Carie Forden (American University in Cairo)
Amy Carrillo (FORMERLY American University in Cairo)
Please note: Instructors are welcome to use or adapt these teaching ideas for their own classes, provided the use is noncommercial and appropriate credit is given.
To give students the opportunity to: (1) experience meaningful cross-cultural interaction; (2) apply social psychological principles of prejudice and peacemaking to solving a real world problem; (3) strengthen their critical thinking skills; and (4) deepen their understanding and appreciation of diversity.
This assignment uses social media to give students a chance to have meaningful cross-cultural interactions while learning about social psychology and ways to promote international dialogue, peace, and social justice. In this particular case, a Facebook page was co-developed by psychology classes in Egypt and the United States, and student groups in each class were asked to design a program that would improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners by using what they had learned about (1) the causes of prejudice and intergroup conflict, and (2) methods for reducing prejudice and making peace. After students designed their programs, they discussed them in class and then posted their ideas to the Facebook page for comments by students from the other country. As a result of this cross-cultural exchange, students often reported that they had not only learned about psychology of prejudice reduction but that their own prejudices had been reduced. As one student summed up the experience in her final Facebook post: "thank you all for teaching so much in such a short period of time! I learned a lot about you and about myself from this project, and I know that the lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life."
Diversity/global learning has been identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities as a "high-impact" educational practice that is likely to lead to greater learning and development (Kuh, 2008). It can be difficult, however, to provide students with hands-on cross-cultural experiences, especially in parts of the world where homogeneity is the norm. Fortunately, the development of social media makes this task easier. We used a Facebook page to allow social psychology classes (one in Egypt and one in the United States) to collaborate on an assignment on prejudice:
Students were asked to design a program that would improve relationships between Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners by using what they had learned about (1) the causes of prejudice and intergroup conflict, and (2) methods for reducing prejudice and making peace. The Egyptian students were told to focus their program on reducing prejudice toward Muslims among non-Muslim Americans, and the American students were told to focus their program on reducing prejudice toward Westerners among Egyptian Muslims. Students were provided with data from a survey of Muslim and Western countries conducted by the Pew Research Center (2011). This survey examined the views of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, and reported a continuation of mistrust and tension between these groups. After students reviewed this information, members of each class broke into small groups and discussed the following topics:
1. Consider the causes of prejudice. Which emotional sources of prejudice (scapegoating, social identity, in-group bias, and authoritarianism), cognitive sources of prejudice (stereotypes and schemas, distinctiveness, and the just-world phenomenon), and social sources of prejudice (privilege, institutional discrimination, socialization, and conformity) might contribute to these tensions?
2. Consider the factors that make a conflict constructive or destructive. How might these be operating in this situation?
3. Consider the strategies that promote peace: contact, cooperation, communication and conciliation. How might these approaches be used to reduce tension?
4. Design a program that will address one or more of the causes of prejudice and destructive conflict, making use of one or more of the strategies that promote peace. Your design should include the following: (a) the causes of prejudice or destructive conflict that you are addressing and the strategy for peace that you are using; (b) the group(s) you are targeting with this strategy; (c) the specifics of what you plan to do -- the activities you will carry out, the materials you will use, how you will get people involved, and so on; and (d) why you think this will be an effective strategy.
After the groups had designed their programs, they discussed them in class and then posted them to the Facebook page for comments. For example, the American class suggested creating opportunities for cooperation and contact through working on problems of common interest, and the use of reality shows and social media to present a more accurate picture of each group. Egyptian students responded by saying: "There are a lot of similarities between your program and the program that our class agreed on. We decided to tackle the same causes of prejudice, which are stereotypes and schema. We as a group agree on creating ways to collaborate, Muslims and Non-Muslims sharing activities of common interest for example, poverty, healthcare etc. Also the idea of sharing personal stories is very helpful in reducing prejudice because it will make people interact in ways that might help them find similarities."
