Often adolescents hold strong opinions, but they don’t always know where and how they came to those beliefs. When a teacher pushes them to think critically about why they feel the way they do, it's easy for students to ignore them. But, when video conferencing with a teenager from another country who genuinely wants to know the answer, students often respond more thoughtfully.
HOW IT WORKS
A teacher interested in using Generation Global must register the school with the program first. Then he or she can access free lesson plans to introduce the basics of dialogue. Davis said one of his favorite elements of the product is its flexibility. Teachers can modify the lesson plans easily while still maintaining the spirit of the lesson.
“They trust that you know your students best,” Davis said. “The lessons are designed so you can get at the heart of the meaning of the lesson without following the lesson prescriptively.”
Students practice dialogue skills like active listening and speaking from the “I” perspective with one another in class. Thus, not only do students have the ability to dialogue about the personal experiences, values and beliefs of peers across the world, but in the lead-up they do the same with students who they’ve sat next to for years, but still might not know very well.
After students have been introduced to the skills involved in productive dialogue, the teacher can set up various types of interactions with classes in one of the 20 countries where schools have signed up for Generation Global. This can be done through the site and is painless, according to Davis. Teachers can choose a one-to-one dialogue with another class or they can choose to participate in a multipoint dialogue, where up to four classes are participating. All the dialogues are moderated by a trained facilitator who keeps the conversation moving, helps move past the awkward beginning and makes sure that everyone feel safe within the dialogue. The dialogues are all in English.
Additionally, Generation Global has a secure online dialogue feature that allows two classes to commit to a longer dialogue on a series of questions. The site groups students for a more intimate experience and they respond to one another in writing. Teachers and facilitators can see all these interactions, and the technology offers teachers a dashboard on their students’ participation, too.
“The great thing about dialogue is it enables you to get inside someone else’s perspective,” said Ian Jamison, head of education for Generation Global. “So you explore not knowledge, but experiences, values and beliefs.”
He stresses that the dialogue topics are usually not about specific curriculum because, while there is some overlap in the curricula of different countries, it can also vary widely. Instead, the program staff at Generation Global are interested in how students can build empathy for one another by learning about personal experiences of culture and the world.
The goal is to make the exotic familiar. “One of the side effects of familiarity is it makes it very hard to hang on to prejudice,” Jamison said. He described one video conference he facilitated between a class in Pakistan and a class in the U.K. In the course of the conversation one of the students in Pakistan said that Islam was illegal in the U.K. He was surprised to hear from a U.K. student of Pakistani descent that actually he was himself a Muslim and attended a mosque in Birmingham.
“That’s the kind of misinformed comment that doesn't help people get on with one another,” Jamison said. But when the students could look one another in the eye and hear a different narrative about a place they’d never been, it started to change their views about the world.
“One of the things we often take for granted is we often think of ourselves as ordinary and the other as exotic,” Jamison said. But every person can be exotic to someone living in a different culture, and these global dialogues can have a huge impact on the many biases and stereotypes that get passed around almost unconsciously.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Generation Global takes safety and security seriously both because its staff know that students must feel emotionally safe to open up about personal experiences, but also because they know parents worry about student safety online. The schools that participate have been vetted by Generation Global and the video conferences and online chats take place in a secure environment that is never shared.
In many ways this program asks students to do something that many adults aren’t modeling well -- how to be respectful of someone with a different lived experience and opinion. The dialogue skills are particularly important when people disagree strongly.
“As a teacher it was so refreshing to have a facilitator make sure that safe space for dialogue and conversation was kept,” Davis said. Conversations can still get heated, but if a student gets worked up the facilitator will stop the conversation, ask participants to take a moment, and then work to re-establish safety before continuing the conversation.
Jamison sees the online dialogue as an equally important element of helping adolescents to develop positive habits around interactions online, something that again many adults do not model well for students.
“What we want to end up with are young people who are able to take part confidently in dialogue,” Jamison said.
Cross-cultural psychology uses critical thinking and scientific research as tools that enable lucid strategies for inquiry, observation, and problem solving between countries and cultures (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). This branch of psychology is inextricably entwined with cultural psychology, which provides the basic units for cultural psychology's measure and comparison.
"Cross-cultural psychology is the critical and comparative study of cultural effects on human psychology" (Shiraev & Levy, 2010, p. 2). In this comparative field, at least two cultural groups are observed and compared by the essential component of critical thinking. Cross-cultural psychology studies the "links between cultural norms and behavior and the ways in which particular human activities are influenced by different, sometimes dissimilar social and cultural forces" (Segall et al., 1990 as cited by Shiraev & Levy, 2010, p. 2). This psychology studies interactions between cultures, defines their differences, and determines commonalities and psychological universals between them. Cross-cultural studies not only address psychological diversity, but also the reasons for such diversity. One essential outcome of these studies is determining universal applications appropriate for all people, whether they are coping with extreme traumatic events, or finding ways to circumvent and surmount the normal and average, although vexing, difficulties of human existence.
Cross-cultural psychology assumes it is difficult, if not impossible to understand the psychology of a people without first understanding their indigenous ideologies (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). Behaviors must be judged according to cultural rules and ideologies or the judgment has no basis in the reality embraced by the culture (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991). Any judgment placed on behavior in another culture must be embedded in a parameter that considers the underlying functions of the cultural context in which the behavior occurs (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991).
