Does Your Curriculum Serve
International Students?

"Too often, integration of international students into the institution is not viewed systemically. The institution may be recruiting international students to increase diversity, to increase revenue, or for some other goal ... but you rarely see the globalization of the campus conceived of as a systemic effort."
Gayle Woodruff, University of Minnesota

Recruiting international students without ensuring that the curriculum itself is internationalized is an unsustainable effort. Providing international students with an education that will equip them for success whether in the US or in their countries (and simultaneously providing domestic students with a truly global education) entails the integration of international content and perspectives across the curriculum, as well as a careful look at biases in pedagogical design and delivery that may make the learning experience less accessible to all students.

To learn more, we interviewed Gayle Woodruff, who directs a system-wide curriculum and campus internationalization initiative at the University of Minnesota, one that she has modeled closely on successful examples from universities in Australia that have conducted extensive research on internationalization, such as the University of Melbourne and the University of South Australia. Woodruff advises that institutions enrolling high numbers of international students take steps to:

  • Focus on internationalization in curriculum design
  • Prepare faculty to take a more international perspective on their content and a universal design approach to their course design and delivery

Curriculum Design

"Curriculum is the heart of the effort. It is both the central issue and the deciding factor in internationalization."
Gayle Woodruff, University of Minnesota

"Look at the whole of the curriculum, not just parts," Woodruff advises. Identify guiding questions that will help you identify and prioritize opportunities for internationalizing your curriculum, such as these three questions used at the University of Minnesota:

  • What skills, knowledge, and attitudes do we want our students to learn?
  • What are our definitions of global citizen, global learning, and global competency?
  • What skills, knowledge, and attitudes do the faculty and staff need in order to help students develop their competencies?

Woodruff recommends holding a campus-wide conference and having faculty attendees respond to these or other guiding questions. "Code the responses," she adds, "then aggregate a draft of definitions for your institution." In this way, you pool the brainpower of your whole faculty to develop the vision for what internationalization will look like for your curriculum.

Once you've had the campus-wide conference:

  • Within each academic unit, the dean or department chair can hold sessions to arrive at a vision for internationalizing the curriculum for that unit
  • Organize faculty development opportunities to assist faculty, individually and in cohorts, in determining what this will mean for their courses
  • Appoint an internal consultant who can champion the effort, serving to advise departments and facilitate planning

Focusing on the Faculty

"Regardless of who is in the classroom -- an international or a domestic student -- are the faculty equipped to assess their ability to design universally applicable course materials and delivery?"
Gayle Woodruff, University of Minnesota

For Gayle Woodruff, internationalizing the curriculum is, at its core, a challenge of faculty development. Citing Gavin Sanderson's research on the internationalization of the academic self, Woodruff draws attention to the need to raise faculty awareness of how their teaching may be "culture-bound."

Gather an interdisciplinary faculty cohort or faculty learning community that will take a structured seminar together. Include intensive learning experiences, readings from current research, and hands-on assignments that require faculty to:

  • Check for cultural biases in their pedagogical strategy
  • Self-assess and peer-assess their strategy
  • Develop an intentional plan for how they will internationalize their curriculum

In order to teach faculty how international students may experience culturally defined and culture-bound learning, help faculty first recognize ways in which their teaching may be culture-bound. Then engage faculty in "backward design" (starting with clearly defined outcomes and designing course content and exercise to help students meet the course outcomes) and in reflection on their teaching. Educate faculty about best practices in universal design -- which will help not only international students but all students.


Woodruff cites this example of a course with global perspectives and content. A faculty member in environmental science opens one of her courses by having students examine different rivers for levels of contamination. Without being told which rivers they are examining or where these rivers are located, students are asked

  • Would you drink from this river?
  • Would you swim in it?
  • Where would you expect to find this river located geographically?

This provides the opportunity for students to examine their own biases about where clean water is to be found in the world. (The cleanest rivers may not be in the US.)

Woodruff adds that when faculty are informed and empowered to take a more international approach to their course content and delivery, international students cease to become pedagogical "obstacles" and become instead resources in the class (as fresh individual perspectives, not as sole representatives of their countries), providing new viewpoints even as they are encouraged themselves to develop global competencies.

Also in this Issue

A Whole-Campus Approach: A Letter from Amit Mrig, President, Academic Impressions

Does Your Curriculum Serve International Students?

Recruiting and Admitting International Students: Key Considerations

The Transition In: Setting International Students Up for Academic Success

The Transition Out: Moving International Students into the Donor Pipeline