|Teaching and Learning Forum 2004 [ Proceedings Contents ]|
D. Caspersz, J.Skene, M. Wu and M. Boland
The University of Western Australia
The increasing internationalisation of Australian university student populations juxtaposed against what current research highlights as issues in handling multicultural teams, stimulates a challenge in managing cultural diversity in student team projects. Addressing this requires attendance not only to the development of generic team work skills in students; but also to issues of inclusive curriculum and matters of learning styles. The aim of this paper is to describe an approach which is under trial at the University of Western Australia Business School, and some tentative conclusions emanating from evaluations.
The challenge which this picture presents is intensified when considering research showing that multicultural teams suffer from 'process loss' arising from inability to communicate clearly, frequent disagreements on expectations, and attitudinal problems such as dislike, mistrust and lack of cohesion (Adler: 1997; Watson & Kumar: 1992). Hinds et al (2000) suggest that individuals subsequently veer towards mirroring themselves on observable diversity characteristics. Also described as 'homophily' by Smith, Fischer and Sale (2001) the overall impact on individuals can be detrimental, as it restricts access to communication and information. However, research simultaneously shows that workforce productivity can improve if cross-cultural teams are effectively managed (Cox and Blake: 1991; Adler: 1997; Richard: 2000; Distefano & Maznevski: 2000).
In response to these challenges, research has been undertaken in an undergraduate international management unit, to trial strategies aimed at more effective management of cultural diversity in student teams. The aim of this paper is to describe the strategies used and their evaluation.
An inclusive curriculum is one which values the culture, background and experience of all students and encourages students to adopt a cultural relativist perspective (McLoughlin: 2001; Gudykunst, 1994 as cited in Ramsay: 2000). In its most advanced phase, inclusive curriculum means "rethinking of disciplines, of areas of study, of methodologies, and of pedagogics" that take into account racial, ethnic, class, and gender diversity (Garcia & Smith, 1996, cited in Firebaugh, 2000).
The many benefits gained from adopting an inclusive curriculum include higher minority student retention, greater cognitive development and more positive academic and social self-concepts (Terenzini et al. 2001). Furthermore, in Investing in People: Developing All of America's Talent on Campus and in the Workplace, the authors note that students who have been educated in a diverse environment develop higher level critical thinking abilities, will more likely value differing viewpoints, and transfer the creativity, innovation and problem solving skills acquired to their future jobs (Butler et al 2002: 14 & 34).
The concept of learning styles, the way that a person takes in and processes information, underpins an inclusive curriculum approach. As more than three-fifths of learning style is biological and less than one-fifth is developmental (Restak:1979; Thies:1979 as cited in Doolan & Honigsfield, 2000), it is their biological and social uniqueness that makes people learn differently. Learning styles are affected not just by personal experience, but also diversity such as age, gender and of course cultural background. Thus, some people learn by focussing on facts and data, others learn through visual cues and others respond to verbal techniques of learning. Of the many models describing learning styles (see Felder, 1996), the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator is one of the most commonly known. This identifies 'opposites' of learning styles and through a series of questions and tasks assists the individual identify their learning style. Knowledge of one's own learning style, as well as that of others, can contribute to managing cultural diversity in student teams, through unravelling dynamics which may impede student participation and in developing appropriate responses.
Students also participated in a three week simulation team-based, cross-cultural negotiation exercise, involving two culturally different management groups attempting to establish a joint venture. Students formed teams and negotiated to reach a resolution on key management issues, such as who was to be the President of the joint venture. Students were required to research the cultural influences affecting the management styles of both teams, and plan appropriate negotiation strategies.
Whilst team composition was one strategy, attention was also given to the findings from research on factors influencing effective team performance. This confirms (see Caspersz et al: 2003 a & 2003b) that management of effective student teams requires addressing both individual- and team-level factors. Individual-level factors such as an individualist orientation and interpersonal abilities in managing conflict and communication, affected the willingness of the individual student to participate in teams. Team-level factors on the other hand influenced effective team performance. This is where students express satisfaction with both the process and outcome of their team project (Caspersz et al: 2003b). Concepts such as trust, interpersonal work group processes, team-member satisfaction, workload sharing, communication and leadership, were significant in affecting team performance (Caspersz, Wu & Skene, 2003a).
It was hypothesised that addressing both levels was also important when managing cultural diversity in teams. Therefore, the following strategies were subsequently pursued.
Development of individual level skills for team work
A problem-solving case study approach wherein students prepared responses to questions and then discussed them in small groups, aimed at assisting students develop individual-level skills such as general communication skills. Specific cross-cultural communication skills were harnessed as a result of deliberate intervention to ensure that the teams were culturally diverse. The cross-cultural negotiation exercise already described, further aimed at assisting students develop negotiation and conflict resolution skills (both generic as well as cross-cultural) identified by the research as being individual-level factors affecting team work.
Addressing team level factors
Evaluation tools included feedback sheets administered to students at various points assessing their response to specific exercises such as the cross-cultural negotiation and team work exercises. Exit interviews with the same aim were also conducted. End of semester focus groups of students (3) and staff (1) were also conducted. Inclusion of items in the Student Perceptions of Teaching (SPOT) questionnaire administered to the student body in week 13 of semester examined specific components of the teaching program and assessment process; and finally, three surveys administered in weeks 4, 8 and 12 of semester aimed at assessing individual level and team-level factors affecting team performance.
Discussion of results in the next section covers the feedback sheets, exit interviews, focus groups and SPOT results. Analysis is still being undertaken on the surveys and these results are not reported.
