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The Tilford Group

Researching Difference

Inquiring about human difference offers many opportunities for students to conduct research. Students in social science classes can, for example, explore attitudes and demographic data, examine how statistics are being used, and critique the various ways that researchers quantify racist beliefs. In humanities classrooms, students can integrate traditional, library-based research with field research (e.g., observations and interviews) in order to produce profiles or reports about people, events, or organizations. Most importantly, the research-based activities below ask students to relate these issues about human difference to their own academic majors. In other words, students are asked to show the ways in which methods and theories from their disciplines can contribute to these discussions about difference.

Relating Difference to Students’ Majors

Students examine their own majors or academic interests in order to illuminate a specific issue or controversy that connects with human difference in some way. Students should find at least two credible research sources and analyze how this point about human difference is important for this academic discipline. What is at stake—what is significant?—about juxtaposing human difference alongside this field of study?

Students should find an appropriate K-State audience that would be interested in the difference-related topic they have chosen. They may need to search the K-State website to find a relevant university administrator, a student organization, or another campus group. Students write to this specific audience, connecting their academic interests to this difference-related topic, and, if necessary, clearing up misconceptions that their readers might have.

Human Difference Variables

Students discuss the different variables that researchers use to differentiate and categorize cultural groups and then attempt to apply these variables to written communication situations. Using Internet and library sources, including Deborah Bosley’s Global Contexts or Craig Storti’sCross-cultural Dialogues, students research these different types of difference variables:

• individualism vs. collectivism
• differences in comprehending colors and icons
• differences in portraying human bodies
• monochromic vs. polychromic (differences in conceptualizing time)
• eye contact
• face-saving cultures
• gestures, body postures, and speaking distances
• “time” and “deadlines”
• styles of arguing
• silence
• low-masculinity culture (e.g., Netherlands) versus high-masculinity (e.g., the United States)
• ask versus guess cultures (differences in how questions are asked and expectations of what the responses will be)

Choosing a cultural group and purpose, students write a brief letter (or some other professional document) to this group. Students then justify the language and design choices that they made according to their research about the difference variables.

There are many other possibilities for allowing students to explore these variables. Here are a few:

• Students can create a country or cultural “profile” based upon the difference variables.
• Students can revise a document for another country or cultural group and justify their revision decisions.
• Students can create a questionnaire that attempts to measure several of the difference variables.
• Students can choose one of these variables and thoroughly research it, producing a review of literature.

Attitudes about Human Difference: A Mini-Empirical Study

Students explore several ways to pose questions and talk about human difference, dealing with, for instance, people’s attitudes towards gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and language. Students then choose one particular variable or factor related to human difference that they are interested in exploring. They could create a brief questionnaire, either using short responses, interview responses, or Likert-scale response, and conduct a mini empirical study. Students should get at least ten participants (possibly from their class) to respond to their questionnaire. Students are encouraged to work collaboratively on this process of conducting empirical research, though they should write up the results and conclusions individually.

Students write a brief introduction, which discusses the human difference variable that they are interested in. Students should describe at least one additional research study that helps explore this variable. Students then write a brief description of their methodology (e.g., what are the demographics of their participants?) and then provide their results, using a table or another type of graphic to make their statistics accessible to their readers. Most importantly, students then discuss the meaning of the results. What is significant about the responses? What do they say about the participants? What generalizations, if any, can they make about attitudes about human difference? How does their study help contribute to the previous research study they described?

Working with Diversity Scales

There have been many attempts to measure how aware or sensitive people are towards difference-related issues. Students can analyze several of these empirical diversity scales, research their use, and discuss to what extent they feel they are valid: that is, how well do the questions capture people’s attitudes about diversity?

One example of an empirical diversity scale is The Development and Validation of the Intercultural Sensitivity Scale from Guo-Ming Chen and William Starosta’s article, “The Development and Validation of the Intercultural Communication Sensitivity Scale” (Human Communication, 3, 1-15 [2000]). (This article is available online through eric.ed.gov.) The authors had participants rank their responses from 1 through 5 (1=strongly disagree and 5=strongly agree). The questionnaire is reproduced here:

  1. I am pretty sure of myself in interacting with people from different cultures.
  2. I find it very hard to talk in front of people from different cultures.
  3. I always know what to say when interacting with people from different cultures.
  4. I can be as sociable as I want to be when interacting with people from different cultures.
  5. I often feel happy about interacting with people from different cultures.
  6. I don’t like to be with people from different cultures.
  7. I feel shy when being with people from different cultures.
  8. I get upset easily when interacting with people from different cultures.
  9. I know my culturally-distinct counterpart is interested in my point of view during our interaction.
  10. I often get discouraged when I am with people from different cultures.
  11. I am aware of when I have hurt my culturally-distinct counterpart’s feelings during our interaction.
  12. I often feel useless when interacting with people from different cultures.
  13. I can tell when I have upset my culturally-distinct counterpart during our interaction.
  14. I think my culture is better than other cultures.
  15. I can tell when my culturally-distinct counterpart is paying attention to what I am saying.
  16. I feel discouraged when people from different cultures disagree with me.
  17. I think people from other cultures are narrow-minded.
  18. I respect the values of people from different cultures.
  19. I respect the ways people from different cultures behave.
  20. I would not accept the opinions of people from different cultures.
  21. I act naturally in a culturally different group.
  22. I find it is difficult to disclose myself to people from different cultures.
  23. I get embarrassed easily when interacting with people from different cultures.
  24. I find it is easy to talk to people from different cultures.
  25. I have a problem knowing my culturally-distinct counterpart’s motives during our interaction.
  26. I try to obtain as much information as I can when interacting with people from different cultures.
  27. I often deny the existence of cultural differences among people.
  28. I am sensitive to my culturally-distinct counterpart’s subtle meanings during our interaction.
  29. I am very observant when interacting with people from different cultures.
  30. I find it is not easy for me to make friends with people from different cultures.
  31. I am keenly aware of how my culturally-distinct counterpart perceives me during our interaction.
  32. I am not willing to join a group discussion with people from different cultures.
  33. I often give positive responses to my culturally different counterpart during our interaction.
  34. I feel confident when interacting with people from different cultures.
  35. I am open- minded to people from different cultures.
  36. I have a problem sensing what is inside my culturally-distinct counterpart’s mind during our interaction.
  37. I often appreciate different views raised by people from different cultures.
  38. I find it is difficult to reach mutual understanding with people from different cultures.
  39. I often show my culturally-distinct counterpart my understanding through verbal or nonverbal cues.
  40. I often sincerely listen to my culturally-distinct counterpart during our interaction.
  41. I have a feeling of enjoyment towards differences between my culturally-distinct counterpart and me.
  42. I enjoy interacting with people from different cultures.
  43. I avoid those situations where I will have to deal with culturally-distinct persons.
  44. I tend to wait before forming an impression of culturally-distinct counterparts.

Obviously, students can act as participants and take the test and calculate their results. In addition to this, students can critique or defend individual questions and justify their responses. Students can use these questions to create their own mini-questionnaires. Or, they may even be able to use these questions to trigger experiences, points of discussions, or ways to begin personal narratives.

Another survey with the Inventory of Cross-Cultural Sensitivity is available. This survey is from Kenneth Cushner, Averil McClelland, and Philip Safford’s Human Diversity in Education: An Integrative Approach (5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005).

Local Historical Research

There are many possibilities to encourage students to explore the local histories of human difference. They can research archives available at the State Historical Society or local historical societies, search the Collegian or Manhattan Mercury, examine K-State’s Yearbooks, or pursue archival research in Special Collections at Hale Library.