Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Ludmila Praslova & Travis John Wood, Vanguard University of Southern California, Costa Mesa, USA


This presentation summarizes author’s experience of using writing assignments and follow-up discussions in teaching the Culture and Psychology (or Cultural Psychology; Cross-Cultural Psychology) course. The goal of these writing assignments and discussions is to help students to explore, expand and share their understanding of their own cultural background. The author’s experience suggests that one of the obstacles in teaching culture and psychology, at least in many US American settings, is the fact that a considerable number of students, especially ethnic majority students, see culture as something found in exotic, distant places, and not as something personal and greatly relevant to their lives. The “lack of personal relevance” problem is reflected in this real and representative student comment: “I do not know about culture, I am just a white middle class American”. It is therefore very important to help these students to explore and understand their own cultural background with the goal of developing the ability to see culture as something personally relevant to them and as a vital part of their own psyche. Such understanding will in turn help students to appreciate other individuals as cultural beings, as well as to become more conscious of the overall role of culture in psychological functioning. While ethnic majority students may seem to be a student subgroup most likely to benefit from increased awareness of their cultural background, ethnic minority students also experience increased cultural understanding and personal growth as a result of assignments discussed in this presentation. It is also likely that students in settings other than USA will benefit from assignments discussed in this presentation because the importance of culture in our psychological functioning is a universal human characteristic.

Writing assignments are one of the effective ways to achieve the important goal of making cultural learning relevant. In this presentation two specific examples of writing assignments will be discussed and their effectiveness in helping students to explore their inner cultural self will be evaluated. The first assignment is focused on student exploration of their cultural background and cultural self (selves); the second assignment requires that students reflect on a real life cross-cultural experience.

Furthermore, the author’s experience suggests that students greatly benefit from adding a class discussion element as a follow-up to individual writing assignments; however, planning such discussions requires sensitivity and careful preparation. Therefore, this presentation will include a list of suggestions for making class discussions of potentially sensitive cultural topics both enjoyable and beneficial for all students. Selected examples of student work and student feedback on their classroom experience collected from two universities located on the West Coast of the USA will also be presented and discussed. Student evaluation of educational effectiveness of class assignments and discussions averaged 4.75 on the scale from 1 to 5 (class evaluations, 2006), and an example of student comments reads as follows: “It opened me up to the many different cultures and what makes them unique. I liked doing my presentation and paper on culture” (class evaluations, 2007).

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