Scientific journal
European Journal of Natural History
ISSN 2073-4972

THE TRANSFORMING POTENTIAL OF GLOBAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS: A CASE FOR GLOBAL SEMINAR PROJECTS

Savelyeva T. V.
Globalization has forced education to explore new practices designed to help educational systems meet the demands of a fast changing world economy, increasingly globalized culture, and rapidly growing interdependency of human societies. Striving to build and maintain a global system of educational institutions, educational researchers and administrators worldwide have started developing and implementing in practice a concept of "global education." Scholars view this concept separately from globalization, as a construct that aims to extend students´ awareness of the world in which they live by opening them to the diverse heritage of human thought, action, and creativity (Sterling, 2001). The interdisciplinary field of "global education" emerged from various areas of academic discourse, such as international relations, cultural studies, environmental studies, and economics (Kirkwood , 2001; Lamy 1987), and during the last decade of educational research it has come to be seen in greater and greater clarity.

Applying the concept of "global education" to higher education has led to strategic rethinking modeled on the perceived demands of globalization to improve educational effectiveness and connectedness and to produce the "global graduate," a student with competencies in scholarship, lifelong learning, and global citizenship, a person who will "aspire to contribute to society in a full and meaningful way through their roles as members of local, national and global communities." [Graduate Attributes Project ].

 In line with these trends in "global education," many universities have developed policy frameworks that include the expectation that college students will develop the broad range of intellectual and social skills necessary to the acquisition of global competencies. Today, all modern universities have strategic plans that reflect the overall educational system´s movement towards globalization in practice and in student requirements and expectations including lists of student attributes, goals, and acquirements associated with "global citizenship."  Curriculum committees and university faculty use these strategic documents as guidelines to develop and implement practices that promote global learning in the college classroom. North American educators in particular have striven to do this in various ways, one of which is to create undergraduate and graduate courses sympathetic to and constructive of "global learning environments.

Global Learning Environments

The "learning environment," conceptually a fairly recent phenomenon, would seem not to be particularly well substantiated by a large body of underlying educational theories. In North America, research on "learning environments" has its roots in educational psychology and builds upon instructional theory promoting the latest technological advances in education and studying the impact of its effects on students´ learning.  Coerced by a globalized information economy powered by internet-based communications, universities create virtual courses that provide cases for research on such subjects as "communities of learners," "global villages," "electronic learning environments," and "virtual universities."  Most research on learning environments is performed in business settings, and it examines issues related to learning in terms of successful collaborative efforts. Fewer studies have been made of internet-supported courses, and these focus primarily on student satisfaction with the course rather than with learning outcomes. In my own research I focused my attention on a distinguished university, examining unique global features of a single learning environment with the intention of defining the potential of global learning environments in terms of educational transformation and the possibilities of promoting change in higher education.

I focused my research on the "Global Seminar Project" (GSP), an ongoing international collaborative program that offers to undergraduate and graduate students around the world an academic credit course on the central theme of environment and sustainability. Assuming that most of the teaching and learning principles that apply to traditional classroom course design apply as well to global learning environments, I interviewed twenty course instructors at their annual international meeting in Arlington, Virginia (USA), in July 2005. By interviewing the course instructors, I determined an order of factors, course design features, and course activities that together allowed the GSP participants to create and maintain the course´s global perspective. Using ATLAS software to uncover the underlying content of these interviews, I determined that the GSP global environment consisted of six clustered items: conducive course content, stakeholder involvement, institutional support, course structure, course management (facilitation and academic leadership), and teaching and learning practices. These items comprise collectively the conditions required for bringing about and for sustaining the global learning environment.

GSP global potential: possibilities for transforming education

My interest in the transformative power of a "global learning environment" has been guided by the transformative educational system frameworks of Mesirov and Sterling (Mezirov, 2000; Sterling, 2001). Examining the aspects of GLE with these frameworks in mind, I came to appreciate each GLE feature as transformative, constructive, and participatory in style, structure, management, and content. From this perspective, the transformative nature of the GLE can be viewed as an alignment of all of the elements of the GLE model. This understanding led me to think that facilitating global learning environments in university settings for particular purposes might indeed provide a compelling model for transforming higher education practices generally in support of "global learning." To place this understanding in a framework of "global education" I defined GLE as an approach to education with the potential to initiate transformative changes in educational systems consistent with the requirements of a globalized world economy. The GLE is a process emphasizing educational and social values related to quality of process, development of student potential and autonomy, equality of opportunities, community connectedness, and social constancy. It uses a "managerial" approach (Sterling, 2001) to realize economic values in education, such as efficiency and quality control. It can be viewed both as an approach and as a process for educational transformation, providing opportunities for global collaboration and learning for faculty, administrators, and students, encouraging and facilitating dialogue among the major actors and stakeholders with regards to and in the area of global issues, and bringing new perspectives to the promotion of transformative changes in global educational systems.

Conclusion

The initial inquiry into the incidence and characteristics of the GSP global learning environment revealed evidence that the GLE consists of six essential features: conducive course content, stakeholder involvement, institutional support, course structure, course management (facilitation and academic leadership), and teaching and learning practices. These items comprise conditions for bringing about and sustaining the global nature of educational environments. Together, these elements generate possibilities for a sustainable, transformative change in higher education by keeping its focus on educational and social values while following economic, "managerial" values in its operations. As an approach and a process, GLE provides new insights into how to realize globalization effects in education and suggests new opportunities for a sustainable change in global educational systems. Because of the GLE structural and operational complexity and qualitative nature of much of the research, it is difficult to make specific, long range recommendations. Some ideas for an immediate follow up might include:

  • Recognizing the necessity for developing a solid conceptual base for newly emergent educational practices that might, on a global scale, not only indicate but also cause changes in educational systems affecting overall globalization processes;
  • Acquiring information on changes in educational systems in relation to "global education" with respect to existing knowledge and practices that might lead to re-orienting education as a whole towards a more sustainable model.

References

  1. Graduate Attributes Project (2004). Statement of graduate attributes. University of Sydney. Retrieved on January 28, 2006 from http://www.itl.usyd.edu.au/graduateattributes/unipolicy.pdf
  2. Kirkwood, T. (2001). Our global age requires global education: clarifying definition ambiguities. Social studies, 92(1): 10-16.
  3. Lamy, S. (1990). Global education: a conflict of images. In K. Te ( Ed.), Global education: from thought to action (pp.43-63). Arlington, VA : Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
  4. Mezirov, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  5. Sterling, S. (2001). Sustainable education: Revisioning learning and change. Foxhole, UK: Green books

The article is admitted to the International Scientific Conference "New educational technologies and principles of the educational process organization "; Rome, Florence-Venice, 2007, March 10-17;. came to the editorial office on 31.01.07