Integrating Intercultural Competence into Graduate Education for Sustainability Professionals

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Virginia Tech

Sustainability professionals often lack the intercultural competencies needed to effectively engage in the cooperative, collaborative work that must be accomplished to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. Higher education institutions are well-positioned to help meet this need. However, challenges related to buy-in, time, expertise, and diverse and conflicting priorities can create barriers to developing and integrating curriculum for intercultural learning into disciplinary courses. This dissertation presents a case study that describes how graduate program faculty at Virginia Tech, where the author works, overcame these challenges to design intercultural curriculum into an online, asynchronous graduate course in global sustainability.

We began with an in-depth literature review to identify the intercultural competencies that sustainability professionals need and the pedagogical practices that support their development. The literature review indicated that sustainability professionals would be well served by having the ability to behave and communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations. This competence relies on the development of certain cognitive, behavioral, and affective skills that can be developed through increased self-awareness and other-awareness and practicing mindful engagement. Educators can support students in this by designing curriculum that moves students through the experiential learning cycle and leads to transformed meaning perspectives.

We then engaged in a curriculum redesign process to integrate these competencies and pedagogies into our graduate curriculum using a backward design approach. We empowered faculty through backward design to first articulate intercultural learning outcomes prioritized the development of related learning experiences. In addition, we organized two off-site retreats that provided participants with unstructured time together, which fostered the supportive, trusting relationships necessary for ongoing, successful collaboration and led to enthusiasm for and connection to the intercultural content that was developed. Finally, we involved faculty with expertise in intercultural competence development in the redesign process to help define intercultural concepts and develop pedagogically appropriate curriculum. Collaborative backward design enabled us to successfully develop and integrate intercultural learning into our course. This process highlighted the likely need for ongoing institutional commitment to encourage, maintain, and evaluate these efforts. It also revealed that financial constraints, institutional capacity, and an online, asynchronous format present additional barriers and challenges to the development of intercultural curriculum using a collaborative backward design approach.

education for sustainable development, experiential learning, adult learning