Building Global Competence into Postsecondary Curricula

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This article first appeared in the Teaching Professor on July 31, 2015. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved. 

It has never been more evident that we live in a global society. Upon graduation or even sooner, our students will be working with people from other countries and cultures, which means they must learn to become globally competent if they are to enter the workplace as culturally competent employees. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Asia Society Partnership for Global Learning define global competence in a way that can guide the development of pedagogical tasks that build students’ global capacities, detailing it as “the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.” There are several elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States that are part of the International Studies Schools Network (ISSN). This network of schools helps students become globally competent by aligning classroom tasks with four basic elements, or domains: investigate the world, recognize perspectives, communicate ideas, and take action. However, most students still enter postsecondary education lacking experience in these domains. Professors could help students develop global competence by integrating these four domains into classroom tasks and assignments. We’d like to offer some examples that illustrate how.

Investigate the world

Students develop global competence when they investigate the world beyond their current environment. This can be accomplished with tasks that require students to study other cultures or global issues within a particular academic discipline. For example, a health care student may look at the issue of access to clean water and determine that it influences the spread of disease, impacting the wealthy and poor differently. When students develop research questions, analyze data, and synthesize their findings, they generate global knowledge with impact for their chosen field, and that builds their cultural competency.

Recognize perspectives

Human interaction is influenced by perspectives. To develop global competence, academic tasks should require students to think critically about how cultural factors impact points of view, both their own perspectives and those of others. Central to this domain is the notion that students understand that situations, events, and phenomena influence how others think and the perspectives they take. Assignments that challenge students to see subjects from a variety of different perspectives help them understand how a subject might look and be considered, depending on who you are and where you come from. In the “clean water” example, students may consider how poverty, gender, age, and ethnicity shape one’s views, or how views vary across tribes, states, or nations.

Communicate ideas

Once students have investigated parts of the world and encountered a range of perspectives, professors must guide students to effectively voice their findings through various mediums such as debates, speeches, documentaries, and written narratives. Essential here is the need for students to adapt and shape messages so that they connect with their audience. The same information may generate a range of responses, depending on the audience. Good communicators are able to recognize and respond to these cultural differences.

Take action

Finally, globally competent students take advantage of opportunities to act. They are able to advocate for improving conditions locally and globally within their field. For example, students who studied the impact of clean water on disease may create a documentary detailing an important finding and share it with an entire academic department or other appropriate audience, post it to the web, or organize a trip to a particular location so they can work with others to solve local problems.

Incorporating global competence into already full courses may seem overwhelming. But it can begin small with a global competence piece added onto an existing assignment. Something else could be added the next semester. Here are some other suggestions for getting started:

  • Examine a unit of content, and explore how it could be transformed with a worldview. For example, a collection of readings that explores the elements of story could be revised to include stories representing diverse cultures and multiple points of view.
  • Explore the Council of Chief State School Officers website (https://ccsso.org/), which contains samples of instructional materials and matrices that outline performance outcomes in each content area for developing global competence.
  • Consult the Asia Society website (www.asiasociety.org/education) for resources including more sample materials plans, how-to guides, and publications. The Asia Society website includes information concerning the International Studies Schools Network. 
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Amy Mullins, Bluffton University, Ohio, and Amy Wood, Marion City Schools, Ohio



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