Why Global Learning Cannot Wait, by Dawn Michele Whitehead
Dawn Michele Whitehead is AAC&U's senior director of global learning and curricular change.
We are living in complex, fascinating, and challenging times—both in the United States and around the world. We have been in a tumultuous period, illustrated by the Brexit vote in 2016, the continuing rise of inward-looking nationalist and populist political parties throughout Europe, and increased and intensified debates about sanctuary cities and executive orders that determine who can enter and remain in the United States. College students must be prepared to understand, analyze, and attempt to address these complex realities facing our nation and our world, and global learning positions them well—regardless of major or discipline—for life, work, and full participation as citizens.
Over the past ten to fifteen years, the importance of global awareness and engagement has increased significantly for students at all types of US colleges and universities. Initial institutional efforts were focused on student and scholar mobility—study abroad, recruitment of international students and scholars, and international research and/or exchange for faculty—and interaction of diverse groups on the home campus. However, as the evolution of global work at higher education institutions has evolved, a greater emphasis on student learning has emerged. This has contributed to a focus on the quality of student experiences—what they are actually doing and learning, and the application of these skills across the disciplines—that has replaced the former focus on simply counting the number of participants.
This evolution occurred in part because it is impossible to ignore the interconnectedness of the world in daily life and work. Local problems have global connections and implications, and these problems cannot be solved by individuals in a single country. Food and water security, health and economic disparity, and sustainability and fair trade are global issues by nature, and students need to be prepared to address the associated problems in the broader context of the world, not just the United States. With intentional, high-quality global learning experiences inside and outside the classroom, students will be prepared to engage multiple perspectives as they explore the seemingly unanswerable, contested questions of our times. They are also given multiple opportunities to evaluate evidence from diverse sources and consider the varied ramifications in different global contexts. As institutions across our nation and the world are grappling with these issues, they have gone beyond simply including the words international or global in their mission statements to identifying ways to provide students with meaningful engagement with global issues.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has been a leader in advancing integrative global learning for nearly thirty years, and this work has been done hand in hand with a wide range of member institutions of all types and sizes, engaging students across many majors and disciplines. Global learning is no longer viewed as important just for students who focus on area studies and world languages; it is important for all students—from STEM to the health sciences to education. To support institutional efforts to provide global learning for all students, AAC&U has continued to provide resources and materials—including Models of Global Learning, an online publication released in October 2017—to assist institutions as they develop and revise their curricula to reflect more global integration, and we have also worked with employers to gain their perspectives on the value of global learning.
In Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success, AAC&U’s 2015 survey of employers and students, findings showed that nearly 96 percent of employers agreed that students needed to be able to solve problems with people with different views from their own, and 78 percent felt students needed intercultural skills and understanding of societies and countries outside the United States. These are the types of skills that students learn from high-quality global learning experiences. These types of experiences require an investment of time by the administration, faculty, and staff to create structures that allow ethical community-based learning, meaningful engagement with people from diverse backgrounds, and the development of transparent, intentional assignments that are guided by clear global learning outcomes. All students must be prepared for this type of experience, and they should be able to clearly articulate their learning when they graduate. These are the types of experiences that all students must have to find success in today’s complex, challenging, and global world.