Making the culturally diverse classroom work: Activities for successful groups
Paper i proceeding, 2019

Motivation for attending and learning outcomes of the sessions

As universities become increasingly internationalized, many lecturers will have students with multicultural backgrounds (OECD, 2014). There are many advantages with a culturally diverse environment, not least that it reflects the nature of the global engineering workplace and that students broaden their perspectives but at the same time, lecturers need to take a critical look at their own material and approaches to best utilize this environment. This workshop is aimed predominantly at lecturers and administration and will discuss useful strategies for working with these students, with a focus on group work in engineering projects.

Learning outcomes:

-        an increased awareness of the benefits and challenges of a culturally diverse work environment

-        a toolbox of activities to facilitate groupwork in culturally diverse student groups


Background and rationale of the session

Internationalisation is a key goal at many universities. This goal can be measured quantitatively, for example, achieving a critical number of international students across Master programs; however, counting numbers does not address what international students actually experience at the university. Neither does it address home students’ experiences of cultural diversity within the university setting.

Recently, a number of initiatives to work with intercultural awareness at all levels have taken place at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, driven by the goal, decided in June 2016, to create global perspectives and foster intercultural cooperation across all Master’s programs. Since project and group work is common in the workplace and subsequently in our educational structure, our initiatives have focused on groups in project courses. This is also where students are brought into closer contact with one another, yet this way of working may be unfamiliar for some students.


Engaging session design, aligned with the learning outcomes

Maximum number of participants: 30

The workshop will provide a sample of activities which have been implemented with culturally diverse groups. A key theoretical foundation for these activities is a non-essentialist, experience-driven approach to teaching intercultural communication (Van Maele and Mertens, 2009), which is discourse based, theory referenced and interaction oriented.

The activities chosen for the workshop are those experienced as most effective by students (shown through student interviews and reflective texts), such as working with case studies and models for dealing with critical situations that arise (Bergman et al, 2017). The workshop’s discussions will be documented and made available to participants after the workshop. Participants will also receive copies of activities to take away with them.

Activities in relation to learning outcomes:

1.      the benefits and challenges of this environment: shared practice through discussion (approx. 20 mins)

2.      a toolbox of activities (1): participants will experience some possible activities for inclusive group work as described above (approx. 45 mins). This will include:

o   strategies for forming teams with culturally diverse students

o   activities for the start, middle and finish of the project to encourage openness, trust and reflection

3.      a toolbox of activities (2): participants will reflect on and share their own experiences (approx. 20 mins)

Significance for Engineering Education

As outlined in the SEFI position paper, “Substantial progress must still be made to achieve the SEFI vision: a state where engineering education is safe, inclusive and fully empowered by all segments of our societies - globally.” This workshop is a step towards that vision and towards internationalisation in practice to fully utilize the potential in culturally diverse teams (Freeman and Huang 2014).


Bergman, Becky et al “Forming effective culturally diverse work teams in project courses”. In Proceedings of the 13th International CDIO Conference, Calgary  (2017) 

Chalmers University of Technology (2016) Prioritised Operational Development

Freeman, R. B., & Huang, W. (2014). Collaboration: Strength in diversity. Nature News, 513(7518), 305.

OECD. (2014). Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators. OECD Publishing.Retrieved from

SEFI position paper on diversity, equality and inclusiveness (2018) Retrieved from

Van Maele, J., & Mertens, K. (2014). Towards an experience-driven approach to teaching intercultural communication. IKSI Scientific Publishing House (Warsaw University)

internationalisation; diversity; intercultural cooperation; group work


Group work

Intercultural cooperation



Becky Bergman

Chalmers, Vetenskapens kommunikation och lärande, Fackspråk och kommunikation

Anthony Norman

Chalmers, Vetenskapens kommunikation och lärande, Fackspråk och kommunikation

SEFI 47th Annual Conference: Varietas Delectat... Complexity is the New Normality, Proceedings

Vol. 2019 2036-2038
978-287352018-2 (ISBN)

47th SEFI Annual Conference 2019 - Varietas Delectat: Complexity is the New Normality
Budapest, Hungary,





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