On March 30, Carol “Griff” Griffin, general education director at Grand Valley State University, will welcome a panel of distinguished presenters for “Interdisciplinary Curricular Designs to Address Global Challenges,” an in-depth Global Learning Conversation focused on interdisciplinary approaches to creating engaging learning experiences that address current global challenges.

To help start the conversation, NAFSA asked Griffin and presenters Bridget Trogden (associate professor of chemistry, Mercer University), Dawn Michele Whitehead (senior director for global learning and curricular change in the Office of Integrative Liberal Learning and the Global Commons, Association of American Colleges and Universities), and Kirstin Wobbe (associate dean for undergraduate studies and associate professor of biochemistry, Worcester Polytechnic Institute), to give a quick preview of what participants can expect from the upcoming conversation.

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The curricular change process can be daunting. What are some first steps for greater integration of global learning?

Griffin: Use a collaborative process early on to develop shared terms for global learning. If you can align your work with the strategic plan of the college or university, you’re more likely to create the opportunity for synergies between faculty efforts and the goal of global learning. Be patient. Changing the curriculum is slow. Focus the majority of your efforts on the majority of the faculty. Use the early adopters to help sell the idea that global learning is important and doable for faculty in all departments. Don’t spend a lot of your efforts on the naysayers; you do want to listen to their concerns because there are nuggets of information that can help you develop strategies to increase global learning across the entire campus. Student affairs personnel can be among your biggest supporters. Use them!

Wobbe: A key first step in curricular change is developing a group of faculty who will be the leaders by example. Find like-minded individuals from as broad a base as you can, who are willing to make changes to their courses, assess the impacts and then help spread the word about successes. The group should meet regularly to share ideas and provide mutual support. Recruit the student voice. Students and alumni who can attest to the value of global learning provide significant validation and can be powerful levers for change.

Trogden: Change doesn’t always need to happen via complete overhaul! Small tweaks are often better ways of addressing necessary change in curricula. For example, it could be effective to look first at student learning outcomes. Are there global learning student learning outcomes already present in a course (or program)? If not, consider adding some. If multiple sections of a course are taught by many people, this is a great way to collaborate, connect, discuss, and reach consensus with colleagues on what outcomes you wish for students to have. Another great tool is the use of a “signature assignment,” where a specific assignment is adopted in a course or program that provides students an opportunity to reach the desired learning outcomes. Each professor can tweak it as needed for his or her content, but the students can have a common learning milestone. Program assessment is also more streamlined with the use of a signature assignment.

Whitehead: A crucial first step for greater integration of global learning is a clear, demonstrated commitment by the institution to global learning. This could come in the form of institutional learning outcomes that reflect global learning, dedicated resources to global learning, or allocation of staff and faculty time for global learning-related activities and programs. With sustained investment in resources to support global learning and messaging to indicate a greater campus integration of global learning, a climate to support curricular change can be cultivated. Faculty will also need forums to discuss the process of integration of global learning in their disciplines and across disciplinary lines. Consistent opportunities for professional development and the creation of faculty communities of practices will need to be developed to provide faculty with spaces to explore global learning and develop curricular changes for their own courses. This type of professional development will take time, and the institution will need to make a commitment to offer this type of professional development over at least a two-year period.

Why is it important for institutions to include global learning in their general education curriculum?

Griffin: Society needs globally literate people and colleges are in an excellent position to create those people. Students swirl between colleges and shift in and out of majors; thus, while we want to encourage global learning in every major, embedding global learning in the general education program is critical to ensuring every student gets global learning. General education programs typically account for 25 to 40 percent of an undergraduate degree. Traditionally, those programs have focused on providing breadth of knowledge in the first two years. Focusing on general education will get students thinking about the skills, knowledge, and attitudes associated with global learning early in their time at college. Increasingly, general education programs are adding an upper division component. By the time students reach their junior and senior, they can build on their earlier exposure to global learning to have even richer, interdisciplinary conversations about the challenges the world faces.

What's your favorite example of successfully “globalized” curriculum?

Whitehead: There are so many institutions that are doing really good global work that it is hard to identify a favorite “globalized” curriculum, but I’ll mention a couple. Florida International University (FIU) is doing some amazing work with a number of communities in the Miami areas. I think about the community-based work the Haitian Student Organization has done with a mentorship program with the local Haitian community and middle school students and a number of other global learning programs out of Office of Global Learning, and I think of their very successful “globalized” curriculum for all students. Students do not have to leave south Florida to have a global experience at FIU; it is a part of their curriculum. Our colleagues at Worcester Polytechnic Institute are doing excellent work, and their students are really having amazing “globalized” experiences at home and abroad. The key for global learning is really in the preparation for the global engagement at home or abroad. The keys are to make sure students have opportunities to learn about and apply diverse perspectives, wrestle with real world problems in interdisciplinary teams, and attempt to solve real-world problems.

Wobbe: The National Academy of Engineering has instituted a Grand Challenges Scholars Program that combines curricular and cocurrricular activities that are designed to prepare engineering students to address the problems of the world. Schools can develop their own version of this program to best suit their population of students and apply to become a recognized school in the curriculum. This is an excellent start that could be a catalyst for change across an institution.

Who should attend this Global Learning Conversation?

Whitehead: Educators who are interested in learning innovative ways for students to explore the global challenges through curricular and cocurricular initiatives.

Wobbe: Anyone in the higher education community interested in hearing more about interdisciplinary global education.

Trogden: I believe that this session should have a wide range of topics and programs covered, so there should be something for everyone. The talking points will cover curricular options, cocurricular options, and connections to immersive and real-world problem solving.

Join us on March 30 to share your insights and learn from others interested in interdisciplinary curricular designs that build global learning.