Teaching Commons > Teaching Guides > Inclusive Teaching > Cultural Variations in the Classroom

Cultural Variations in the Classroom

​DePaul serves students from over 100 countries and has a commitment to intercultural and global understanding. One of DePaul’s six institutional learning goals indicates students who graduate from DePaul are expected to be able to demonstrate:

  • respect for and learning from the perspectives of others different from themselves
  • knowledge of global interconnectedness and interdependencies
  • knowledge to become a steward of global resources for a sustainable future
The resources below will help you to teach in a global classroom and support a globally-connected community:

Learning About Culture

Lustig and Koester (2010) define culture as “a learned set of shared interpretations about beliefs, values, norms and social practices which affect behaviors of a relatively large group of people.” You can help students identify how their thoughts and behaviors are shaped by culture and provide them with some tools for navigating cultural differences. 

One way to develop knowledge and appreciation of global interconnectedness is to encourage cultural intelligence. According to Earely et al. (2006), cultural intelligence is the ability to effectively work with and build relationships with people across cultural contexts. 

Cultural intelligence is a concept borrowed from the business world, but can be a useful approach for encouraging students to move beyond awareness of different cultures. It’s also one way to approach learning about how culture impacts your teaching practices and classroom. 

"What is Culture?" Interactive Resource

What is Culture? is a site designed to help people develop cultural intelligence. The site, created by Eva Haug (University of Amsterdam), Daniel Stanford (DePaul University) and Hope Windle (SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning), contains interactive activities for learning about ways that culture can impact the way people think and behave, as well as some strategies for effective intercultural communication. 

Examples of Cultural Variations in the Classroom 

A great diversity of approaches to education across the globe makes it all the more important for us as faculty to be clear about our expectations for students. Perhaps unsurprisingly,  Glass et al. (2015) found that faculty are “the most influential persons shaping an international student’s academic trajectory” (p. 353). 

According to the Teaching International Students Project, being suddenly immersed in a new academic culture may reveal differences in approach to such things as the “relationships between teacher and students, forms of assessment, and even what counts as ‘knowledge.’” Teaching practices that are often commonplace in the U.S.— such as group work and collaborative projects, reflection and metacognition, critical reasoning, and discussion—may be new to students. 

If you recognize the cultural variations in academic practices, you can better explain how and why you’re doing things in your classes and help your international students to navigate the University. The following examples of cultural variation are taken from Recognizing and Addressing Cultural Variations in the Classroom, a report published by the Eberly Center for Teaching and Learning at Carnegie Mellon University. 

The role of professor differs across cultures and locales. In many places, the professor is often seen more as a provider of knowledge than as a coach who provides individualized instruction or feedback. Questioning or challenging professors and other students may be perceived as disrespectful.

Teacher-centered didactic modes of instruction, such as the extensive and exclusive use of lecturing, with its focus on content acquisition and coverage, is a commonplace feature of education globally. Discussion, project- and service-based learning, and other modes of instruction may be new to students, and they may not immediately understand their value or purpose.

Collaboration is an important part of many academic cultures, but what constitutes collaboration or how that collaboration is structured varies greatly. Students may expect that group work will be “systematic and sustained...with a greater value placed on interdependence and collaboration than on individual performance.” As a result, students may engage in the kinds of activities that are seen as plagiarism or cheating in the United States, where individual achievement and comprehensive source attribution are prized.

For a more detailed discussion of how cultural assumptions may vary in a global classroom, read the Cultural Variations report produced by the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence at Carnegie Mellon University.

Cross Cultural Ambassadors 

Inevitably there are times when inter-cultural conflict or misunderstandings arise, leaving both faculty and students feeling exasperated. When this happens, it can be helpful to talk to another faculty member who has more experience, whether it’s teaching in a different language, culture, or country. Feel free to contact the following informal "cultural ambassadors" about issues you are encountering in your own global classroom.

Name

Discipline

Language Knowledge*

Country/Cultural Knowledge

Ruben Parra

Chemistry, Scholarship of Teaching & Learning (SoTL)

Spanish

Columbia, Latin America

Li Jin

Chinese as a Foreign Language

Chinese (Mandarin)

China

Jason Schneider

Writing, Rhetoric & Discourse

Polish

Poland

Sharon Guan

Chinese as a Foreign Language, Instructional Technology

Chinese

China

Hui Lin

Accounting & Information Systems

Chinese

China

Zafar Iqbal

Business & Marketing

Hindi, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati

India

GianMario Besana

Visual Computing & Education, Online & Global Learning

Italian

Italy

Clara Orban

French and Italian

French, Italian

France, Italy

*Languages other than English 

Other Ways to Support a Globally-Connected Community

Global Conversations at DePaul 

Global Conversations are student-led conversations that are meant to help students build intercultural awareness and international relationships. Facilitated via 90-minute synchronous sessions, DePaul students and faculty discuss world issues with students and faculty at international partner institutions. 

Read more about other Global Engagement initiatives and events

Global Learning Experience (GLE)

Global Learning Experience (GLE) is an initiative at DePaul that offers grants to faculty members who integrate meaningful global conversations into their courses.

More Ways to Get Involved​

Lead a study abroad trip. Host an event on behalf of the university while you’re travelling abroad. Serve on an internationalization committee. Or simply open up your home and share a meal with a group of international students. There are a number of opportunities for you to get involved in DePaul’s globally-connected community.

Further Reading

In “Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice” (2018) Geneva Gay explores how culture impacts the classroom and provides concrete suggestions for how to make your teaching more culturally responsive. 

References

Earley, P.C., Ang, S., & Tan, J-S. (2005). Developing Cultural Intelligence at Work. Stanford Business Books. 

Glass, C. R., Kociolek, E., Wongtrirat, R., Lynch, R. J., & Cong, S. (2015). 

Uneven Experiences: The Impact of Student-Faculty Interactions on International Students' Sense of Belonging. Journal of International Students, 5, 4, 353-367. Retrieved from http://depaul.worldcat.org/oclc/19535897373278 

International Student Lifecycle [Scholarly project]. (n.d.). In International Student Lifecycle, Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/international-student-lifecycle-0# 

Lustig, M.W., & Koester, J. (2010). Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures, 6th Edition. Pearson. 

Recognizing and Addressing Cultural Variations in the Classroom [Pamphlet]. (n.d.). Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved from http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/PublicationsArchives/InternalReports/culturalvariations.pdf