Senior Director's Column

Senior Director's Column: An International Psychology Curriculum - Work for Us All

There is a need in many countries, especially those in which psychology is rapidly developing and that base their curricula on US or other English language texts, to nationalize the curriculum – that is, to generate examples and models appropriate for local non North-American or Northern European history, context and culture.

By Merry Bullock, PhD

Psychology, like many other disciplines, has been talking for a long time about internationalizing the psychology curriculum. APA has been involved in many of these discussions in the US. It was the subject of an APA Workgroup funded by the American Council on Education that produced a set of learning goals, it was the topic of a follow-up joint APA Board of Education Affairs (BEA) and Committee on International Relations in Psychology (CIRP) committee that pondered how to implement international learning goals, it was a central topic of the 2008 Education Leadership Conference at APA, it is on the agenda of the APA divisions that deal with education and with international issues, and it is a regular topic at conferences, conventions and meetings. It is likely on the agenda of colleague psychology associations around the world, and it is part of the mission of such global online resources as the International Teaching of Psychology Network (ITOP).

Yet, despite sustained attention and interest, textbooks in the US are still intensely US-based in their examples, research and approaches, and online resources to expand the curriculum with content from other countries are not broadly available. At the same time that there is a need to internationalize the US curriculum, there is a parallel need in many countries, especially those in which psychology is rapidly developing and that base their curricula on US or other English language texts, to nationalize the curriculum — that is, to generate examples and models appropriate for local non North-American or Northern European history, context and culture. This is especially important when there are obvious cultural variations in phenomena; but it is also important for presenting relatively universal constructs — material will be more vivid and memorable to students when examples are drawn from their own circle of experiences, or from a variety of experiences.

We probably all agree there is a need to expand the purview of psychology texts — whether by internationalizing US textbooks or nationalizing the (largely US-based) texts used in many other countries. Although this is certainly an issue addressed by publishers, at least as far as market analyses suggest this would be a good idea, it is an activity that we need to nourish as individuals and associations. There are at least two dimensions on which internationalizing — and nationalizing – the curriculum can proceed. One is to develop a diverse, internationally broad set of examples of behavioral phenomena and constructs, to illustrate the topic(s) at hand. As each of us develops or finds locally relevant examples, we collect these examples in a compendium available to all. There are at least three kinds of content that would help make psychology teaching materials more responsive to international issues — a first kind is examples of cross-cultural comparisons highlighting both similarities and differences in the expression of psychological phenomena around the world. Examples of this might range from examples of how seemingly universal constructs (for example, attachment, emotion, language structures, abstract thinking, scientific reasoning, self-esteem) are expressed in different cultures. A second type is examples of culturally specific constructs or phenomena — such as notions of group cohension, filial piety, display rules. A third kind would be examples of the same phenomenon or construct from different places — infant milestones, aging, and the like).

A second dimension of internationalization is to develop discussion modules about those behavioral phenomena or constructs that appear to vary across culture, to encourage exploring and understanding what is universal, what is particular, and how these similarities and differences arise.

Developing such examples, critically evaluating current texts by asking students to indicate where the constructs in their textbooks do not seem a good match for their observations, and collating these as a rich resource for psychology teachers, students and researchers, may be one step toward a better collective understanding of what “internationalizing” the curriculum might mean.

There are already resources available to psychology to promulgate examples — through APA Divisions and international collaborations such as ITOP. The Office of International Affairs will work with these groups to publicize and expand international resources, and we ask each of you to send information about other resources that we may disseminate as well. You will find a list of these international resources on a new page.

We invite you to use these pages to let us know of your efforts in this arena.Ψ