This Web Extra! is a continuation of the interview with Carol Geary Schneider, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), "Global Education for All" that appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of International Educator magazine.

IE: How did AAC&U's Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility initiative begin and what were its outcomes?

Schneider: AAC&U has been working on the whole issue of educating students to know about people other than themselves and the world beyond their own borders for a long time. The Shared Futures project began in 2002 or 2003, but it was building on more than a decade of earlier work. For example, in the 1990s, AAC&U led a very large initiative called Engaging Cultural Legacies that was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Over 350 colleges and universities applied to take part in this project and all of them wanted to do two things: first, to put something in the required curriculum that would help students engage cultural traditions and societies different from their own and become in effect cosmopolitan learners; and second, to do that in ways that are richly humanistic and that draw from cultural traditions in all parts of the world, not just the western traditions.

The more AAC&U worked with that set of issues, the more we realized how far we had to go, and that, in effect, higher education is in the midst of a long-term shift from being primarily focused on the West to being newly focused on the world and on Western countries as a part of a larger global community. It takes a long time for the curriculum to fully reflect new scholarship, new emphases, new insights, and new perspectives. These changes eventually reshape both general education courses and the courses students take in their majors. . Shared Futures helps ensure that today's graduates understand the larger global forces, disasporas and connections that are reshaping work, society, and local communities. So, through Shared Futures, AAC&U has produced research about new designs for building global knowledge and competence through the curriculum and new tools for practice.

The project is addressing such issues as assessment and general education; it has also created an ongoing context in which institutions can work together to redesign general education around global themes and to connect their disciplines with global topics. The subtitle of the project—"Global Learning and Social Responsibility"—underscores the role that liberal education plays in fostering a fuller understanding of responsibilities beyond self, our shared role in building a more just and equitable and sustainable society.

Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility

Guiding Principles

A twenty-first century liberal education must provide students with the knowledge and commitment to be socially responsible citizens in a diverse democracy and increasingly interconnected world. Colleges and universities committed to liberal education have important civic responsibilities to their communities, their nation, and the larger world. Global learning is the pathway through which students become prepared to fulfill these responsibilities.

Global learning helps students:
  • Gain a deep, comparative knowledge of the world's peoples and problems
  • Explore the historical legacies that have created the dynamics and tensions of their world
  • Recognize the construction of their own identities as shaped by currents of power and privilege
  • Develop intercultural competencies so they can move across boundaries and unfamiliar territory and see the world from multiple perspectives
  • Sustain difficult conversations in the face of highly emotional and perhaps uncongenial differences
  • Understand—and perhaps redefine—democratic principles and practices within a global context
  • Gain opportunities to engage in practical work with fundamental issues that affect communities not yet well served by their societies
  • Believe that their actions and ideas will influence the world in which they live

IE: Can you provide a success story of one of the institutions involved in the initiative?

Schneider: One institutional success story is the globalized general education program at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio. Otterbein has been very active in AAC&U for a long time. For many years, For over thirty years, Otterbein took great pride in an integrated studies program that extended from the first to the final year of college. Courses in this program examined questions about human nature, self and identity, self and community, using insights from many disciplines. A couple of years ago, Otterbein concluded that it was time to take a fresh look at what the themes of the integrated studies program should be. Otterbein faculty members have been working together through the Shared Futures project to reconceive the program's themes in terms of global topics. Issues of self and one's relations with others remain basic to the program, but now all the required courses have been revised to address global themes, questions and perspectives. Each of the core courses in the program teaches students to think globally, and beyond specific disciplines.

In addition, in their junior and senior years, students take what Otterbein calls an interdisciplinary dyad, a set of closely linked courses from different disciplinary areas, each of which focuses on a specific topic. Some of these linked courses are brand new; others are drawn from existing courses. For example, one cluster is about alternative worlds. It includes exobiology from the physics department and the literature of science fiction from the English department. Another one is about gender issues, which includes courses in gender and biology from the life sciences but also sculpting gender from the art department. These topically linked courses address issues that connect the human community and faculty ask the students who are juniors and seniors to work on those issues from cross-disciplinary perspectives. Another example comes from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. There, the Global Faculty Group has helped each of the university's undergraduate colleges develop new courses that explore global challenges and systems from a full array of disciplinary and professional contexts. For example, Global Systems and Project Management is an information systems course in which students from Pittsburgh work collaboratively with students from Singapore Management University. Another course on Health, Development and Human Rights helps students consider the ethics of global poverty and its implications for health and development. A third course on Mapping Urbanism examines global cities and a spectrum of urban cultures.

What's interesting about all the work in the Shared Futures Project is that faculty leaders are both probing global themes and especially global challenges, like sustainability, as a way of bringing new focus and new integration to the general education program. These global learning initiatives are trying to overcome the fragmentation that is unfortunately, a characteristic problem with general education requirements. People tend to often not be able to see connection between the science courses and the humanities courses. Otterbein's program helps students not only see but probe those connections.

Elaina Loveland is managing editor of International Educator magazine.