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A Report on Internationalizing Psychology Education and the 2008 Educational Leadership Conference

A number of early career psychologists participated actively in the ELC discussions providing new perspectives. Participants urged these individuals to advise about internationalizing through the Preparing Future Faculty Initiative of APA.

By Judith Torney-Purta, PhD

This year’s Educational Leadership Conference was held September 6-9 in Washington, DC.  The 100 or so psychologists who attended represented APA committees and divisions, regional associations, and affiliated groups. The ELC, sponsored by the Board of Educational Affairs, is held annually (each year on different topics).  This year the topic of Internationalizing Psychology Education was the focus for a day and a half. 

The Conference
Putting internationalization on the agenda of a major education meeting is an important step in itself.  The conference began with an evening reception and opening address by Spelman College President Beverly Daniel Tatum. She described the catalytic effect of an international undergraduate exchange program to France in the 1970’s that allowed southern US African American students to experience how it was to live in a society where race was not a defining feature, and made the point that reaching out often leads to profound changes within. The first full conference day began with a plenary session where four faculty presented examples of their efforts at internationalizing. This was followed by a plenary talk by Sandy Shullman titled “APA as a Learning Partner: Setting the Framework for International Discussions of Quality Assurance in Psychology Education & Training” that encouraged the attendees to think of how APA could nurture discussion and leaders in the international education arena. In the afternoon there were small groups on five topics: internationalizing the undergraduate curriculum, research training, faculty development, applied training, and quality assurance/mobility.  In this article, I will focus on one of these five topics, internationalizing the undergraduate education.

Background to this Topic
About five years ago the Carnegie Corporation of New York in collaboration with the American Council on Education (ACE) funded a Working Group on Internationalizing the Undergraduate Psychology Curriculum, of which I was a member.  The working group produced Learning Goals and Outcomes to Internationalize Undergraduate Psychology (2005), which is now on the APA website (  ACE issued a report entitled Where the Faculty Live: Internationalizing the Disciplines (which contains the psychology goals/outcomes and parallel material from history, geography and political science). This report, with its broader campus focus, was the subject of one of the plenary sessions on the second day of the conference. 

The Learning Goals and Outcomes were vetted by APA’s Board of Education Affairs (BEA) and a few small changes or additions were made to the working group document before it was officially accepted. A new sub-group worked on an action plan. The ELC was intended to both broaden and deepen this work.  

At the ELC
In the small group on internationalizing the undergraduate curriculum at the ELC meeting, there were was agreement that the overall aim of internationalizing efforts should be to help students become more tolerant of ambiguity and more reflective about their own experiences with individuals from other cultures (on their campuses as well as in study abroad programs).

A number of points were made:

The internationalizing goals from the Learning Goals and Outcomes document should be incorporated into the more general Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major under its Goal 8 (Socio-cultural and International Awareness) when the Guidelines are next revised. 

Internationalizing efforts may benefit from using new technologies, such as Web 2.0 that were outlined in one of the plenary sessions (although it must be added that a show of hands indicated that many psychologists in the group that attended the ELC did not know much about social networking sites, podcasts, Wikis, or blogs).

Textbooks: Although adding more on international topics to textbooks is cited as a strategy for internationalizing the curriculum, there is debate about whether this is “the answer.” Publishers publish what will sell, and there is an impression that books with significant international or cross-cultural material have not necessarily sold well.  In addition, some textbook writers claim they have international content because Freud was Austrian and Piaget Swiss!  A second challenge in relying on textbook revisions to promote internationalization is that some writers tend to avoid complex issues and to present text material that may be more likely to reinforce stereotypes than to expand students’ international awareness (e.g., textbooks arguing that all Asian families are collectivistic not individualistic). 

Other strategies

  • Some suggested requiring students to summarize articles from international journals published in English—such as the Asian Journal of Social Psychology.

  • Some suggested assigning biographies of individuals living in other countries or of immigrants, or asking students to interview immigrants (first or second generation).  After reading or interviewing, students would be assigned to apply psychological concepts/theories to this material.

  • The voices of faculty who are doing research in collaboration with behavioral and social scientists in other countries need to be heard.  The National Academy of Sciences recently issued a report on research collaboration (which was discussed in the ELS small group on research training but is more broadly relevant). 

  • A faculty development initiative within an interested department could be based around the Learning Goals and Outcomes (perhaps promoted with small grants made to provide technical assistance to a group of faculty at an interested institution).  Faculty from other institutions who have successfully developed internationalization activities in psychology could serve as mentors.


Among the structures suggested for more systematic access to textbook reviews, assignments, syllabi and materials, and promising practices were web-site clearing houses.  APA’s Division 2 website has some of these materials.  Additional resources suggested included:

  • A list of international journals published in English and in PsychINFO could be included on teaching websites or in newsletters of relevant divisions.

  • Learning modules could be developed.

  • Making available some syllabus material from courses that have developed an international dimension might be useful. Some instructors have developed written assignments with an international component.

As a historical note, in 1983 the American Psychologist published a section on the internationalization of psychology. It included an annotated bibliography of materials to internationalize undergraduate courses in social and developmental psychology. The view of participants was that approaches such as this with carefully chosen assignments could internationalize but avoid stereotyping.

A number of early career psychologists participated actively in the ELC discussions providing new perspectives.  Participants urged these individuals to advise about internationalizing through the Preparing Future Faculty Initiative of APA.

Summary and Future Steps
The conference attendees agreed that internationalizing efforts need to be both top down and bottom up.  It is not sufficient for us to simply wait for individual faculty to develop interest and find their way to the Division 2 website or other wesites for materials, however.  It is crucial for interested APA groups such as CIRP to actively develop strategies, including retaining a sub-group to look at next steps before the momentum of the conference is lost. Other divisions (in addition to Divisions 2, 17 and 52, which were listed as the major organizers of the ELC) could also be fruitfully involved. Ψ