By Dr. Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas
‘Communication is key, especially to create forms of connection and promote acceptance.’
So wrote one of our first year undergraduate students reflecting on her experiences of a collaborative online international learning project between students in London and Asia. The global classroom project launched in 2013 and so far over 450 students in London, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam have supported each other’s learning by sharing resources and providing local research as well as peer reviewing each other’s work facilitated through a private Facebook group.
I have spent most of my teaching career in London, at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. I have also worked in Hong Kong and the US, during which time, I completed a Doctorate in Education on creativity in the West and East, and how academic culture and understandings of creativity manifest themselves for international creative arts students. Central to this was the exploration of intercultural communication, the fostering of curiosity about oneself and others and the acknowledgment that one’s norms, beliefs and pedagogies are constructed within a cultural context. This resonated strongly with my early teaching experiences with students who were sometimes dismissingly referred to by the collective noun ‘internationals’. Byram (2009:211) challenges us that merely ‘experiencing’ different cultures will not necessarily lead to someone ‘being intercultural’ and I remember situations where diversity of work style and content was misunderstood or unappreciated.
Having researched technology use in teaching during my doctoral studies, I first used blogging to diversify the student experience and foster a community of learners in 2011 working in Western New York. Through implementing social media in a pedagogic context I experienced its potential to increase students’ motivation, persistence, attainment and efficacy. Students develop a learner identity through online activity and showcasing their creativity, responding positively to online peer feedback (Radclyffe-Thomas, 2012).
Back in London in 2013 I found the curriculum still predominantly Eurocentric and institutional research showed that international students often felt excluded from learning experiences. Believing that a global mindset and the ability to work across cultures is a key graduate attribute I collaborated with like-minded colleagues at CityU Hong Kong, LASALLE College of the Arts Singapore and most recently RMIT Vietnam and together we formed a global classroom which enables our students to work together through a blended learning approach. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQ_K31ggBSw) Students in London were set a brief to take a UK brand into Asia and used the global classroom to facilitate remote socio-cultural research. After an online introduction by way of sharing career and life ambitions, students in each location engage in seminar and private study activities around international fashion design, marketing and consumer behaviour. Students use the global classroom prior to class posting images and articles for discussion, in-class to facilitate seminar activities e.g. ‘is there a global fashion?’ out-of-class to question their co-collaborators e.g. ‘Can the Hong Kong students tell me the biggest cosmetic brands in China?’
The collaboration provides a unique opportunity to internationalise at home (Killick, 2016) as students co-create their learning with peers and teachers on the other side of the world, as well as a space to validate non-UK students’ cultural capital and expose UK students to non-homogenous markets. Many students comment that this experience makes them reassess their assumptions as they are given multiple sources of information and opinions. The global classroom has fostered transformative learning experiences and global attitudes as evidenced in student feedback (Radclyffe-Thomas et al. 2016). It has become a true community of practice: a third space for learning where respect and reciprocity is tangible; one Hong Kong student sums up its value likening it to a ‘virtual exchange.’
My research and international teaching raised my awareness of diverse classroom practices and the role of the teacher in different contexts. My experiences of ‘otherness’ whilst working internationally facilitated self-reflexivity; in Hong Kong I was employed to ‘internationalise’ the curriculum, in the US my Curriculum Committee contributions were sometimes met with exclamations of ‘she’s European’. I fundamentally believe H.E. institutions have a responsibility to facilitate creative cross-cultural encounters and are well-placed to create both physical and virtual environments that encourage inclusivity and an appreciation of diversity in our staff and student communities. Creativity truly is an international language.
Byram, M. (2009). Afterword, education, training and becoming critical. In A. Feng, M. Byram, & M. Fleming (Eds.), Becoming interculturally competent through education and training. Languages for intercultural communication and education (pp. 211-213). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.
Killick, D. (2016). Internationalization and Diversity in Higher Education: Implications for Teaching, Learning and Assessment. Palgrave Teaching and Learning.
Radclyffe-Thomas, N. (2012). Blogging is Addictive! A Qualitative Case Study on the Integration of Blogs Across a Range of College Courses’ in C. Wankel & P. Blessinger (Eds.) Increasing Students Engagement and Retention Using Online Learning Activities: Wikis, Blogs and Webquests, Cutting-edge Technologies in Higher Education. Pp75-107 Emerald.
Radclyffe-Thomas, N. Peirson-Smith, A., Roncha, A. & Huang, A. (2016). Creative Cross-Cultural Connections: Facebook as a Third Space for International Collaborations, in Patrick Blessinger and Barbara Cozza (ed.) University Partnerships for Academic Programs and Professional Development (Innovations in Higher EducationTeaching and Learning, Volume 7) Emerald Group Publishing Limited, pp.243 – 266.
Dr. Natascha Radclyffe-Thomas is an HEA National Teaching Fellow, University of the Arts London Senior Teaching Scholar, HEA Senior Fellow and Course Leader for BA (Hons.) Fashion Marketing at the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London. Natascha has extensive international experience having taught fashion in the UK, Asia and the US and has initiated several innovative teaching initiatives including e-learning, and international collaborative projects. Natascha has published and presented papers internationally on research interests including creativity, cultural heritage, fashion branding and marketing and social enterprise business models. Natascha holds a Doctorate in Education and is on the editorial board of SPARK UAL’s creative teaching and learning journal.