Intercultural Competence – Mindsets and looking at the self

Intercultural competence, cultural competence, and global competencies – if you have not heard these terms in the last few years, you may be in a bubble.  And that is ok, because bubbles are safe; however, faculty in higher education have a fairly new and very important responsibility on their hands, and it is only going to increase in coming years.

The Institute for the Future published a study in 2011 outlining what the Top 10 Work skills for the future would be. (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011)  In other words, what work skills would be required of people by the year 2020 – can I add that 2020 is only 14 months away!?

Cross-cultural competence was on that ranking, and can you guess where it rated?  It was number FOUR on the list (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011) indicating that in less than two years, cross-cultural competence will be a critical and required work skill.  At this point, those of us in higher education have to ask ourselves if we are producing graduates with these skills.  Do we even have these skills ourselves?

I have been charged with providing professional development opportunities for faculty around intercultural competence and supporting multi-cultural classrooms.  It is a great start, BUT, what I have discovered is that it is ALL about mindsets.  I can do all the P.D. in the world, but if we are not looking at mindsets, it’s “kinda sorta” futile.  Mindsets have to do with how we view the world and as a result, how effectively we function within multi-cultural environments or any environment, for that matter.   How do our mindsets around culture develop?  Well, my theory is that they develop over time and are influenced by messages we received in childhood, messages that were reinforced as we grew up, beliefs and values, and what we see in the media, to name a few.

The key is to have an honest look at our mindset.  Let me tell you, this can be hard for people.  We often believe that we are better at navigating cross-cultural situations than we actually are.  According to Michael Hammer and Associates at the Intercultural Development Inventory company, many people will overestimate their ability in this area (2018).  This is where the honest look comes in – we have to be willing to be authentic with this one if we are going to change and develop it.

So how do we have an honest look?  Well first of all, you have to want to – this is called cultural-motivation.  Also, there are tools and assessments for this and some of us are really good at being self-aware and reflective.  The tool that I have found to be most helpful is the Intercultural Development Inventory (Hammer, 2018).  For more information on this particular took and a wealth of validity research material please visit

If we are going to have any validity to the claim we are contributing to graduates having cross-cultural competency skills, starting with ourselves and modelling these skills is an essential beginning.  This is a tough topic to summarize in just 25 sentences, and I could definitely go on – so I will leave you with the knowledge that although it can be intimidating to look at ourselves and our mindsets, I promise you, it is worth it!


 Davies, A., Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Institute For The Future. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from

Hammer, M., (2018)  Intercultural Development Inventory. Retrieved from



UDL Research in Higher Education

Research focused on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is plentiful; the problem is it is not plentiful for higher education. In 2016, Mohawk College began its journey to implement UDL. However, we found ourselves adrift in a sea of research that did not apply to our context, our learners, or our environments. The question became what to do: Trial and error? Try to extrapolate from K to 12 research? Use American studies? Or embark on our own research journey? The strength and challenge of UDL is that it, like learning, is contextual. How it applies to a particular learning environment is also heavily influenced by the context. We opted for a rather large research project and, if your institution is implementing UDL, I hope you do too!

At Mohawk College, we needed:

  • To understand the priorities of our learners and faculty
  • A data-informed strategic direction for further UDL implementation
  • Clear implementation goals for Mohawk College to strive for
  • Direction regarding resource allotment

In March of 2018 we completed the Universal Design for Learning for Technology-enabled Post-secondary Courses at Mohawk College research project, which was made possible through an eCampusOntario grant, and got what we needed. In addition, we gained a great deal more: Validity of the use of UDL in higher education, confirmation of our implementation priorities and process to date, and affirmation that the tools and resources that we had initially developed were in line with needs. I also gained access to accommodation statistics and learning management system information through some critical conversations that I likely would not have gotten otherwise.

Completing a large research project is difficult…that is all I can say about it, it is difficult in a variety of ways. Initially, I felt the timing of the grant was less than ideal: I had been the UDL Curriculum Consultant for a matter of months and had no idea who or how we would even find folks to survey. However, as I reflect on where we are at with our UDL implementation today, I am glad we did it. I am even glad about the timing. Upon reflection I might suggest that there is no ideal time for a large research project. I recommend you do it anyway.

So, here is my pitch for why you should embark on this UDL research journey too: 1) As mentioned, UDL is highly contextual and so is its implementation. Current resources focus on general implementation and technology applications vary. Implementing UDL is a massive undertaking, it needs to be right if you are going to get buy in and support within your institution. 2) Canadian higher education needs more data. Ontario higher education needs more data. I need more data! Much of the current research is an extrapolation of K-12, it is not specific to post-secondary education and is often focused on American legislation. 3) We will all benefit from your data and implementation in higher education. 4) I truly believe, now that I am on the other side, the benefits of institution-specific UDL research outweighs the effort and time involved.

