Challenges in teaching due to cultural differences: extending educators’ understanding of business education

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By Dr Laura Salciuviene, Assistant Professor in Strategy and International Business

In today’s interconnected business world, educators face a hidden challenge: cultural differences. While cultural differences enrich learning experience, they also present a challenge required to know how to navigate cultural differences among international students. From diverse learning styles to clashing student ethical standards, diverse student backgrounds can contradict traditional teaching methods used in business education. Those challenges negatively influence educators’ satisfaction with their teaching and professional performance. Business educators need to be aware of these challenges and know how to overcome them to offer more effective teaching and student learning support, consequently, increasing their self-esteem and satisfaction with their teaching.

The first challenge that business educators face arises due to student’s different cultural backgrounds. For instance, international students may have varying levels of proficiency in English language, which can make it difficult for them to understand lectures, participate in discussions and complete assignments. This may lead to misunderstandings and communication problems. These students may have different expectations for classroom management as well as for an educator’s teaching style. To overcome this challenge, educators need to be aware of and respect cultural differences among students, they need to provide clear and concise explanations of concepts and materials, use visuals and culturally relevant examples to aid student understanding of complex topics. Also, educators may offer office hours to make additional academic support available to international students who need it.

The second challenge refers to the lack of interactivity between diverse student groups and an educator due to different academic expectations arising from cultural differences. To achieve higher interactivity and engagement among diverse students, business educators need to foster an inclusive classroom environment where international students feel comfortable participating, asking questions and seeking guidance irrespective of their cultural differences. To make sessions more interactive, educators may question international students more often and provide immediate feedback on their knowledge. Educators may also form mini-groups and introduce debates by allocating students into small groups, which then are split into two separate mini-groups, with both sides expected to express conflicting viewpoints about the topic. Instead of a single longer case study, educators may consider offering several mini-case studies and use incomplete handouts, enabling educators to question their students and encourage peer interaction. International students might also be encouraged to clarify problems they might face when working with mini-cases to achieve higher interaction with the educator and their peers. Business educators may show videos and ask rhetorical questions regarding real-life situations presented in each mini-case. By engaging international students with their study materials, their satisfaction with interactivity grows and their involvement with problem-based discussions increases, which contributes to the enhancement of international student learning experience.

The above leads to the next challenge, which refers to international student readiness to work in groups due to cross-cultural differences. Business educators need to provide frequent feedback on international student activities and offer clear guidance on tasks and expected outcomes when working in groups. This challenge also stems from differences in communication styles, academic expectations and learning approaches . International students may hesitate to share or challenge differing views. Differences in international student direct versus indirect communication styles lead to difficulties in the understanding of indirectness of some cultures, causing miscommunication and conflicts in the classroom. Also, different learning styles – active versus passive learning – can influence how international students approach group-work, leading to varying levels of engagement and participation in a group-work. Cultural variations in understanding feedback may affect how students respond to the business educator’s critique and suggestions, potentially impacting group dynamics and collaboration. By recognizing these cultural, communication, and different academic expectations influencing international student group-work and by providing clear expectations, fostering student cross-cultural understanding, and employing inclusive teaching strategies, business educators can achieve a more effective group-work collaboration among students and enhance their learning experiences.

The fourth challenge refers to business educators’ teaching effectiveness evaluation by international students. Different cultural backgrounds and diverse communication styles might lead to misinterpretations. International students might be less likely to offer critical feedback directly, potentially affecting evaluation scores. To ensure adequate feedback is received from all students, educators may use mini-questionnaires and invite their international students to answer two-three questions on what teaching aspects are currently going very well and what teaching elements would need to be improved. Anonymous student answers could easily be collected in the classroom using technologies (e.g., live pooling tools, chat tools or real-time collaborative documents). Truthful student answers would aid immediate diagnostic evaluation of international student motivations, their learning commitments, and assessment expectations by business educators.

By being aware of the above challenges and by implementing suggested strategies, business educators may create a more inclusive and supportive learning environment for their diverse students with cultural differences and variable student needs, enabling them to succeed academically at their university and thrive in a globalized world.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Birmingham.

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