A global classroom is an initiative between two partner universities, often in different countries, designed to bring students together through a project or collaboration. These can work in any academic discipline—the objective is to increase cross-cultural awareness while the student learns about the course subject.
The global classroom that my partners and I created had three cultural learnings as objectives: knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The knowledge aspect was to embrace cultural awareness across two different universities in two continents. We had students establish cultural differences and work to ensure that their project incorporated those differences into the outcome. The second objective was to develop skills in long-distance communication and collaboration. Lastly, we wanted students to learn about other cultures through their interaction with peers in other countries.
The classroom project between Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the University of Leeds in Leeds, England, was a “Six-Minute Pitch.” We chose it because the project tied into the disciplinary teachings of both universities. The Drexel University course was Foundations of Business, whereas the University of Leeds course was Starting Your Own Business. The classes were not synched in any other way beyond the project, but the business concepts behind the project were taught in both courses, so the project reinforced those. Additionally, both student groups learned about the project by watching popular television programs in their respective countries that had a similar theme: Shark Tank
in the United States and Dragons' Den
in the United Kingdom. There was, therefore, a “common language” between the two student groups in terms of media. However, there were also many dissimilarities in which new product ideas could work in the United Kingdom but would not in the United States and vice versa, prompting vibrant research, discussion, and learning among the pitch project teams as they developed ideas.
So how did this global classroom project work? Twelve teams created product pitch ideas. The teams had a close to equal balance of students from both institutions. The pitches were presented live via Skype sessions, with both global classrooms logged in simultaneously across multiple screens. Students on both sides pitched their ideas in well-thought-out and prepared presentations. Faculty and all students attended the sessions. Both Drexel and Leeds faculty invited guest judges/panelists to join in as well (from industry and from alumni), and the judges were given evaluation forms that assessed not only teamwork and communication skills, but also the feasibility of the pitch in their respective country. Judges on both sides had the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback, and students together alternated answering and interacting with the panel. Judges then selected the top two pitches as the winners.
Students reflected on the global classroom experience after the pitches, what they learned, how they learned, the connections they made, and how they may apply the experience in their future academic and professional careers. Through these responses, as well as through post-project surveys, data are being collected on the impact of participation in a global classroom in regards to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes used and acquired, as well as how the exposure to global experiences early in the academic curricula affected students' interest and activity in further study and work abroad. We anticipate increased student engagement, commitment, and international experience as outcomes following this global classroom.
Based on over two years of experience, the following are some lessons learned about how to execute a global classroom:
- Before initiating a global classroom, determine how to construct your project with your international partner. It can be either a semester-long project or a mini project within course content. Be sure that both parties agree on project design, timeframe, and assessment. Agreed-upon and standardized design and timeframe are critical, but assessment from one institution to another can vary. This was the case in our work, and it did not prohibit a successful project from occurring on both sides. Our global classroom was based on a six-week mini project.
- If students are using external materials such as articles, textbooks, or a computer simulation program, check to make sure that they are available prior to start of the global classroom. In our global classroom, we contacted a software vendor prior to the project inception and obtained licensing. In addition, vendors can be a good resource, as they may have had similar experiences or may be willing to test or pilot a project prior to student engagement.
- Be sure to test technology in advance of a synchronous global classroom. Technology can fail even with the best preparations, so a tested backup plan should be in place. Student online experiences attributed to the success of our global classroom, so any failure to launch could potentially affect student engagement.
- If the global classroom is centered around team-based work, as our project was, it is important to have groups set up prior to the start of the global classroom. Faculty should provide appropriate contact information, and students should be told when to begin the conversation. If students have a clear understanding of the project and know their group members, faculty can more easily build excitement even before the official project commences.
- In terms of project implementation, it is important that all students know what is expected of them. Because they maintain varying schedules, including potential time zone differences, it can be beneficial to allow students to decide how and when to communicate outside of official class time. Some groups may use Skype, others Facebook, and they can contribute academic content in shared Google Docs; it is important to let them decide. Meeting times can be a bit challenging for internationally located teams, but students can generally determine when best to meet live and when to contribute content and submit to a peer-review process.
- Once the project itself has officially begun, it is important for faculty on both sides to monitor progress. Group projects can go awry when members are in the same classroom due to lack of communication, unequal contribution, and so on; this can be elevated in a global classroom if faculty are not constantly monitoring students. It is critical that faculty check in with students to ensure that there is appropriate communication and effort among the teams. Our personal experience was that due to a five-hour time difference, some very assertive and grade-driven students took possession and control of their first group assignment because they did not want to wait to hear feedback from their global counterparts. Students will work synchronously and asynchronously throughout the project, and both are crucial to the overall success of the project and the learning outcomes.
While they require some effort, global classrooms can be a valuable learning experience for students.
Emilee Simmons is the director of enhancement at the University of Leeds. Dana D'Angelo is a clinical professor and Jodi Cataline is an associate clinical professor at Drexel University.