Curriculum integration

“…greater integration across these units and program coherence is necessary to explicitly address goals for undergraduate preparation for participation in a diverse democracy” (Hurtado, 2007, p. 187).

Historically, students have left our colleges and universities with the ability to process information from the Eurocentric perspective. This style of acting, thinking, and doing has helped perpetuate the void that many graduates experience when dealing with issues of diversity that goes beyond stereotypic data. Consequently, it becomes incumbent on today’s educators to create a learning environment that will prepare every student to deal effectively with the “coloring” of the world.  However, some may say, “and so what, why should we do this? I see no real need to change, what I have done for the past 10, 15, 20 … years works!” Yet research suggests that the comprehensive integration of diversity into the pedagogy provides a world view necessary for success in the 21st century (Heuberger, Gerber & Anderson, 1999).

This section provides a brief definition of Curriculum Integration (CI) general frameworks needed to "Integrate" cultural competence, diversity, and social justice into your curriculum.


Broadly speaking, Curriculum Integration (CI) is a pedagogical approach that helps students build a small set of powerful, broadly applicable concepts/abilities/skills, i.e., it promotes depth rather than breadth. It implies restructuring learning activities to help students build connections between topics. As a result it is about creating multiple contexts in which students, encounter, re-encounter, and integrate concepts, skills and issues so that they become an integral part of the perspective that they bring to the examination of ideas, people, and events they encounter.

Because this is not merely the addition of a unit or an isolated reading, CI
requires restructuring learning strategies as well as content in order to help students build connections between and among the things they are learning and what they already know. And it takes into account not just the context in which students learn but the contexts in which learning is applied, reiterated, and reconnected. As Bransford and Brown observe, "Knowledge that is taught in only a single context is less likely to support flexible transfer than knowledge that is taught in multiple contexts.  With multiple contexts, students are more likely to abstract the relevant features of concepts and develop a more flexible representation of knowledge.(1)”

When applied to the teaching of intercultural competence, multicultural, diversity and/or social justice, CI is the seamless blending of these issues with disciplinary content when one is developing goals, objectives, and assessments, seeking resources, and planning learning strategies for a course and, ideally, within a broader curriculum where students can encounter these issues and concepts in multiple courses, disciplinary and co-curricular contexts for maximum understanding of their importance and intrinsic value in understanding and navigating their world in the 21st century (Heuberger, Gerber,  & Anderson, 1999).

Curriculum Design

When approaching the development of any new course you will gain valuable ground by approaching your course design strategically. This is especially true when addressing a curriculum that is transformative, i.e., has the potential to challenge or change previously help assumptions and perspectives.

The potential impacts of a fully integrated transformative curriculum will affect students and faculty on two levels:
  1. Content: Provides  resources, models, and perspectives
  2. Process: Facilitate growth and development of a new perspective and the skills to use it.
Each of these is necessary but not sufficient. Because academics work most easily on the issue of content and theory, process can be the trickiest part. Student interpretation of and emotional response to course content may be culture-bound and knowing how to facilitate that learning in three dimensions is key:
  • The affective dimension drives student engagement, motivation to learn, and their valuing of the knowledge they encounter. Failing to build positive relationships and a climate of trust between and among teacher and students, or to be concerned about students' emotional and value laden responses to world views and perspectives that challenge what they believe to be "true," can negate even the most carefully chosen content.
  • The behavioral dimension involves the development of the skills and behaviors required to use and apply what they are learning. To paraphrase Mao Tse Dong, knowledge without action is dilettantism."
  • The cognitive dimension involves the integration of new of knowledge into one's existing world view, and requires students and teachers to engage in critical dialogue around the issues and ideas encountered, What do they mean? How do they affect the way I think about things? Why do I believe what I believe?
In a Culturally Competent Classroom this looks like…
  • An openness to engage and value new perspectives (affective)
  • The development of skills for critical analysis of the knowledge and perspectives encountered (cognitive & behavioral)
  • The ability to observe, participate in, and reflect on the information encountered (cognitive & behavioral)
  • The ability to imagine multiple Interpretations and evaluations for a single action or event
  • Culture Specific and Cultural General Knowledge
  • Understanding the ways cultures can differ and being skilled at recognizing these differences as they are experienced (Values, Communication Styles, Problem-solving Preferences, Nonverbal Communication, Stereotyping, etc.) 

In a Nutshell….
  One moves from  Fear -->Tolerance-->  Respect-->  Valuing -->  the Internalization of Cultural Differences into 
One’s Sense of Identity

Finally, when designing curriculum that has the potential to challenge and transform, it is important to consider 7 main concerns as you plan:
  1. What, specifically, do your students need to know?
  2. What concrete skills do they need to master?
  3. What values and attitudes do they need do examine?
  4. How will you know if they have achieved these outcomes?
  5. What techniques will most effectively build these skills?
  6. What ethical questions and dilemmas need to be addressed by the teacher and the students?
  7. What do you need to do/know/work through in order to be prepared to create the best learning experience for your students

For assistance with integrating this curriculum into your courses, Contact the Instructional Development Service (IDS) by contacting Shelley Smith at or 218-726-7715


  1. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (1999). Bransford J.D., Brown, A.L., and Cocking, R.R. (editors). Washington, DC: National Academy Press. 
  2. Saunders, S., and Kardia, D. (2004). Creating Inclusive College Classrooms. In A Guidebook for University of Michigan Graduate Student Instructors. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, Accessed May 5, 2011.


Banks, J. A. (2002).
Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum Reform
Silver, H. "Integrating Learning Styles and Multiple Intelligences." Educational leadership 55.1 (1997): 22-27.

 Beane, J. A. (1995). Curriculum integration and the disciplines of knowledge. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 76, No. 8 (Apr., 1995), pp. 616-6

Montgomery, S. M. & Groat, L. N. (2004). Learning Styles and their Implications for teaching. In A Guidebook for University of Michigan Graduate Student Instructors. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.,  Accessed May 5, 2011.

"The context in which one learns is  important for promoting transfer. Knowledge that is taught in only a single context is less likely to support flexible transfer than knowledge that is taught in multiple contexts.  With multiple contexts, students are more likely to abstract the relevant features of concepts and develop a more flexible representation of knowledge.(1)”

Shelley Smith,
Jun 23, 2011, 12:29 PM
Shelley Smith,
Jun 23, 2011, 12:29 PM
Paula Pedersen,
Dec 5, 2011, 1:40 PM