The Relationship between Cultural and Cross-cultural Psychology
Cross-cultural psychology is a comparison between at least two cultural groups, and cultural psychology is the study that seeks to discover systematic relationships between culture and psychological variables (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). Cultural psychology investigates meaningful links between a culture and the psychology of individuals living within that culture, and believes the behavior of individuals within a culture must be observed within the particular sociocultural context for specific behavior to be meaningful. Cross-cultural psychology envelopes the products of individual cultures and their respective psychologies, and identifies the significant variations and dissimilarities between them (Triandis, Malpass, & Davidson, 1971). Whereas cultural psychology refines its study within one culture, cross-cultural psychology is a broader and more encompassing perspective that incorporates many refined cultural studies. Cross-cultural psychology could not exist without the more focal study of individual culture and its effect on the individual (Shiraev & Levy, 2010).
Critical Thinking and its Role in Cross-cultural Psychology
According to Shiraev & Levy (2010), critical thinking is an essential and fundamental component of learning upon which psychology relies. The thought processes involved in critical thinking are cognitive tools that enable lucid strategies for inquiry, observation, and problem solving and simultaneously limit biased, rigid, apathetic, and simplistic thinking (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). Human nature necessitates the implementation of critical thinking for several reasons inherent in the observation of cultures that vary from one's own. When facing uncertain foreign cultural exchanges and situations, a natural human response is to impose one's own perspectives to resolve behavioral ambiguities (Stewart & Bennett, 2006). It becomes difficult to suspend judgment on unfamiliar behaviors although they are normal for the culture. People tend to measure others (often unconsciously) by their own cultural norms and expectations, and it is typical and normal to presume the superiority of their own culture (Stewart & Bennett, 2006).
According to the notion of self-fulfilling prophecy, when individuals hold beliefs and attitudes toward other people or make invalid and thoughtless assumptions, especially those of other cultures, without knowing, these conjectures contribute to and produce the expected behaviors. Critical thinking facilitates holding accurate, lucid, and evolving beliefs and attitudes toward others. An unfortunate intrinsic mechanism of human nature is belief perseverance by which people stubbornly cling to beliefs even in the presence of disconfirming evidence. Other forms of human bias and inaccuracy include the Barnum effect, the availability bias, fundamental attribution error, and failure to acknowledge the difference between causation and correlation, and multiple causality (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). In communicating and making observations cross-culturally, it is essential to refrain from continually supporting beliefs that serve no purpose other than to alienate and ostracize one group of individuals from another. Critical thinking prevents this type of lazy and rigid thinking. Cross-cultural psychologists need to avoid biases of generalization and yet realize that cultural comparisons require a great deal of imagination and abstraction when culturally diverse and unique underlying factors exist (Shiraev & Levy, 2010).
Methodology Associated with Cross-cultural Psychology
The four fundamental goals of research in cross-cultural psychology are description, interpretation, prediction, and management (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). Research methodology is divided into two types: quantitative and qualitative. The former uses a comparative perspective and employs measures of central tendency such as the mean, median, and mode to establish similarities, differences, and other statistical relationships. The latter is a type of research conducted in natural settings or when there are difficulties measuring variables. Qualitative methods are useful when "when dealing with phenomena that are difficult to measure (such as dreams, pictures, drawings, songs), [or when] subjects or topics for which standardized measures are not suited or not available" (Shiraev & Levy, 2010, p.31).
The researcher must first identify the goals, and then determine the most appropriate method to accomplish them. Quantitative research measures human activity and makes comparisons with empirical study using observation rather than more subjective forms of reflection. In essence, the quantitative approach looks for relationships, or correlations between two or more variables (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). Cross-cultural psychology uses correlational approaches to establish an association between two or more variables, and the t-test, which estimates "whether the difference between two samples occurred by chance" (Shiraev & Levy, 2010, p. 50). When using quantitative research, it is imperative to understand correlation does not mean causation.
An application-oriented strategy attempts to determine how research discoveries can be applied to countries or cultures other than the one in which the findings were identified. A comparativist strategy places emphasis on the similarities and differences in a sample of cultures (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). A variety of psychological methods of investigation are used in cross-cultural psychology: observation, survey, content-analysis, experiment, psychobiography, focus-group methods, and meta-analysis, and each method has a particular use according to the situation in which it is used. One of the difficulties in cross-cultural investigations is the need to translate from one language to another in such a way that nothing is lost or incorrectly translated (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). When analyzing cross-cultural data, some psychologists take an absolutist approach, which claims psychological phenomena are the same in all cultures. Others lean more toward a relativist approach, which contends human behavior can be understood only when judged and observed within a contextual parameter that accommodates the psychological individuality of the culture in which the behavior occurs (Shiraev & Levy, 2010; Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991).
In the comparative field of cross-cultural psychology, the goal is to study interactions between cultures, define differences, and determine commonalities and psychological universals between them. Cross-cultural studies address psychological diversity as well as why the diversity exists (Shiraev & Levy, 2010). The relationship between cultural and cross-cultural psychology is interdependent, and cross-cultural psychology could not exist without the microcosmic view of cultural psychology (Triandis, Malpass, & Davidson, 1971). The scientific scrutiny under which the two psychologies are held requires critical thinking to identify information correctly and free from human bias and inaccuracy.
Shiraev, E. B. & Levy, D. A. (2010). Cross-cultural psychology: critical thinking and contemporary applications (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn Bacon.
Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). Advances in experimental social psychology. San Diego: Academic Press.
Stewart, E. C., & Bennett, M. J. (2006). American cultural patterns: a cross-cultural perspective. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Triandis, H. C., & Brislin, R. W. (1984). Cross-cultural psychology. American Psychologist, 39(9), 1006-1016. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.39.9.1006
Triandis, H. C., Malpass, R. S., & Davidson, A. R. (1971). Cross-cultural psychology. Biennial Review of Anthropology, 7, 1-84.