With globalization impacting almost every field, internationalization of the curriculum has become a goal shared by many colleges and universities. Many institutions look to study abroad programs to increase students' awareness of and sensitivity to international issues and their understanding of different cultures and points of view. However, only a small percentage of students participate in study abroad programs, and many groups are underrepresented. A Globally Networked Learning Experience (GNLE) connects students in different countries using tools you already have and with which you are familiar, like your learning platform, blogs, and video meeting tools, with the goal of developing cross-cultural competencies and enabling all students to have a meaningful international learning experience. A GNLE can be as simple as a short-term shared discussion (minimum of two to three weeks) or as complex as a term-long, co-taught course. Here we provide the basic steps for planning and designing a GNLE.
The first step is to find an international partner. If you don't already have a relationship with a faculty member abroad, we suggest you start by reaching out to universities with which your institution already has international agreements. The SUNY Collaborative Online International Learning Center (http://coil.suny.edu/
) is also a good resource. Their website includes course examples
, names of institutions
that have participated in COIL courses, and case studies
. Other sources for locating partners are the Virtual Exchange Coalition
and Skype in the Classroom
A collaboration does not need to be an exact match in curriculum or subject matter. An interdisciplinary collaboration can still add a lot of value for students and faculty. For example, a course on business communication and another on cross cultural management shared discussions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their respective countries. The Business Communication professor was looking at written and oral expression for her students, and the Cross Cultural Management instructor was looking at her students' work for evidence of understanding of cultural differences in CSR practices and perceptions in different countries. Students in an internet marketing course in one country worked with students in an information technology course in another country to develop a website in cross-cultural teams. It may take some discussion to find a common interest, but whether your collaboration involves similar courses or is interdisciplinary, defining a topic for the collaboration will provide focus and result in a more educationally valuable experience.
It is important to allow time for thoughtful planning about how you will design the sessions and collaborate with your partner. Here are activities that can be part of the collaboration.
Shared Discussion Forums:
These can be conducted through the online learning platform, a blog space, a wiki, or even in Google. If the discussion form is conducted through the learning platform, it is best to create a separate space for the shared activities to avoid any issues related to privacy in the rest of the course. Whichever party hosts the shared discussion forum will probably need institutional permission and assistance to temporarily include student guests from the partner institution. Blogs and other forums are not as restrictive and you can more easily share links for all the students to participate, but some institutions limit how you can conduct course-related activities. Be sure to consult with your instructional technologist or designer. Whatever tool you use, be sure to make it easy to find links to the shared discussions in your online course so that students can connect directly from their course space.
Informal Communication Tools:
We have used tools like What's App and a closed Facebook page. Students enroll and participate in these options voluntarily, but these tools allow them a space to further build relationships. For example, business students in Turkey and the Dominican Republic used their What's App group to share images of the lunar eclipse in their respective countries and messages of solidarity during the recent attempted coup in Turkey. We have seen the students share holiday greetings, late-night pleas for help on an assignment, images of the first snow of the season, their favorite meals, and photos of the areas around their homes. No matter which tool you use, we suggest it be one that most students are familiar with and can easily use on their phones.
Synchronous Virtual Meetings:
Seeing and hearing one another add important elements to the international collaborations, and despite the difficulties of coordinating acceptable dates and times across varied time zones, they are usually the students' favorite elements of the collaborations. Holding synchronous meetings does not require complicated and expensive set ups. There are multiple free or inexpensive meeting tools. Our favorite is Zoom
, which is simple to use and has the most stable international connections we've found. An individual can participate in the meetings using nothing more than a personal computer's video camera and microphone, or from a smartphone or tablet. To find an acceptable time, you may have to ask students to participate on the weekends (for example, Saturday at 9 a.m. in New York, which is 4 p.m. in Lebanon). Successful synchronous sessions require planning and preparation by both the instructors and students. For more on designing successful synchronous meetings, take a look at “Synchronous activities for an online class
) in the December 2015 issue of Online Classroom
Shared tasks or assignments:
Shared tasks provide the opportunity for students to interact on a more personal basis and help to build relationships that last beyond the end of the collaboration. Besides relationship building and the understanding that comes from completing the assignment, students learn about cross-cultural teamwork, how to use virtual tools, and how to resolve some of the issues that arise in a global workplace (for example, those related to time zones and language difficulties). To cut down on student frustration, the shared assignment should not be too complex, at least for short-term collaborations; long-term collaborations may build to an extensive final project developed by cross-cultural teams. Here are some ideas for shared tasks or assignments:
- Have students conduct an interview with a partner (or in a small group, if numbers are uneven).
- Break the students into small groups, with members from both countries, and assign a role-play exercise they can record or perform during a virtual meeting.
- Have students prepare a paper or a presentation comparing and contrasting something in their two countries, for example, “The Role of Women in X and Y,” “Support for the Arts in X and Y,” or “Online Education in X and Y.”
Help students recognize and process their cross-cultural learning by reflecting on the experience. This could be assigned as an individual essay or as a shared reflection through a final discussion forum. Ideally, the students will reflect throughout the collaboration so you can assess their growth and attainment of learning outcomes. Kathleen Rice provides some good examples of reflective questions
) as well as guidelines for incorporating reflection into your activities:
Final anonymous evaluation:
- What do you understand differently now?
- What surprised you?
- What have learned about your own self-awareness?
- What next steps do you think you could take to better understand the worldview of others?
- What impact has this experience had on you?
As with all our activities, we want to know what went well, what needs to be changed, and if the collaboration was worth the effort in terms of meeting learning objectives. If the collaboration was successful, the evaluation will also give us data to promote the adoption of international collaborations in more courses. You can find an example of a simple final evaluation
In addition to developing cross-cultural competencies in students, these types of collaborations will increase your institution's reach and will help in recruiting international scholars and students. Cross-cultural collaboration is an easy way to expand the walls of your classroom, bring in international voices, and provide all students with a meaningful international experience. We think you are going to love this type of learning.
Lorette Pellettiere Calix is an instructor with SUNY/Empire State College's International Programs, and Patrice Torcivia Prusko works in design, production, and support of MOOCs, SPOCs, and Digital Initiatives at Cornell University
- The International Cross-Cultural Experiential Learning Evaluation Toolkit has information on developing learning outcomes and activities that lead to meaningful international experiences, as well as a rubric that may be used for assessment: http://www.crossculturetoolkit.org/
- Video example of a cross-cultural negotiation role-play exercise between students from two different countries: http://bit.ly/2bxKAzN
- Role-play assignment instructions: http://bit.ly/2baaufU
- Sample shared discussion questions in an LMS (three-week collaboration accompanied by virtual meetings): http://bit.ly/2bxK4BT