Sunday, February 02, 2014

Intercultural Understanding - Flat Connections Meets the Australian Curriculum

Australian teachers and education leaders if you are looking for new and exciting ways to integrate the 'Intercultural understanding' objectives of the Australian National Curriculum into your learning environment, the Flat Connections Conference is the place you should be. (June 18-20, 2014. Sydney).

It is with much anticipation that I am exploring the Australian National Curriculum (ANC) documents and becoming absorbed in the 'Intercultural Understanding' sections. As an IB (International Baccalaureate) teacher for 10 years, and a global educator, having taught across six different countries, I may have had more access to conversations and documents to do with intercultural understanding, cultural awareness, third culture kids, international mindedness, and cultural awareness than perhaps the average Australian teacher to date. It is certainly heartening to see a focus and emphasis on exploring how to recognise different cultures and develop respect now embedded into the relatively new national curriculum guidelines.

In terms of organising elements, the 'Intercultural understanding learning continuum' is organised into three interrelated organising elements, as shown by this diagram:
The website provides further details including the following three areas. Some key statements and examples are selectively shared here to show clear alignment and empathy with the aims and objectives of Flat Connections.

Recognising culture and developing respect:
  • investigate culture and cultural identity
    • share ideas about self and belonging with peers For example: identifying the language(s) they speak, describing something special about themselves or their families
  • explore and compare cultural knowledge, beliefs and practices
    • describe and compare a range of cultural stories, events and artefacts For example:
      comparing media, texts, dance and music from diverse cultural groups including their own, exploring connection to place
  • develop respect for cultural diversity.
    • understand the importance of mutual respect in promoting cultural exchange and collaboration in an interconnected world For example: upholding the dignity and rights of others when participating in international online networks
Interacting and empathising with others:
  • communicate across cultures
    • recognise there are similarities and differences in the ways people communicate, both within and across cultural groups For example: identifying various ways that people communicate depending on their relationship
  • consider and develop multiple perspectives
    • assess diverse perspectives and the assumptions on which they are based For example: exploring the factors that cause people to hold different perspectives
  • empathise with others
    • imagine and describe the situations of others in local, national and global contexts For example:
      presenting another person’s story as seen through their eyes or as if ‘walking in their shoes’
Reflecting on intercultural experiences and taking responsibility:
  • reflect on intercultural experiences
    • reflect critically on the effect of intercultural experiences on their own attitudes and beliefs and those of others For example:  describing how exposure to a diversity of views, ideas or experiences has or has
      not changed their thinking on an issue
  • challenge stereotypes and prejudices
    • critique the use of stereotypes and prejudices in texts and issues concerning specific cultural groups at national, regional and global levels For example:  assessing the use of stereotypes in the portrayal of cultural minorities in national conflicts
  • mediate cultural difference
    • identify and address challenging issues in ways that respect cultural diversity and the right of all to be heard For example: engaging with views they know to be different from their own to challenge their own thinking
Read the full Intercultural Understanding Learning Continuum as provided in the Australian National Curriculum.
The Flat Connections Conference, (and Flat Connections global projects) is a unique opportunity for teachers, students and education leaders to become immersed in a process whereby participants are teamed with others they have not met or worked with before, including different nationalities and cultures. It is a chance to break through stereotypical attitudes and prejudices and learn how to create something meaningful with others who are similar but not the same, and who may have different backgrounds and perspectives.

The ANC 'Intercultural Understanding' goal is for students learn more about their own culture and the variable nature of culture (languages, beliefs, customs) and thereby develop intercultural understanding, as the introduction tells us:
"The capability involves students in learning about and engaging with diverse cultures in ways that recognise commonalities and differences, create connections with others and cultivate mutual respect."
"Intercultural understanding is an essential part of living with others in the diverse world of the twenty first century. It assists young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world."
The Flat Connections Conference, to be held in Sydney, June 18-20 provides an opportunity for teachers to learn more about how to embed 'Intercultural understanding' into their curriculum at all age levels through new pedagogy and curriculum design that focuses on global collaboration supported by emerging technologies. In the words of Anne Mirtschin, award winning Australian government school teacher who will be a lead facilitator at the conference, 'The world is my classroom, and my classroom is the world'. That is how 'flat' and 'connected' learning takes place.

Technology makes connections and collaborations, and potentially intercultural understanding possible however for many teachers and students it is not clear HOW to harness the new tools and HOW to effectively harness 21st century learning objectives so that new conversations and meaning can be created. The Flat Connections Conference provides a pathway, the beginning of a journey into better understanding of this and aligns very nicely with the ANU Intercultural Understanding requirements.  How does it do this? Let's take a closer look.
  • Students work in cross-school teams, teachers work in cross-school teams on a common goal. Already the walls of learning are flattened through the need to communicate and create something together by bringing skills, experience and understandings to the table to share with others
  • Both student and teacher teams produce a product that is showcased in a celebration on the last day. The process of pitching to other teams for feedback provides an energised design cycle of designing, planning, creating and evaluating. The product (an action plan, a unit of work, a new curriculum design) is designed to join classrooms and/or teachers together globally and can be implemented after the conference
  • The theme for the Sydney conference 'What's the other story?' aligns once again with ANC Intercultural Understanding goals. This theme emphasises the importance of all humanity’s stories and the way they have been defined by the historical context of culture, migration and identity.  ‘Grand Narratives’ are no longer viewed as a satisfactory way of understanding the complexities and interconnectedness of the world we inhabit. Participants will be asked
    "What are the stories we want to tell to break through stereotypes and emphasise common humanity?" Discovering new stories, in conjunction with the design process of the conference, the aim is to open eyes to a more enlightened future of interaction and collaboration across the globe.
  • The Flat Connections Conference Program provides time for interaction, consolidation, ideation, and skill development with multimedia and Web 2.0 tools for both students and teachers.
  • The conference is about ideas - merging and melding cultures to create the best new projects and curriculum designs to join the world. It is about empathy with others, learning how to work with others, learning how to create a final product/proposal from set of initial ideas, learning how to flatten and connect using technology......and much more!

If you have any questions about the Flat Connections Conference in Sydney, June 2014, please email Conference Chair, Julie Lindsay:


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