Infusing Global Awareness Across the General Education Curriculum
Sydney Petite enjoyed almost all her classes at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, but none more than two experimental, team-taught, interdisciplinary courses on topics close to home: the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the thorny issue of global migration.
"I had never taken a class with more than one professor before. This was a different professor almost every other class," said the international relations and political science major. "I loved Spring Hill and had an amazing educational experience, but this was the first time we'd ever gone so in depth from so many different angles on one topic."
"We were getting the economic perspective, the science, the politics of oil, the government's role, and the role the media played in the crisis," said the Mobile native, who is taking the Foreign Service exam and applying to graduate school.
At Arcadia University outside Philadelphia, students clamor to get into the seminar that Jeff Shultz, anthropologist and education professor, teaches on "Baseball and Béisbol: The Evolution of Race and Ethnicity in the Major Leagues." It focuses on black and Latino players and explores how baseball became a lifeline for the Dominican Republic's economy.
The Spring Hill and Arcadia classes both grew out of efforts to reinvigorate and globalize general education led by the American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U). The two schools were in a cohort of 32 colleges and universities in a project called General Education for a Global Century that is now winding down, although the association's older, parent initiative, Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility, continues.
Kevin Hovland, AAC&U's senior director for Global Learning and Curricular Change, said that when Shared Futures began in 2001, the international education agenda centered on education abroad, language competencies, and "movements" of students and faculty. Nothing wrong with that, but "we wanted to focus a little bit more on the learning that people were targeting through those activities," he said.
After the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, many institutions began "putting ‘global-something' in their mission statements. Their graduates were going to be ‘globally prepared' or ‘global citizens' or ‘thriving in a global, interdependent world,'" Hovland said, but "nobody had gone to the trouble to figure out what global learning meant."
The AAC&U has carried the torch for liberal arts for nearly a century and represents nearly 1,300 institutions of every type and size. The challenges it faces have grown larger as state support for higher education has shrunk. "General education is now caught in the cross fire that attends efforts to accelerate degree ‘production,' reduce costs, and improve quality," AAC&U stated in its latest strategic plan.
Hovland said AAC&U functions essentially as "a curriculum and faculty development laboratory." As it did for the General Education for a Global Century cohort, its modus operandi is to bring teams of faculty together for intensive workshops to bounce ideas off one another and share curricular models.
The other schools in the Global Century cohort ran the gamut from such flagship institutions as the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Massachusetts Amherst to Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon University, Haverford College, and Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
This is an excerpt of "Core Values" (421kb ) by Christopher Connell, the cover story from the November/December 2013 International Educator.