GLOBAL LEARNING: Assignments/Assessment for Global Learning at a Liberal Arts College

Note: This essay originated from the GLCA Rubrics for Liberal Arts Learning Workshop, March 17-18, 2017.

 

 

 

 

It was written by the following:

Steve Bouma-Prediger, boumapred@hope.edu, Religious Studies, Hope College
Laura Reeck, lreeck@allegheny.edu , French, Allegheny College
Ibra Sene, Isene@wooster.edu, History, The College of Wooster
Rashana Smith, rpsmith@owu.edu, Theater and Dance, Ohio Wesleyan University
Jan Solberg, Jan.Solberg@kzoo.edu, French, Kalamazoo College
Rick Warner, warnerri@wabash.edu, History, Wabash College 

OUTCOMES IN GLOBAL LEARNING

Personal/Affective:

Many outcomes of effective global learning and teaching are quite personal to a student, and are thus part of affective development. All of our colleges indicate in our mission that learning is a process that should include much more than the acquisition of factual knowledge. For example, the final of the four bullet points of the Wabash mission is to “live humanely.” At Allegheny College, the first sentence of the mission statement reads, “Allegheny’s undergraduate residential education prepares young adults for successful, meaningful lives by promoting students’ intellectual, moral, and social development and encouraging personal and civic responsibility.” And, as another example, “The College of Wooster is a community of independent minds, working together to prepare students to become leaders of character and influence in an interdependent global community.” As regards the affective realm and in keeping with these mission statements, global learning should lead to heightened self-awareness, sensitivity, empathy, curiosity, humility, and mindfulness about other people and cultures. In sum, global learning can bring us closer to understanding the perspective of other people, and by extension understanding more about ourselves and our own cultures.

Intellectual/Cognitive:

From a more traditional position, all of our disciplines aim to engage students with factual content. As for global learning, this is related to the above goals as well, though operating in a more intellectual mode. For example, students should be able to understand basic geographical and political differences between nations and people in the wider world, they should attempt language competency in at least one other language (which leads to wider cultural competency), they should learn to engage multiple perspectives about related events and issues, developing an appreciation of varied voices even if they do not share agreement. Further, the global learning process should typically involve understanding the world through different and intersecting disciplinary lenses, and all this should lead to improved critical thinking through perspective-taking from multiple outlooks.

ASSIGNMENTS

The group discussed various assignments that might be used to encourage global learning, and we also began to sketch out how the instructor might assess if the assignment is successful. We concluded that the suitability of assignments (and, therefore, assessments) varies according to the level or character of the learning experience. Global learning that occurs in deep immersion in a significantly different culture over six months of “study away” differs from the experience of a classroom survey course in our own colleges, and many other learning experiences may fall in between these extremes. Thus, we attempted to identify assignments and assessments that would be appropriate for specific levels and conditions. In general, we gravitated toward assignments that might “disrupt” a student’s initial assumptions about a subject.[1] Language, voice, and perspective all prove to be important and mutually reinforcing. These assignments are scaled up from introductory courses to capstone project.

Explore the World through Google Earth/Maps

The use of maps in general is a good first step in learning about the diversity of the world. One potential lesson might involve a tour of specific places through digital resources such as Google Earth or Maps. Similarly, students might benefit from viewing the time-lapse photograph “The World at Night.” The process of exploration in these programs can produce interesting outcomes. At a basic level, the physical organization (or lighting) of specific areas in the world can reveal key differences between societies. A street scene from Google Earth in sub-Saharan Africa is likely to look different than one from Manhattan. The distribution of lights in specific places in the world in “The World at Night” can motivate students at any level to explain global differences. Assessment: Students will write a one-page single-spaced commentary comparing and contrasting their current place of residence with one that they think is significantly different. They should be asked to explain why they chose their “destination” and five findings from the compare and contrast. Instructor can evaluate the appropriateness of these comparisons.

More Maps: Perspective in Map Making

Another assignment involves comparison of maps from different global perspectives. Students can be put into groups to examine a variety of world maps, from the Mercator projection (with or without North America in the center), the Peters Projection, or several with a different focal point such as New Zealand, “the world from down under.” No map is completely “accurate,” but they all can represent certain perspectives. Students can be asked to reflect the perspective of their group’s map back to the group. And then the full group can discuss the implications of these perspectives. Assessment: A follow-up one-page single-spaced student commentary on the assumptions he/she began with in looking at his/her assigned map, and what new knowledge he/she gained in the course of the class period. Instructor can assess if the student has used a new perspective and new knowledge to modify or dispel assumptions.

Mapping the Human Skeleton: How does your Body Work?

