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Authentic Learning through Successes and Challenges of Multicultural Teamwork

Hands-on project work in multicultural and multidisciplinary teams provides students with authentic learning opportunities that foster the development of their English language, interpersonal, and intercultural skills. Students learn by doing and through practical interaction and exploration in collaboration with peers and other project stakeholders.

Published : 29.11.2022

Based on research carried out in the CORALL project (Erasmus+ 2019-2022), project and team collaboration with English as a lingua franca boosted students’ self-confidence as collaborative and autonomous learners in international settings. During our project-based experiments across cultures, students were encouraged to reflect on their learning experiences and competence development by writing weekly entries in semi-structured learning journals.

The journal reflections demonstrate improvements in students’ courage to express themselves in a foreign language, in their ability to navigate cultural differences in perspectives and values, and in their understanding of the power of mutual respect and positive attitude in multicultural teamwork.

Courage to interact

At the beginning of our project experiments, involving students from multiple disciplines and cultures, students often reported feeling insecure about their language and communication skills. They felt shy to express themselves in English, especially if they were not used to doing so regularly in their studies.

Through interactive and fun team-building exercises during the first two weeks into the project, students usually managed to break the ice with their new teammates. After that, they reported feeling more courageous in team interaction and many also took conscious steps to train their interpersonal and linguistic skills. They also reflected on their fear of making linguistic or cultural mistakes and felt that continuous team communication helped them grow more tolerant of mistakes over time.

Courage and skills to negotiate

As the work progressed, team interaction became more and more demanding in nature. A real-life project with both internal and external stakeholders with concrete milestones and deadlines requires that students put effort into needs analysis and focus carefully on goal setting, task distribution, and time management. This, in turn, engages students in collaborative decision-making and problem-solving.

In their reflections, many students discussed their feelings about exchanging views and opinions with their team members. Abilities to listen, negotiate, and compromise were often regarded as key to successful team collaboration. Students underlined the importance of courage to express one’s opinions even when they differ from those of others. From a language learning perspective, they were conscious of lacking skills in tactful communication and wanted to learn how to express their views politely yet firmly.

Accommodating different cultural perspectives and values

At Haaga-Helia, the authentic project challenges were focused on sustainability issues and ways of persuading target audiences to change their attitudes and behavior by means of inspirational digital storytelling. During their audience research, decision-making, and negotiation processes, students often reflected on their insights about cultural differences in values and expectations regarding sustainable development and lifestyles.

Active dialogue between students, teachers, and industry stakeholders from different countries was regarded as highly useful in terms of practicing one’s professional competencies in intercultural sensitivity and stakeholder communication.

In their learning journals, students reported having gained new understanding of different perspectives and cultures, including their own. They also expressed willingness to learn more by continuing to exchange information, thoughts, and opinions among peers and other relevant stakeholders.

At the same time, however, students also felt frustrated as persuasive communication across cultures and among multiple stakeholders was considered highly challenging – and requiring constant repetition in order to be impactful.

Mutual respect and positive attitude

Students reflected quite a lot on their own and their peers’ emotions and attitudes affecting the success of their multicultural teamwork. During the ups and downs of their collaboration process, team members not only got to know each other well but also had to learn to get along despite personal differences, motivational problems, or incompatible communication styles. Respect for others and positive and responsible attitude to project work were recognized as imperative for creating a safe and supportive team atmosphere.

In most cases, student teams managed to build good team chemistry and maintain a positive attitude despite occasional hurdles in project management. Some teams, however, experienced friction in their collaboration and even ended up in open conflict. If this happened, teachers acting as coaches intervened and offered support and scaffolding for team members to negotiate and solve their differences.

These situations were regarded as typical challenges affecting project teams working across cultures, and the ensuing discussions were framed as examples of authentic team communication in such challenges. In authentic learning environments and in complex project settings, it is also possible to learn in and through situations of “productive failure” (e.g. Kapur, 2008, 2016).

All in all, multicultural teamwork boosted students’ self-confidence as collaborative and autonomous learners. The authentic successes and challenges of project-based interaction and exploration promote responsibility over one’s learning, both individually and as part of the project team.


Kapur, M. 2008. Productive Failure. Cognition and Instruction, 26:3, 379-424.

Kapur, M. 2016. Examining Productive Failure, Productive Success, Unproductive Failure, and Unproductive Success in Learning. Educational Psychologist, 51:2, 289-299.