Student Reactions and Evidence of Effectiveness
Students in both countries responded very positively to this assignment and to the experience of working with students from another country. At the end of the course, they completed an online survey that used a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree) to assess their reactions. Across questions that measured the impact on learning and applying course content, students agreed that the assignment "helped me understand and appreciate diversity" (M = 3.97, SD = 0.8, N = 34); "helped me better understand course concepts" (M = 3.94, SD = 1.0, N = 34); "helped me apply course concepts to understanding the real world" (M = 4.0, SD = 0.8, N = 34); "made me reflect more deeply on the course concepts" (M = 3.81, SD = 1.0, N = 34); and "helped me think in new ways" (M = 3.91, SD = 0.9, N = 34). There was also agreement across questions that measured students' enjoyment of working with students from another country: "I enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with students from the other university" (M = 4.18, SD = 0.7, N = 34); and "I would have liked to have had more opportunities to collaborate with the students at the other university" (M = 3.91, SD = 1.0, N = 34).
In addition, students were asked open-ended questions about what they had learned. Here are some of their reactions:
"I never really realized how very much alike we all really are. We want the same things but [it] seems the media keeps us from mending broken bridges. I know I myself have a different attitude towards Muslims since we have shared our thoughts and findings of each other through our Social Psychology class. It has been a great privilege."
"I have gained more respect for Muslims from doing this assignment because I believe I might have been a little prejudiced toward them because of the events that have been going on. Now I realize I was wrong. Thank you for opening my eyes."
"[The assignment] was very helpful. It was great to gain insight into other cultures and their own means of solving prejudice problems. Also, this exercise is in itself a way to help break stereotypes, if any, given the fact that we are of two different cultures."
"I realized I was unconsciously maybe generalizing about a group of people which was wrong. I was glad they too got a chance to see how they might have been generalizing about me and my country as well."
Tips on Implementation
Probably the biggest challenge for implementing this assignment is finding a faculty colleague in another country with whom to collaborate. However, universities have exchange programs that can be used to find collaborators, and professional meetings and listservs can also be used. If there's sufficient interest, we would like to set up a website where faculty members desiring international classroom collaborations could find each other. Language differences can be a barrier, but oftentimes students in other countries are fluent enough in English to communicate with American students.
Once the faculty partnership is established, setting up a Facebook page and designing an assignment is fairly easy. We set up a group page with ourselves as administrators and sent the link to students. Anyone can see the page, but they need a Facebook account in order to post material on it. Since most students have Facebook accounts, this is generally not a problem, but by having students post in small groups, it allows those who do not want a Facebook account to participate. Including pictures or videos lets students have a personalized view of each other. Allowing students to post their responses during class time is also beneficial because it encourages them to discuss the Facebook page with their classmates.
This assignment is easy to adapt for other types of class projects and forms of diversity. For example, we also had students complete an assignment in which they gathered data on attributional styles and compared the results to see if there were cultural differences, and we had them replicate a cross-cultural study that looked at conformity and individualism in advertising (Kim & Markus, 1999). This type of assignment can work across differing courses if there is some shared content. For example, one of the authors did a similar collaboration with an introductory psychology class in Egypt and a cross-cultural psychology class in the United States. Another suggestion, made by a student, was to offer opportunities for students to pair up online and collaborate on projects across the universities. Finally, for the current assignment, if there is enough time, it might be beneficial to have students actually implement one of their suggested programs for reducing prejudice.
This assignment exemplified action teaching by allowing Egyptian and American students to collaborate in finding solutions to a real world problem. It powerfully demonstrated the effectiveness of three key strategies for peacemaking that were addressed in class: contact, cooperation, and communication (Myers, 2012). As Muslim and non-Muslim students connected with each other over Facebook, their own prejudice and distrust of each other was challenged, and they were changed. Here is what one American student wrote when summing up the experience in her final post: "thank you all for teaching so much in such a short period of time! I learned a lot about you and about myself from this project, and I know that the lessons I learned will stay with me for the rest of my life."
Kim, H., & Markus, H. R. (1999). Deviance or uniqueness, harmony or conformity? A cultural analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(4), 785-800.
Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring social psychology (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Pew Research Center. (2011). Muslim-Western tensions persist. Retrieved from the Pew Global Attitudes Project website.