In the exit interviews conducted (n=11) 63.6 per cent of students rated the seminar on cross-cultural communication as assisting them to increase awareness about managing cultural diversity. However, in the exit interviews conducted (n=11) after the simulation cross cultural negotiation exercise, 85 per cent indicated that this had increased their awareness about managing cultural diversity.
Three focus groups were conducted with students who volunteered their participation. The composition of these groups was as follows:
Responses from tutors to focus group questions (n=4) were similar. Interestingly, even though students had found the learning styles exercise to be too theoretical, tutors rated this quite highly as an effective exercise. Tutors also affirmed the benefits of the simulation exercise and recommended more experiential exercises such as this.
Finally, in the SPOT questionnaire administered in week 13 of semester (n=104), students were asked a number of specific questions aimed at assessing their response to the initiatives used. Again these responses overall indicated a positive response by students to the initiatives undertaken.
Finally, the challenge of managing cultural diversity is complex indeed. However, the benefits of effectively doing so are many and varied. Not only are these personal but managing cultural diversity undoubtedly has the potential to significantly affect an organisation's triple bottom line. Results available indicate that students acknowledge these benefits; the fact that they do can only add value to society at large and in the long term.
Caspersz, D., Skene, J., & Wu, M. (2002). 'Team members that bring you down dead?' The antecedents of student willingness to participate in team projects. Focusing on the Student. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 5-6 February. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://www.ecu.edu.au/conferences/tlf/2002/pub/docs/Caspersz.pdf
Cox, T. H., & Blake, S. (1991). Managing cultural diversity: Implications for organizational competitiveness. Academy of Management Executive, 5, 45-56.
Day, N. E. and Glick, B. J. (2000). Teaching diversity: A study of organizational needs and diversity curriculum in higher education. Journal of Management Education, 24(3), 338-352.
Distefano, J. J., & Maznevski, M. L. (2000). Creating value with diverse teams in global management. Organizational Dynamics, 29, 45-63.
Doolan, L., and Honigsfeld, A. (2000). Illuminating the new standards with learning style:Striking a perfect match. The Clearing House, 73(5), May/June 2000.
Felder, R. M. (1996). Matters of style. ASEE Prism, 6(4), 18-23 http://www2.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Papers/LS-Prism.htm
Firebaugh, F. M. and Miller, J. R. (2000). Diversity and globalization: Challenges, opportunities, and promise. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 92(1), 27-36.
Gardenswartz, L. and Rowe, A. (1998). Why diversity matters. HR Focus, 7 (7), S1-S3.
Hewett, J. (2003) The New Class Divide. Weekend Australian Financial Review, 13-14 September, 19-20.
Hinds, P. J., Carley, K. M., Krackhardt, D., & Wholey, D. (2000). Choosing work group members: Balancing similarity, competence, and familiarity. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 81, 226-251.
Hurtado, S., Engberg, M. and Greene, S. (2002). Making Meaning of Student Voices: Promoting Dialogue and Collaboration Around Diversity Initiatives. Preparing College Students for a Diverse Democracy. University of Michigan. http://www.umich.edu/~divdemo/aahe2002_slides.ppt
Keating, R. and Byles, C.M. (1991). Internationalizing the business school curriculum: Perspectives on successful implementation. Journal of Education for Business, 67(1), 12-16.
Marginson, S. (2002). Education in the global market: Lessons from Australia. Academe, 88(3), 22-24.
McLoughlin, C. (2001). Inclusivity and alignment: Principles of pedagogy, task and assessment design for effective cross-cultural online learning. Distance Education, 22(1), 7-29.
Michaelsen, L.K., Fink, .D., & Knight, A. (1997). Designing effective Group Activities: Lessons for Classroom Teaching and Faculty Development. In D. DeZure (Ed), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty. Stillwater, OK: New Forums.
Ramsey, M. (2000). Monocultural versus multicultural teaching: How to practice what we preach. Journal of Humanistic Education and Development, 38(3).
Richard, O. C. (2000). Racial diversity, business strategy, and firm performance: A resource-based view. The Academy Management Journal, 43, 164-177.
Smith, P.B., Fischer, R. & Sale, N. (2001). Cross-cultural industrial/organisational psychology. In C.L. Cooper and I.T. Robertson (Eds), International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 16, 147-193. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.
Terenzini, P. T., Cabrera, A. F., Colbeck, C. L., Bjorklund, S. A. and Parente, J. M. (2001). Racial and ethnic diversity in the classroom: Does it promote student learning? The Journal of Higher Education, 72(5), 509-531.
The Business-Higher Education Forum Diversity Task Force (2002). Butler, S. & Kirwan, W. (Chairs): Investing in People: Developing All of America's Talent on Campus and in the Workplace http://www.acenet.edu/bookstore/pdf/investing_in_people.pdf
Volet, S. E., & Ang, G. (1998). Culturally mixed groups on international campuses: An opportunity for intercultural learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 17(1), 5-23.
Watson, W. E., & Kumar, K. (1992). Differences in decision making regarding risk taking: A comparison of culturally diverse and culturally homogenous task groups. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 16, 53-65.
|Authors: D. Caspersz
Organisational and Labour Studies, UWA Business School, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009. email@example.com
J.Skene, Student Services, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009. firstname.lastname@example.org
M. Wu, Organisational and Labour Studies, UWA Business School, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009. email@example.com
M. Boland, Organisational and Labour Studies, UWA Business School, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009. firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact person: D. Caspersz
Tel: 9380 2927 Fax: 930 1055
Please cite as: (2004). An approach to managing diversity in student team projects. In Seeking Educational Excellence. Proceedings of the 13th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 9-10 February 2004. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/caspersz.html