusive curriculum.

The investigatory process described was made more reflective through the regular individual conferences with the facilitator and regular group reflection sessions. In the individual conferences the lecturer's reported and discussed their data collection, analysis and plans for action with the facilitator and the group reflection sessions focused mainly on lecturers reciprocating support and critique for each others' projects.

The research method used to construct case studies of the five projects was an adapted form of participant observation within a critical hermeneutic framework. Data were collected through: recording notes on the lecturer's cyclical planning, action, data collection and reflection when they discussed their projects during the individual conference sessions;[2] lecturers' samples and analysis of data; and, observations of comments made and written records shared during the group reflection sessions.

Data collected through the methods described above were compared to the aims of the program in order to identify the findings (which included the program outcomes). These outcomes, which will be substantiated within the subsequent papers in this symposium, can be summarised as follows.

  1. The program did make a difference to the quality of teaching and learning:

    1. Unit outlines were redesigned to increase student participation and interaction between cultural groups;

    2. Unit content was changed to increase relevance;

    3. New teaching approaches and processes were adopted to meet observed student needs;

    4. Assessment procedures were altered to increase the emphasis on active learning;

    5. Student feedback was regularly sought and made use of in both short term and long term planning;

    6. The student learning environment was improved; and

    7. Pass rates were raised by instances of successfully intervening where students were at risk of failure.

    Furthermore, the review and development process which was used (action research) provided for a gradual improvement and refinement of teaching and learning. These changes to teaching and learning represented curriculum change which was developed and carried out within the classroom context, implemented immediately and also contributed to the lecturers' plans for future curriculum development.

  2. The program involved the lecturers in critically reflecting on their own beliefs and attitudes which were brought to bear on their teaching. Furthermore, it did this in a manner which was professionally satisfying to the lecturers concerned.

  3. The program created a "ripple effect":

    1. This particular form of action research placed emphasis on the social /political context of the curriculum setting. This meant as teaching and learning strategies were explored and developed so were social/political strategies being developed to elicit optimum collaboration and acceptance of the change which was being introduced.

    2. The emphasis on collaboration with people involved in the curriculum settings brought about positive side effects causing some other lecturers to experience beneficial changes to practice.
Overall, the outcomes suggest that the emphasis on collaboration, critical reflection and action served to enhance the quality of teaching and learning as well as the enthusiasm and work satisfaction of the lecturers involved. Now to consider the implications of self-reflective teaching programs, such as this one, for the enhancement of quality teaching and learning in universities.

Implications for quality teaching and learning in universities

Some implications of self-reflective practice in university teaching have already been identified in the relatively new but growing literature in the field (Jones, 1994; Smith, 1994; Zuber-Skerritt, 1992; and Weeks, 1993). This literature reflects a strong influence from the discipline of Education wherein lecturers have been involved in promoting and refining this form of professional development in primary and secondary schools for the past decade and a half. The implications suggested by this study add support to those in the developing literature. The implications are that programs such as this, which involve a group of lecturers undertaking action research for classroom-based curriculum development:
  1. Induct lecturers into actively taking on quality teaching as their professional responsibility.

  2. Can create "ripple effects" as well as serving to bring quality teaching and learning to a centre of attention within universities. This can occur where there is an explicit aim and strategies to disseminate.

  3. Promote collaboration between lecturers involved and associated with the program.

  4. Draw attention to a common purpose between all university lecturers.

  5. Provide evidence that quality teaching and learning is being pursued as a legitimated and on-going activity.
In conclusion, the lecturers' accounts of their experiences and the stated outcomes of this program establish that it was a success. Furthermore, the project provides evidence that self-reflective practice can contribute to self-accountability and that these are achievable aims within university teaching.


Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1983). Becoming Critical: Knowing through Action Research. Deakin University Press, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

Kemmis S. and McTaggert, R. (1988). The Action Research Planner. Deakin University Press, Deakin University.

Jones, C. (1994). The Cross-Cultural Curriculum Project. A video jointly produced by the Curtin University Cross-Cultural Curriculum Policy Implementation Committee, the members of the 1994 Cross-Cultural Curriculum Development Project and the Curtin University Business School. Perth, Western Australia.

Hall, S. (1994). The Explication of Working Knowledge within a Teacher's Self-Evaluation of Her Teaching. Unpublished PhD. thesis, Murdoch University.

Smith, B. (Ed) (1994). The Experience of Reflective University Teachers Addressing Quality in Teaching and Learning. The Centre for Teaching and Learning Action Research Project, University of South Australia.

Weeks, P. (1993). Facilitating a Reflective, Collaborative Teaching Development Project in Higher Education: Reflections on Research Method, Paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Fremantle.

Zuber-Skerritt, O. (1992). Action Research in Higher Education: Examples and reflections. Kogan Page, London.


  1. The funding, received through a campus-based Equity and Access Grant, was secured by the Cross-Cultural Education Policy Implementation Committee and administered by the Cross-Cultural Curriculum Development Coordinator in conjunction with the project Program Steering Committee.

  2. This was done using a method described as shared-note-taking (Hall, 1994, Vol. Two, Appendix Three).
Please cite as: Hall, S. H. (1995). Reflective practice in cross-cultural university teaching. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p116-120. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/halls.html

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