As I was writing this entry I was forced to revisit my foibles and, if I may, I would like to share some of my key learnings:

  1. Set clear goals and concise deliverables. Everything may not turn out just as you envisioned it, but you will at least have a plan to deviate from.
  2. Find your supports and champions before you start (or very early on).
  3. Plan/start your Research Ethics Board (REB) application early because when you are working with semesters a late REB application can have a significant impact.
  4. It does not have to be all or nothing. With minimal time and/or funding you can do a review of common accommodations, audit your LMS capabilities, or informally survey faculty at professional development offerings or departmental meetings.

My fingers are crossed that you are going to start your own UDL research. If you need help, Mohawk College is here for you.

ePortfolios as Boundary Objects


Among the challenges of thinking about ePortfolios are the ambiguity of who they are for and what functions do they serve.  Is an ePortfolio for the person who creates it or for those who will view it?  Is it a Test (an assessment tool) or is it a Story (a record of a learning journey)?  One possible way of looking at an ePortfolio that might help is to consider it as a Boundary Object.

What is a Boundary Object?

Originally described by Star & Griesemer (1989), and developed by Wenger (2001), the concept of a Boundary Object is an object that is developed in one context or community for a particular purpose, but which is useful to others in other contexts or communities and so forms a bridge between them – a common use object on the boundary of both communities.

“Boundary objects are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds.” (Star & Griesemer, 1989, p. 393)

An ePortfolio initially developed as an assessment tool in school, might be viewed from many perspectives and serve different purposes after graduation; for potential employers, credentialing agencies, or as a tool for reflection and self-development of the graduate.

So is an ePortfolio a Boundary Object?  

What are the characteristics of a Boundary Object. And does e-Portfolio fit?

 Wenger proposes a number of characteristics “enabling artifacts to act as boundary objects” (Wenger, 2001, 107):

  1. Modularity: each perspective can attend to one specific portion of the boundary object (e.g., a newspaper is a heterogeneous collection of articles that has something for each reader).
  2. Abstraction: all perspectives are served at once by deletion of features that are specific for each perspective (e.g., a map abstracts from the terrain only certain features, such as distance and elevation).
  3. Accommodation: the boundary object lends itself to various activities (e.g., the office building can accommodate the various practices of its tenants, its caretakers, its owners, and so forth).
  4. Standardization: the information contained in a boundary object is in a prespecified form so that each constituency knows how to deal with it locally (for example, a questionnaire that specified how to provide some information by answering certain questions).

Those characteristics are useful to view what enables ePortfolios to serve as bridges between various perspectives.

Modularity and standardisation are inherent to ePortfolios: artifacts selected for inclusion in an e-Portfolio, are connected within and across portfolios by standardised structure and requirements for the assessments or learning activities at the course level and Program Learning Outcomes and Institutional Learning outcomes at higher levels.  Viewers who are familiar with other forms of webpages can quickly grasp how to navigate an e-Portfolio. Using tabs and links to access content folders in various categories of information. Using links in social media (for example, a Linkedin profile) specific categories of information, or particular artifacts can be accessed without the rest of the portfolio. This allows the information in the e-Portfolioto travel far outside of the original context where it was created.

The potential of an e-Portfolio to accommodate various activities is easy to see: 

  • For a teacher it is an assessment tool for learning activities or projects;
  • For the student it is a record of experience and a tool for reflection;
  • For a potential employer it is evidence of skills and competence;
  • In a community of practice it is a means of developing connections and networking; a means of creating a profile within the professional community. 

Finally, since artifacts are selected from a wide array of possible items of work, the ePortfolio also shows abstraction. Not every piece of work done in a course or program is included.  When specific details are selected for inclusion or presentation, others are left out.   The portfolio creator is assuming that those “who know” can read between the lines and fill in the gaps for themselves.

The notion of ePortfolios as boundary objects is a useful reminder that whatever the initial objectives of the ePortfolio, once it begins to cross into other contexts it will be viewed from different perspectives and be used for different functions, and that is when it will become really useful.
Star, Susan Leigh and Griesemer James R.(1989) Institutional Ecology, `Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39 Social Studies of Science Vol 19, Issue 3, pp. 387 – 420

Wenger, Etienne (2001). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.