Academic journal article Peer Review

Global Learning: What Is It? Who Is Responsible for It?

Academic journal article Peer Review

Global Learning: What Is It? Who Is Responsible for It?

Article excerpt

There are few colleges or universities that do not embrace the goals of increasing global awareness, global citizenship, and global responsibility as part of their educational mission. Yet, across all sectors, institutions continue to struggle to develop the best practices for translating goals into concrete curricular and cocurricular global experiences that are flexible, rigorous, and relevant to all students in all programs.

Since 2001, the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has worked through its Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility initiative to help member colleges and universities envision and enact global learning models that foreground questions of diversity, identity, citizenship, interconnection, and responsible action. Shared Futures supports the efforts of faculty, staff, and administrators as they create curricular, cocurricular, and integrated experiences that enable all students - those who study abroad and the vast majority who do not - to approach the world's challenges and opportunities from multiple perspectives and to wrestle with the ethical implications of differential power and privilege.

Consequently, the nearly one hundred institutions that have participated in Shared Futures projects over the years represent a rich resource of lessons learned. Individuals and teams on those campuses continue to probe what they mean by global learning - in theory and practice - and explore the implications of global learning across institutional structures. The short answer to the first question in the tide is that definitions of global learning continue to evolve. As we see the shape that the term is taking, more and more often the short answer to the second question is "everyone." Global learning is not a task to be assigned to an individual, an office, or a department; it is a complex set of goals and outcomes to be coordinated across and throughout the institution. Consequently, study abroad as a vehicle for global learning needs to be carefully situated within a broader institutional and educational context.

WHAT IS GLOBAL LEARNING?

This need is supported by evidence from employers. In 2006, AAC&U commissioned a series of focus groups with business leaders, followed by a national survey to learn their impressions of how well colleges and universities prepare students for work. Business leaders thought that colleges were underemphasizing "global issues," with 72 percent urging greater attention. The following year, AAC&U again asked employers to reflect on how colleges should assess and improve student learning. When asked to evaluate recent college graduates' preparedness in twelve areas, which included such things as critical thinking and communications skills, global knowledge received the lowest scores. Only 18 percent of employers rated graduates as very well prepared in global knowledge; 46 percent felt that graduates were not well prepared. Nearly one half of employers responding to the survey did not think their recent college hires had the global knowledge necessary for advancement.

Such data reconfirms our conviction that college and university students will benefit from a careful and intentional alignment of global learning goals with the essential learning outcomes of a liberal education - what it means to be a well-educated citizen for the twenty-first century. By linking global learning and liberal education, institutions can overcome the mistaken view that liberal education is only "learning for learning s sake," disconnected from the practical skills and needs of work. On the contrary, they will demonstrate that liberal education attends to work life, civic life, and personal life in a dynamically shifting, globally integrated environment.

Advancing global learning helps campuses affirm the relevance and urgency of liberal education and gives it shape and coherence. As AAC&U's Liberal Education and Americas Promise (LEAP) National Leadership Council argues, "Global integration is now our shared context. …

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