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Higher Ed Embracing Global Learning Surge

In recognition of today’s interconnected world, institutions want to thoroughly prepare students for graduation and employment. To achieve that, students must have an understanding of the world in which we live.

As part of her job as senior director for global learning and curricular change at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), Dr. Dawn M. Whitehead interacts with representatives of institutions that seek to integrate global learning into existing curriculum.

“If you look at mission statements or vision statements for almost any university at this point — two-year, four-year, highly selective, open admission — you’ll find the word ‘global’ in that mission somewhere,” Whitehead says. “Typically, it’s relating to the fact that we want students to be citizens of the world. We want students to be willing and able to engage with differing perspectives.

“It also speaks to what the workforce is telling us.”

This year, AAC&U published a study of employers — both for-profit and nonprofit — and 70 percent of the employers indicated their organization is globally connected.

“If we want students to really be prepared, they have to be able to solve problems with people whose views are different from their own,” Whitehead says. “That is another factor that contributes to this new push for a globalized educational experience.”

Later this month, Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), which has engaged in global learning for 40 years, will host its ­first annual Institute on Project-Based Learning in collaboration with AAC&U. Teams from colleges and universities from around the country, which applied to be able to take part, will spend three days learning how to integrate project-based learning into their curriculum with a focus on global learning and interaction.

“The approach that we take at WPI to global learning is experiential. Our students go around the world to solve problems in communities,” says Dr. Richard F. Vaz, dean of the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division at WPI.

“It raises their awareness of their roles as citizens of the world and also citizens of their own communities,” he continues. “They come back from these international experiences and they generally bring a much broader outlook. It gives them a lot of confidence and it helps them [to] think [not only] beyond the borders of the United States, but also beyond what they had imagined they might do in their lives.”

All WPI students complete two big projects during their undergraduate studies. About two-thirds of them complete at least one project off campus. About 40 to 50 percent of those students conduct one or more projects overseas.

Developing new content

To remain vibrant, Agnes Scott College set a goal recently of increasing enrollment. The school commissioned a positioning study to see what prospective students are seeking. The results came in during the spring 2014 semester and were quite clear — students want global learning and leadership development. With that knowledge, faculty working groups set about developing new curriculum.

“What we’re talking about are the systems and patterns of interconnectedness across the globe,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hackett, special adviser to the president for strategic planning and an associate professor of women’s studies and philosophy at Agnes Scott.

Agnes Scott is launching what it calls Summit, a four-year global learning and leadership development program unique to the college.

Hackett identified three factors that have led to recent increases in global learning. The first is technological advances. The second is the emerging worldwide political economy that is resulting in both opportunities and inequalities not previously seen. Lastly, there is the possibility of coordinated human action at an unprecedented scale to address global challenges.

The general education requirements at Agnes Scott are being redesigned. Every general education course going forward will have either global learning or leadership development content. They have also amplified digital literacy. There have been new hires — including two faculty members focused on the Middle East (one additional will also be hired). There will also be a Chinese language professor and a psychologist whose focus is the impact of international travel on students.

“We’re trying to give students tools, concepts and habits of the mind to help them navigate that world where there is so much more interconnectedness,” Hackett says.

In the spring of their freshmen year, or “firstly year,” as they are called at Agnes Scott, all students will take a course that delves into issues, problems and patterns across the globe. At some point in the semester, every student will travel with a group of fellow participants in the seminar and a professor. Most trips will be outside the United States and costs will be covered by the college.

“We would hope that this would be the appetizer for some of those students who might have been a little more timid about [international travel],” says Hackett.

For schools seeking to develop international study options for students, there are organizations such as NAFSA: Association of International Educators as a resource for best practices. Kevin Hovland, senior director of academic programs at NAFSA, says there has been a steady and significant increase in global learning and international study over the past 15 years. While he distinguishes between the two, he says both have positive impacts on student development.

“Debates about climate change, epidemics, water resources [and] food security are in the media and increasingly in the classroom,” says Hovland. “Such questions — along with perennial questions about employment — have become the context in which students and faculty members are now measuring the relevance of higher education.

“At the same time, we are helping colleges and universities think creatively about how international and global connections are also transforming the higher education landscape and requiring institutions to keep up with very complex and rapid changes,” Hovland says.

Transparency and visibility

Barnard College’s Global Symposium series, initiated by the college’s president, Dr. Debora L. Spar, in 2009, has become a signature program. To date, there have been conferences in Beijing, Dubai, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and, in 2015, on Barnard’s campus in New York, with speakers from the countries that previously hosted and several new ones from the United States.

“Especially as women take on positions of leadership more and more in those regions, [we discuss] what they are encountering that we may find is somewhat universal for women or may be distinctive and specific to a particular region,” says Dr. Lisa Hollibaugh, dean for international and global strategy at Barnard. “How can we all learn from one another by talking about that?”

There always has been a good-sized international population at Barnard among both students and faculty, but international engagement has grown recently. The college is currently undergoing its first curriculum review since 1999, and a significant topic emerging among faculty and students is whether there are sufficient global requirements in the curriculum.

“The curriculum review has also allowed us to reaffirm our commitment to the study of the world and other cultures through the learning of foreign language,” Hollibaugh says.

The international diversity of the Barnard faculty and the international networks they plug into provide resources for students.

Faculty have expressed ideas for programs abroad that they would like to curate themselves that would benefit students and enhance Barnard’s reach. Some of these would be credit-bearing programs; others short-term programs.

Hollibaugh says she is working on developing funding sources to bring these ideas to fruition.

“That’s my goal: support and foster more of those programs for our faculty and students,” says Hollibaugh.

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