“Only four percent of our students study abroad, so what about the other 96 percent? We’re creating opportunities for them to have an international experience, while working in their classrooms, in Chicago,” says GianMario Besana, associate provost for Global Engagement and Online Learning, explaining the genesis of the Global Learning Experience (GLE) program. 

The program gives faculty the funding and training they need to integrate meaningful, global conversations into their courses. While other universities (most notably the State University of New York system) are implementing similar collaborative, online, international learning exchanges, DePaul’s program is distinctive, says Besana, because it receives structured, institutional support and because it is becoming part of the overall teaching culture at the university.

Seeing through another’s eyes

“The Global Learning Experience program gives students an opportunity to interact with others who view the world from a different perspective,” says Patricia Bombard, a lecturer in the School of Public Service and director of Vincent on Leadership: The Hay Project. She used a GLE grant to work with Vanay Raj, a professor at the DePaul Institute of Science and Technology in Kerala, India, in planning a collaborative assignment: “He teaches ethics, and my course on ‘Values-Centered Leadership’ includes a module focused on ethics, so that was a natural intersection.” 

Students introduced themselves by sending recorded messages through VoiceThread, a cloud application for sharing files. The shared assignment had two parts. First, the students read articles about ethical misconduct: in the United States, the Enron scandal, and in India, a state leader accused of misusing funds. Second, each student identified and interviewed a local leader, focusing on how core values influenced his or her leadership style and practices. When the students presented their findings in a synchronous, online meeting, they discovered that the admired leaders in both countries had a well-defined set of values that included honesty, integrity and respect for others.

Bombard sums up the value of the exchange: “As the world becomes a global village, people won’t be able to function fully without appreciating how others think." Sarah Moore (MS ’15) agrees: “Because I work in the field of human resources, I interact with many different people, from many different countries. In my profession, having a global perspective is definitely a quality of effective leadership.”

In Daniel Makagon’s class, “Urban Communication,” students partnered with peers from the Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan, Italy, to study the cities’ respective Chinatowns. Sharing observations via Skype, Google Hangout, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the students compared and contrasted the ways people in the two neighborhoods communicated identity, gender and performance in public spaces.  They delivered their final presentations using Prezi, a technology similar to PowerPoint but with an added spatial dimension.

“The global component was a creative way for the students to apply the theories of the course, to see how what they read about in books relates to everyday life in an urban environment,” says the associate professor in the College of Communication.

“By identifying differences between the two Chinatowns, the students gained an understanding of the ‘lived experience’ of ethnicity in the two cultures. For example, they found that the Chinatown in Milan is more of a working environment: trucks move in-and-out of the neighborhood, while young men ride bikes rigged to move goods from one place to another. Our Chinatown is a tourist attraction, with shops selling trinkets and knickknacks. Advertisements in the two places reflect these distinctions: In Milan, they pitch everyday products such as clothing, while in Chicago they feature women in more ‘glamorous’ ways. From this, the students hypothesized differences in how the two populations look at gender roles.”

Bringing together knowledge and know-how

“A Global Learning Experience class was exactly what I was looking for,” says Javier Monllor, an assistant professor in the Driehaus College of Business.  “My entrepreneurial students had business acumen—they knew finance, marketing, management—and they had great ideas. But they didn’t know how to turn these ideas into products. The students at the Architecture School at Pontifical University of Puerto Rico knew product design; they could make an idea come to life.” The teams used pre-recorded video, with closed-captions, to communicate back-and-forth.

Monllor explains the value of global collaboration for business students: “They often assume that U.S. companies can just outsource work to other countries, and that’s that. But, of course, it’s never that easy. Remote teams—common in commerce today—face huge challenges, beginning with communication. So, a GLE class—with hands-on exposure to the complexities, rewards and frustration of working internationally—is really relevant. Even a project failure in this class was a great learning experience.”

Michael Parker (BA ’17) says the collaboration furthered the creative ideation process: “The product designers interpreted and reinvented our ideas, bringing to the process a valuable understanding of how materials work and what it takes to move an idea from paper to practice. The brainstorming process was inspirational.”

Gaining practical experience

Students in the class “Authors to Editors” worked with peers from the University of Birmingham in England to master the skills of manuscript editing. Miles Harvey, an associate professor of English, explains the concept behind the collaboration: “We wanted to throw the students into a real-world situation so they’d become real writers and editors, not just MA graduates.” The GLE element enhanced that ambition.

“The cultural differences—and there are plenty, despite similarities between Great Britain and the United States—created additional learning opportunities,” says Harvey. “By editing for, and being edited by, someone they didn’t face in the classroom—someone who didn’t know all about the context of college life here—our students were forced to think about themselves and about ‘the other’ in new, deeper and more nuanced ways. That’s a Vincentian value, certainly. And it’s also a taste of what they’ll face down the road, as professionals.”

Stephanie Klein (MA ’15) agrees: “The class was mind-expanding. Because we didn’t have a ‘we’re in the same program’ connection, we could not make assumptions. As an editor, I had to communicate with an author I hadn’t met, someone from a different culture, with different life experiences. To forge a bond, I had to be curious and humble. And that made the class true-to-life.  Also, the professors did a great job of being resources so we could benefit from the wisdom of both experts.”

“Working with writers from another culture opened up my worldview,” says Katelynn Moxon (MA ’16).  “It’s easy to get into a rut if you can’t think beyond your own external and internal landscape. The class made me a better writer and a better person; in fact, it’s the reason I decided to stay at DePaul.”

To find out more, go to http://resources.depaul.edu/teaching-commons/programs/Pages/global-learning-experience.aspx

Photo by Alejandro Excia, a student in Javier Monllor's class