Teaching and Learning Forum 99 [ Contents ]

Internationalisation of the curriculum and the classroom: A community based action research perspective

Michael Pearson
School of Design
Curtin University of Technology
Internationalisation of the curriculum and the classroom are major goals for most Universities in this climate of open and flexible learning. The School of Design has been addressing the challenge of identifying the issues and facing the necessary changes that these issues present. Of fundamental concern are the definitions of the major aims from a University perspective and how these aims relate to the domain of Design as a vehicle for satisfying these University goals and at the same time address the demands of the domain as a vehicle for specific professional practice. The paper documents how these issues are being implemented successfully by moving away from a classic researcher/subject perspective to embrace notions of community based action research where there is no distinction between the researcher and the researched. This move has made the tension of the change agents work less stressful and the application of alternative opinion less confronting to initiate. Two strategies of this nature that reflect this success have been implemented - a curriculum review and a reflective practice workshop where lecturers meet to talk about their work together. The author offers his findings as a possible model.

This paper identifies useful strategies to resolve issues of change. The paper describes how a classic research strategy was transformed by the adoption of a community based action research methodology out of which rose the need for an ongoing review of curriculum content, and the organisation of reflective practice sessions that are a vehicle for staff to air their views in an atmosphere of collegiality and support.

For the sake of space this paper deals with issues of process rather than content; except in circumstance where inclusion will benefit description. The major text has added to it, a matrix series which represents clearly these processes. These figures will form the basis for the conference presentation. A time line matrix puts this activity in perspective and sets the scene for the discussion of the central issue of the paper which are strategies which this School has put in place to achieve what it believes to be best practice in the context of Internationalisation.

Definition of terms

Internationalisation'A preparation for life in the global community through greater understanding and respect for other cultures' - Curtin University Mission Statement 1996
CultureCulture is the way people pass on, experience and explore their views and values. The way they communicate with each other, interact with the environment and organise themselves are all part of a culture.' - Community Cultural Development Program -The Australia Council 1990 p57.

The interpretation of Internationalisation centres around the definition of culture. The definition chosen here is a more inclusive one than the notion that birthplace is the defining characteristic of its meaning : it is part of a more detailed picture. This detail may then describe culture in more specific terms: The culture of : 'a student'; an 'Australian university student'; a 'Chinese Australian university student' and so on. This being so ; these attributes of culture may then define some of the issues that face us when detailing the notion of internationalisation. We may then talk quite reasonably of the 'culture of the staff', 'the culture of the curriculum', 'the culture of the classroom', 'Design Culture' (Efford, 1995; Efford & Pearson, 1996; Pearson, 1996; Pearson, 1997).

The School of Design is indeed a "Flock of Cultures" (Curtin, 1997)

This paper's interpretation of the terminology identifies Internationalisation then, as being in a state where one (who or whatsoever this may be) as sensitive to other cultures in the sense just described. It is an inclusive translation of the Universities Mission statement. (See Definition of Terms)

Sensitivity to other cultures will only occur when the cultural circumstances are practiced in the most effective , efficient and appropriate manner.

Internationalisation is thus best practice. Best practice is being international.

The task of the School, therefore is to ensure best practice occurs in all aspects of its business. This again being so; then within the practice of some of the cultures just described there would be occasion when there is lack of sensitivity. This is cultural dissonance; there is friction, therefore there is no connection with internationalisation.

Figures 1 to 4 give us the background to this process to the point of implementation of strategies to effect change within the organisation.

The paper now refers to an interim report that details the time taken to reach this point and then details the strategies put in place to effect the deep changes necessary. The report tabled on May 1st 1997 recorded that the Internationalisation of the School was complete in 'general and procedural terms' and acknowledged the 'deep approach now being taken... has resulted in the School being a recognised leader. Figure 5 details this time line. At this point it must be clear that the School of Design has already a raft of best practice strategies; the most significant being a flat managed organisation with members of staff having multiple committee membership, student representation and lecturer and student contact based around a project based problem solving curriculum.

In the initial proposal for support the principal researcher outlined the traditional approach of triangulating the data for verification. The tasks were quite clear. Of all the major cultural influences within the school the issues narrowed to:

The Culture of the Staff, Student Culture, Curriculum Content and Curriculum Delivery
To be truly International the School had to demonstrate that each of these areas were managed as 'best practice'. The beginning of the project began well with the author spending time creating relevant questionnaires or compiling them from the literature and preparing for a major seminar to inform the staff of the project's progress.

Student questionnaire

The author put together two questionnaires - one quantitative and one qualitative. The sources for these compilations were:

Staff Questionnaire - Teaching Goals Inventory and Workplace Evaluation

The author began this quest by introducing an icebreaker into the process by asking the staff to complete a personality test available on the Internet. This proved to be a successful strategy in turning their attention away from the passion of their expertise. The object of the exercise was ultimately to turn their attention to the process of their teaching with as equal a passion. To help in this process they were asked to complete a self assessment instrument designed to help teachers become knowledgeable about what they want to accomplish in their teaching (Angelo, Thomas A. and Cross, K. Patricia, 1994, Classroom Assessment Techniques. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco).

It was suggested that by sharing their findings the School of Design would have a better understanding of the culture of teaching within the School. It was noted that by understanding the culture of teaching the School would be better able to respond to the nature of educational practice.

