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Teaching ‘international-mindedness’

 In class with chemistry teacher Tor Øyvind Andersen at Nesbru upper secondary school.

Chemistry teacher Tor Øyvind called it international mindedness: it’s what’s instilled in students enrolled in Nesbru upper secondary school’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program.

My ears perked up when I heard the term. Almost immediately it brought certain associations to mind. Respecting diversity. Embracing multiculturalism. Appreciating and understanding that people from different cultures do things differently from what you’re used to.

And I wasn’t too far off.

Here’s how Tor Øyvind defined the term in the context of Nesbru’s IB program:

An IB education fosters intercultural understanding among students. At Nesbru, where all subjects in the last two years of high school are taught in English, a third of the student population is non-Norwegian. “The international focus of the curriculum will prepare the students for a career in a multicultural environment,” he explained.

Bridging cultural gaps

It all sounded great. But was also  clear that Tor Øyvind faces special challenges unique to an IB teacher, and they way he overcomes those challenges by using digital tools stands as a great example of technology’s power to bridge gaps between cultures.

Chemistry teacher Tor Øyvind tracks student progress with anonymous surveys.

During our conversation Tor Øvind told me about a particularly challenging episode in his teaching career.

Tracking student progress with anonymous surveys

One of his students, a student from an Asian country, was struggling in his chemistry class. “She just was not making progress and I could not figure out why," Tor Øyvind recalled. "Whenever I asked her if she was struggling with the material she would insist at that everything was fine. At the time I did not realise that, in her culture, it was insulting to tell the teacher that she did not understand the curriculum.”

He was never able to help that student. But today he can help students like her by surveying his students about their progress - or lack of it.

Here is an example survey from his chemistry class:

Students log in to the learning platform and reply anonymously to the survey. The feedback compliments what he knows about student progress based on face-to-face discussions. He also uses surveys as a way of introducing topics before new units in order to activate students’ previous knowledge of a subject.

“The survey tool is like a temperature meter in my classroom. I use it in every session. I survey the students asking things such as ‘what don’t you understand?’ ‘Are the assignments too easy?’ ‘Are you panicking?’ We do this on a regular basis and I end up with a clear picture of where my students are. This even works for students who are not bold enough to speak up in class, because they know they will remain anonymous,” Tor Øyvind explains.

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