This assignment asks students to explore differences in cultural understandings of the body. Students begin first by questioning their personal understanding of their own body and how it is organized. Further discussions branch out to ascertain through investigation of different terms utilized to describe the body and our interactions with one another. At a deeper level, students can investigate cultural differences about the role of the body in social situations. For example, which cultures are uncomfortable with close physical space, and which actually expect this? Whose hand should you not shake, and why? How is the body discussed – or not – in different cultural settings? Without judging, can we reasonably understand the reasons behind these differences? Assessment: Students compose two journal entries – one which reflects personal understanding of their own skeletal system and another that discusses assumptions regarding cultural differences regarding body awareness and personal space. Students are asked to address assumptions and new knowledge of cultural differences. Instructor assesses the depth of journal entries and acknowledgement of assumptions.

Lost and Found in Translation

While the first two assignments are given to learning and assessment in a variety of survey classes, there are also introductory classes that deal with different languages. Language students quickly learn that translation is more of an art than a science. The differences can be enlightening. A classic case is the different words used by French and English to describe food animals: pork v. pig, for example. There are cultural and historical reasons for these differences. The inclusion of Arabic in Swahili and in Spanish also reveals these trends. Assignments can focus on revealing these differences, asking students to trace the routes of language, and therefore cultural spheres. Related to this, and not separate from the linguistic sphere, students can investigate the reasons that culinary traditions have traveled. Curry followed Arabic into East Africa, influencing food patterns as well as the Swahili language. There are many more possible examples. Students can be tasked with following these cultural shifts and mergers as a way of understanding international flows of language and goods. Assessment: The student should produce a vocabulary sheet showing how language translates and travels; this can include cognates, borrowed words, and/or etymological derivations; the student should write a short commentary on what the list exemplifies. Instructor can assess the accurateness of the list and whether it reflects class discussion.

One Event, Three Lenses

One suggested assignment was to find primary historical sources to describe the same event or historical phenomenon. For example, students could search for French, Vietnamese, and U.S. perspectives on Vietnamese society, culture, or history. In discussing the differences or similarities, students should be able to appreciate differences in a new light. This assignment could be further deepened if students are able to use primary historical sources in different languages (see Capstone Project). Assessment: Appropriate use of multiple voices and perspectives can be measured using a rubric.

Debate: The Clash of Civilizations

This assignment asks students to investigate the points of view between Western and Islamic culture, through personal expressions from each side. Students can also be told which side of the debate they are to take. The debate can be set up in any number of ways, for example around a specific issue such as “what do you consider to be civilized”? “what defines a civilization?” Many of our closely held assumptions about civilization and progress can be revealed to us in the process. More to the point, students on both sides of the debate can understand more about the perspective from these allegedly distinct world views. As with any debate, it is important to hold a discussion period afterwards, to examine the perspectives more dispassionately. It is also important to make sure that key terms are being used correctly, and to correct incorrect usage or over-generalization. Assessment: Instructor will listen for textual and factual evidence as presented by participants’ arguments. As a conclusion to the class session or at the beginning of the next class session, the instructor can re-iterate them, highlighting the complexity of the subject matter, and ask for discussion. Through the follow-up discussion, the instructor can gauge how far the class has come and reflect this back to the class.

Capstone Project: Writing in a Foreign Language

This final project is only available to students with advanced proficiency in a second language. Using foreign language source materials, students write an essay in the target language. This will demonstrate their understanding of the nuances of the foreign language (translation is an art, not a science) as well as their own facility for communicating with these nuances. It will also allow them to use source materials in at least two languages. Assessment: Foreign language proficiency, breadth and depth of source materials, intellectual content, and organization can all be measured using a rubric.

Questions for Consideration

  1. The Global Learning group posits a range of experience from semester-long study away to a survey of global cultures within a course. What kinds of learning experiences might you add that fall between these two points on a scale from classroom learning to immersion in another culture? How might they be introduced into a course within a liberal arts curriculum?
  2. One passage from the article affirms that students “should learn to engage multiple perspectives about related events and issues, developing an appreciation of varied voices even if they do not share agreement.” What approaches have you taken in courses you teach to impart this ability in your students, with what results?
  3. What experience have you had in facilitating classroom discussion in which differing cultural perspectives come to the fore? To what extent did the experience result in greater appreciation for differing perspectives on cultural issues? What lessons, for students and for a faculty member, can be drawn from this kind of engagement?

[1] Note that when we speak about these learning experiences we employ the first person plural, as a reminder that instructors are also continuing in this global learning process, more than “telling” students about it.

Please send your written comments on this article to Gregory Wegner (wegner@glca.org) or Steven Volk (Steven.Volk@oberlin.edu), co-directors of the GLCA Consortium for Teaching and Learning. Your follow-up comments will be considered for inclusion in subsequent postings on this topic.

 

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