Bookcover 'First Things First'
Bookcover 'First Things First'

A safe learning environment for (international) students

Radboud University welcomes new (international) students every year. Liedeke Plate and Sandy Barasa investigated the importance of a safe and inclusive learning environment in their Comenius project 'First Things First'. "Students are more likely to participate better, share their perspectives and develop intercultural ability faster within a safe and inclusive environment." Attention and understanding of diversity within your teaching is therefore crucial for the well-being of your students and their successful collaboration. But how do you approach this?

It starts with awareness 

Awareness and sensitivity to (diversity and cultural) differences sets the foundation for an inclusive and safe learning climate: an environment where everyone feels welcome and appreciated. This requires attention to the social, emotional and learning needs of both Dutch and international students. Within their own teaching sphere, professors Liedeke and Sandy observed that Dutch and international students struggled to merge. The goal of acquiring international competences was not achieved. What turned out: When students felt more at ease, they expressed their views and ideas more often and came up with more creative solutions. 

How do you create a safe learning environment?  

'There is no one ideal approach. Different courses, contexts and participants require different approaches,' Sandy explains. What are some aspects you can use to start implementing in your teaching? 

Inclusiveness 

Be conscious about biases in your teaching materials. Stereotyping or inappropriate jokes can make students feel uncomfortable. Choose inclusive (more neutral) examples and use inclusive language. Work with materials that recognise the individuality of all people and are free of prejudice: international, multicultural and decolonial. 

Assignments  

You can also prepare assignments that require international expertise such as writing a consultancy report for a foreign company. The expertise required makes it easier for Dutch and international students to mix. 'Suppose you have to advise the German company Volkswagen, German students identify more with the case and feel invited to share their knowledge about their culture and values. That way, students learn how useful different perspectives can be and gain more knowledge in a mixed group.' 

Workshops and activities 

In addition, workshops and activities on diversity and cultural differences at the beginning of the academic year are a great way to highlight diversity and awareness of cultural differences. 'At the start of the college year, everyone is excitably in a good mood and open towards learning new things. The ideal time, then!" says Sandy.  

Tips for you as a teacher and your study group 

  • Reflect as a teacher: How do you shape education? How does your own culture influence your lesson design? 
  • Know the course: Be aware about diversity in your course and how to use it advantageously e.g. creating interactive tasks. Adapt your materials accordingly. Use inclusive language and examples. 
  • Pay attention to what happens in class: How do students interact with each other? Do you notice situations where students feel unsafe? Are there students who withdraw?
  • Involve your students actively: Involve students in designing the course (if possible) and in evaluating both cooperation in workgroup meetings and inclusiveness in the whole course. 
  • Ask for feedback: Don’t wait until the end of the course! Providing and evaluating feedback can be done mid-term by simply asking how a course meeting went (e.g. anonymously via Wooclap). This allows students to share their opinions on content, material or teaching style in a low-threshold manner.  

Download the book with more information and tips

Contact information

A hardcopy can be obtained by sending an email to stafsecretariaat [at] let.ru.nl (stafsecretariaat[at]let[dot]ru[dot]nl).