Enabling Instructors to Address Workforce Development Needs through Virtual Exchange

Working together with Kansai University, CoreCollaborative International (CCI) designed and delivered an innovative train-the-trainer program that is being used to engage instructors and learners around the world in thinking about diversity in multiple professional contexts. The Diversity in the Workplace seminar was developed through the collective efforts of three organizations—Kansai, based in Japan; Crossing Borders Education, located in the United Kingdom; and CCI, in the United States. The diverse perspectives brought by this core international team illustrate how working across differences of culture, experience, expertise, background, and organization type can inspire innovative, high-quality results. 

This project was initiated by Kansai’s Institute for Innovative Global Education (IIGE). With funding from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, IIGE serves as the country’s platform for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) initiatives. Using widely available technology, IIGE initiatives build and strengthen ties between Japanese and higher education institutions around the world. IIGE programs promote exchange and strengthen global relations, focusing in particular on the US and Japan. 

The Diversity in the Workplace seminar arose out of the recognition that the diversification of national and international work environments in today’s world has precipitated an urgent need for cross-cultural communication skills development. This workforce development need can be addressed, IIGE realized, through the creative application of pedagogy in COIL, also known as virtual exchange. IIGE reached out to CCI, as a leader in the design and evaluation of cross-cultural training and virtual exchange experiences. In response, CCI developed a dynamic short course designed to bring together learners from around the globe in technologically mediated environments that simulate the workplace. These scaffolded environments give learners a preview into the 21st-century workplace, as well as a context in which to practice skills they need to work alongside peers from a wide variety of backgrounds. 

Recent research demonstrates that simply interacting with cross-cultural differences does not facilitate skill-building for most learners; rather, intentional instruction is required to foster inclusive dispositions and behaviors. The Diversity in the Workplace seminar focuses on what is needed to engage meaningfully and successfully with people from a wide array of backgrounds. The course materials – which combine multi-media asynchronous learning with synchronous activities that bring learners together with intention and purpose – target learners’ understanding of identities, and their implications for communicating across cultures. In the course, learners are asked to imagine the workplace in which they want to work in the future. Where will it be? What does it look like? Do co-workers have similar backgrounds? How will the learner get to know them? Perhaps the learners already work in an ideal place? What makes it so? The course guides students through these questions, helping them develop and practice the behaviors they need to be successful professionals.

IIGE’s research initiatives in the field of virtual exchange have helped to identify how to maximize the success of COIL instruction for students. One finding from IIGE’s large-scale collaboration with Japanese and international universities is that instructors need more support in ready-to-use materials that facilitate cross-cultural skill development in a virtual space.  The Diversity in the Workplace seminar helps to address this need. The materials were designed to be used by instructors who may or may not have already embedded virtual exchange into their courses. Instructors are invited to organize the topics and structure in a way that suits their own content; templates are also included for two synchronous sessions and an optional overarching collaborative course project. Assessment rubrics and tips for how to support learners are embedded in each activity, along with links to other resources that can be used to enrich the learning experience. Alongside these innovative materials, CCI developed and launched a follow-on train-the-trainer workshop, which in its first iteration introduced the course to 18 instructors, and demonstrated how resources could be applied in different COIL settings.

The program’s five self-directed module topics are presented as videos, readings, and opportunities for both reflection and practice. Throughout, learners have opportunities to collaborate with peers and share their experiences and expertise.

Learning outcomes include:

  1. Learners develop openness to diverse people and perspectives
  2. Learners gain awareness of cultural differences that impact experiences and interactions, and 
  3. Learners build a toolbox of specific communication strategies that can help them engage productively and ethically across differences.

In a follow-up survey of those who took part in the first Diversity in the Workplace train-the-trainer seminar, respondents – employed by undergraduate universities, graduate universities, and non-profit organizations – reported a high level of satisfaction. Because they participated in the course from different countries, they especially valued the opportunities for group work. One participant expressed an immediate impact on their professional life by noting that the group project had allowed them to “cooperate with friends from different countries. Now … the lab I [have] join[ed] has many students from India, I can know how to get along with them.” Another found the experience valuable on an even more local and personal level. They wrote that the learning experience was “Generally for interacting with people, not only … those from other countries, but also even in our respective small communities.” The seminar instructors’ approach to collaborative learning – in which participants repeatedly shared their perspectives both in the large group and in breakout sessions – was praised as it allowed participants to gain new perspectives on the topics at hand, and demonstrated in real time the value of collaboration across differences. 

CoreCollaborative International has deep expertise in the design and evaluation of cross-cultural skill development, with particular strength in the area of virtual learning. The CCI team also believes deeply in the value of train-the-trainer modes that offer instructors robust, ready-to-use material with built-in adaptability and instructional guidance for multiple situations. This kind of resource eases the burden of instructors even as it stimulates their creativity, allowing them to build a curriculum that is deeply relevant to their own contexts. 

To learn more, contact the CoreCollaborative team. Find out how CCI can assist your institution or organization in delivering targeted instructional material to learners and trainers alike, whether through virtual exchange or other modalities.

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