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UMD RECEIVES GRANT TO DEVELOP CULTURAL LITERACY CURRICULUM

Cultural awareness is a critical part of learning a language, living abroad and working in an increasingly global economy, yet no clear methods for teaching and evaluating it exist. A new initiative housed at the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures (SLLC) in the College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU) at the University of Maryland (UMD) will address this need through the Flagship Cultural Initiative (FCI).

Supported by a $750,000 grant from the National Security Education Program and the Institute of International Education, the FCI will develop publicly available, online materials to foster cultural literacy. A team of flagship program directors and scholars will develop materials for students of Arabic, Chinese and Russian, as well as a separate set of materials in English for students in any discipline. UMD is the sole institution to receive this award, which was open to all 21 universities with domestic undergraduate flagship programs.

“The faculty and staff in SLLC and the Language Flagship programs in Arabic and Persian are recognized for their expertise and creativity in providing immersive learning programs,” said ARHU Dean Bonnie Thornton Dill. “This grant will allow them to use that expertise to help students, regardless of their home institution, develop linguistic and cultural literacy.”

Initially, the materials will be geared towards flagship language students at UMD and at other institutions. Because these materials will be hosted on an open-source platform, they will ultimately be available for any student in the United States and beyond.

“Developing cultural knowledge is an essential part of preparing students to be sophisticated global professionals,” said Valerie Anishchenkova, principal investigator and associate professor of Arabic studies. “This initiative will develop materials to help students be successful in not only the classroom and study abroad, but also in complex, multicultural professional environments.”

Anishchenkova is an expert in Arabic studies. Her current research, which explores the relationships between identity, ideology and new media, is directly relevant to concerns of the project.

“Our goal is to develop a curriculum that will help students identify and analyze cultural assumptions,” she says. “The ability to recognize personal bias is an important skill for all of us, regardless of field or profession, and needs to be addressed separately from learning a language or studying the history of a culture.”

The FCI is collaborative and interdisciplinary, involving institutional partners and experts from Arabic, Russian and Chinese studies. Partners include the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, University of Hawaii, Portland State University, the American Councils for International Education and overseas flagship centers in Morocco, Kazakhstan,  Beijing and Nanjing.

The Flagship Culture Initiative is excited to share the ongoing results and products with the larger UMD community, including the Language Science Center and their Guatemala field station as well as the SLLC faculty and TAs who will be offered monthly workshops on newly developed culture modules.