The agenda of this exercise was to elicit lecturers attitude to teaching and get their view on method. From this it would be possible to check against best practice: both curriculum content and delivery. This questionnaire was introduced to the lecturers by personal interview and the implications fully explained. Interestingly enough, as events unfolded the data and its findings became an irrelevance. At this point in the paper it is necessary to describe in personal terms these unfolding events, I arranged to meet each member of staff once a week to see if I could help, urge them to complete the questionnaire but more importantly - to let them talk about their teaching. I also took stock of the situation and began to realise that the work involved did not accord with the supply of a research assistant asked for in the original proposal. I, perhaps more importantly, began to be overwhelmed with a feeling of isolation - something I had not expected. I was so shocked that I read back to my roots to glean some insight into the way I felt. I returned to an old book detailing the seminal work of the National Training Laboratories out of Bethel, Maine where I found the following quote which on reflection was enough for me to tell myself that I had to let go of all this and get some help.

... on the role of the change agent.. he must realise that he is embarking on a program aimed at the deliberate change of society and individuals, and he has no sanction to do either, he must work to develop the insights of others instead of imposing his own views. He must have a working knowledge of the dynamics of behavioural change not only in terms of theory but in terms of human behaviour. Finally, he must understand the ethical and psychological requirements of the role he is to play and be able to control his own behaviour in accordance with these requirements (p38) (Lifton, 1957, p25)
It was quite clear to me that I did not possess these skills to a high degree. Fortunately I then took part in the Reflective Practice Sessions run by Dr Susan Hall within Curtin University's Teaching Learning Program. From this contact I became involved in Action Research in my postgraduate supervision (Hall, 1997) in which I was introduced to the work of Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt. I joined her workshops she ran at the HERDSA conference in Adelaide. Her approach can be fully understood through the acronym CRASP (Zuber-Skerritt, 1996, p15).
Critical (and self critical) collaborative enquiry by
Reflective practitioners being
Accountable and making the results of their enquiry public,
Self evaluating their practice and engaged in
Participative problem solving and continuing professional development.
The definitive statement by Grundy and Kemmis and a working definition detailed by Zuber-Skerritt (1996) serve as a helicopter vision and a detailed check list of what constitutes action research.

Grundy and Kemmis state that:

Action research is research into practice, by practitioners, for practitioners...In action research, all actors involved in the process are equal participants, and must be involved in every stage of the research... collaborative participation in theoretical, practical and political discourse is thus a hallmark of action research and the action researcher. (Grundy and Kemmis 1982)
The working definition by Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt is described thus:

If yours is a situation in which
People reflect and improve (or develop) their own work and their own situation by tightly interlinking their reflection and action
And also making their experience public not only to other participants but to other persons interested
And if yours is a situation in which there is increasingly
Data gathering by participants themselves in relation to their own questions
Participating in decision making
Power sharing
Collaboration among members of the group
Self reflection, self evaluation and self management by autonomous persons and groups
Learning progressively and publicly
In a self reflective cycle of planning, acting, observing, reflecting replanning etc.
Then yours is a situation where ACTION RESEARCH is happening
(Zuber-Skerritt, 1996, p14)

Meetings were quickly arranged and the idea put forward for sharing the research. For the next few months the tasks were carried out until only two major items remained unresolved - the Staff Questionnaire and the Curriculum Review.

As I alluded earlier it did not seem important that this information should be revealed - even the student questionnaire. What had happened by virtue of the staff becoming involved - they had all turned their attention to issues of concern for them and the students are becoming more comfortable about voicing their concerns. This was indeed Action Research. Teaching had become an important issue for everyone to be explicit about. In the corridors and on the balconies I could hear urgent and; yes, passionate discourse. I could now quite happily give up my role (self imposed) as a change agent and turn my attention to coordinating. It was time to let go and just let it happen by maintaining the momentum.

I therefore devised within the School of Design a local version of the University's reflective practice workshops by facilitating a staff meeting to prioratise our concerns and then incorporating them into the workshop. After a few months these concerns were being substituted by staff wanting to share their work in progress. Out of this enthusiasm 'the Curriculum Review Committee' has formed where current concerns are: identifying exact skills that are taught, assessed and practised; issues of accreditation and duplication.

The personal research and the collaborative enquiries (some of which form part of this conference) are a direct result of satisfying the conditions of Action Research. Our activities now lead us toward 'Best Practice' These activities are signifiers that the School of Design is an internationalised institution.

Matrix series

Fig 1. Identification Matrix of those elements which are 'best practice' in a typical school/faculty.
Fig 2. Identification Matrix of sources of cultural tension that may deter best practice.
Fig 3. Stages in Internationalisation.
Fig 4. Creative Matrix on Internationalisation.
Fig.5. Time line of significant events.
Fig 6. Reflective Practice Matrix.
Fig 7. Curriculum review matrix.


Efford, P. (1996). Design Culture Art Forum Conference. ULA: Canberra.

Hall, S., Coates, R., Paola Ferroni, P., Pearson, M., Trinidad, S. (1997). Tilling the field: Action research in postgraduate supervision. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p132-143. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf97/hall132.html

Lifton, W. (1972). Groups: Facilitating Individual Growth and Societal Change. John Wiley, NY. p24 Cites George Sharp, 'Curriculum Development as Re-education of the Teacher', NY T.C. Bureau of Publications (1951).

Pearson, M. (1996). Design culture. In Proceedings, HERDSA National conference UWA, Perth.

Pearson, M. (1997). Creating a background of relatedness within cultural diversity. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p259-260. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf97/pear259.html

Pearson, M. (1998). Cross cultural issues in the curriculum. FYE. National Conference. Mandurah.

Zuber-Skerritt, Ortrun (1996). Action Research in Higher Education. 2nd edition. p14. Kogan Page. London.


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Please cite as: Pearson, M. (1999). Internationalisation of the curriculum and the classroom: A community based action research perspective. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 322-326. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/pearson-m.html

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