Over time, investigations of the term "global learning" using Google uncovered a multitude of meanings, although many fell under one of the three categories: gathering global intelligence, raising awareness of global environmental issues and education that prepares students to collaborate on global issues.
The third meaning has become increasingly important in private industry and all levels of education. The Global Learning program at Wichita State University (WSU) has been more closely aligned with the third meaning—the preparation of future global graduates.
Visionaries in the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company—Vice Presidents Bob Waner and Jeff Turner—and at WSU—Engineering Dean Bill Wilhelm and President Eugene Hughes—formulated the program and the key position of an endowed Professor of Global Learning. An endowment of $1.5m was established. The Boeing Distinguished Professor of Global Learning was hired in 2001. During April, 2002, a Strategic Forum, attended by Boeing Vice Presidents Bob Waner Commercial Airplanes Wichita; Frank Hughes, World Headquarters, Chicago; Jan Wilmott, Executive Leadership Center, St. Louis; Doug Serrill, Wing Engineering, Seattle; Bill (Steve) Randolph, 777 Program, Seattle; and Associate Vice President Peter Zoller; Engineering Dean Dennis Siginer; Business Dean John Beehler; Anna Anderson, International VP, Intrust Bank; and Drs Ian Gibson, Ravi Pendse, Don Malzahn, Philip Gaunt, and Marvis Lary. The Forum confirmed the purpose of global learning program at WSU and its two foci:
A the preparation of the Global Graduate and
B the formation of partnerships (with other universities worldwide and with industry) to facilitate this preparation process.
What is Global Learning?
Subsequently, research publications arising from the Global Learning Program define it as the combination of Global Reach and Global Perspectives to prepare the Global Graduate. Global Reach comprises the use of modern communication technologies to bring together students and faculty distributed around the globe. Early in the first decade of the 21st century, Internet-based videoconferencing became possible and affordable. Initial efforts at WSU involved simple telephone conference calls, but soon a variety of technologies were being used to achieve Global Reach. Such global communication is possible using mobile laptops, smart phones and while on the move, including on commercial airplanes. Global Perspectives could be phrased as multiple perspectives, except that the emphasis is on perspectives of people in other cultures and countries. This is a little different to the issue of multiple perspectives at a local level when dealing with race and ethnicity and face-to-face communication.
Further research and theory development during 2002-2008 refined this definition and identified key processes and conditions for successful preparation of graduates to communicate and collaborate in globally distributed teams. It gave rise the Cage Painting metaphor, and identification of an optimal set of conditions and processes called Third Place Learning and associated ideas.
In 2005 a CD-based simulator was developed in partnership with NexLearn. The simulator has undergone several iterations and is currently available online with multilingual/multiscript interfaces and content in multiple languages. The present version Perspective Sharing Perspective Taking PSPT includes English, Hindi, Japanese and Russian. It has served both as a learning tool and as a research tool. A book was published in May, 2008, that summarized research and integration of GL into classes as well as the Cage Painting metaphor and the Third Place Learning. It was launched and discussed by delegates to the 5th International Conference on Intercultural Communication Competence ICCC5 held in Wichita, Kansas, during May, 2008. Subsequently, the ICCC7 conference was held in September 14-16, 2010 in Khabarovsk, in the Russian Federation. In collaboration with other researchers in intercultural communication and education around the world, these ideas continue to be refined and this website will continue to capture those efforts.
What makes these efforts unique?
Training for cross- trans- multi-cultural communication in many contexts has relied upon the notion of dimensions and particularly the work of Hofstede. Such work presents relatively fixed, normative notions of the characteristics of other cultures at a national level with the idea being that one can read about the dimensions and then be prepared for international business. This may be helpful for broad marketing campaigns at a national level. The reality is that countries such as India, Russia and China are, on closer examination, quite diverse. However, the cultural dimension model has limited utility when it comes to smaller regions or individuals and when one is interacting simultaneously with people of several different cultures. A weakness of the dimension model is that cultures are continually changing and evolving as well as hybridizing because of migration and inter-marriage. The notion of predicting characteristics of individuals in teams on the basis of nationality is unhelpful. Worse it can lead to more problems than it might solve.
What is needed is an approach that accounts for regional and smaller-scale variability down to the individual level, evolutionary change and hybridization. The Cage Painting or Perspective Sharing - Perspective Taking (PSPT) approach provides some dialogic strategies to develop multiple perspectives and consequently to improve intercultural communication at the individual level. The Third Place Learning takes this a step further by defining a set of conditions and processes that are essential for the success of solving misunderstandings through the PSPT strategies. These conditions and processes are calledrelational criteria and are the topic of our next book, which will expand upon each of these to further explicate success factors for intercultural communication and hence global learning.
What is NOT Global Learning?
Sometimes to better understand a new idea, it helps to consider what it does not mean. Global learning is often confused with online learning, e-learning or distance learning. The latter simply involve connected learners and faculty online at a distance. They may or may not incorporate GL ideas. One thing is certain though. For online learning to be successful at a global scale, the learning facilitators or faculty, will need to employ GL and TPL strategies. An important consideration in teaching is to know your students and to develop a meaningful relationship with them. So ahead of dealing with content issues, there needs to be a period of perspective sharing and perspective taking that is supported by a TPL learning environment. If the instructor and learner fail to understand each other, online learning efforts are likely to fail or be short-lived.
Over the past couple decades, it has often been the case that mid- or high-level administrators become excited at the prospect of reaching a huge student population and generating vast sums from tuition revenue. However, there is often no thought given to the issues of development costs, models for distributed learning, let alone the effects of combining a number of cultures. It is easy to under estimate the development costs and level of detail that needs to be considered. When technology is the focus, the task of acquiring and using the technology infrastructure is thought to be the entire project. The technologically-oriented fail to see the importance of intercultural communication issues. I have observed hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars being spent by universities on such developments, based on a whim that everyone will flock to an offering in some discipline area. Not surprisingly, these efforts failed miserably. Aside from the issue of culture, there is the matter of market research and business planning that is realistic in capturing the total costs and forecasting the break-even date for such a project. In times of shrinking higher education budgets it is easy to be tempted along this path with the naive anticipation of huge revenues that will solve budget shortfalls.
So, you may ask, what is the economic rationale for investing resources on GL, when it may not result in significant increases in tuition revenue? This is a case in which first-order models of cause and effect are insufficient to capture the way in which GL may produce longer term and more modest, but nonetheless important, gains. Those gains are more likely to emerge as second-order effects, once prospective learners realize that they need better preparation for a life in which they will need to communicate and collaborate with people from a variety of other backgrounds. Those institutions that choose to be strategic in their thinking and invest in the development of GL among faculty and staff will reap the benefits later. One only needs to look at the success of universities in other areas of international education for confirmation of the value of investing in internationalized courses, area studies and vigorous exchange, and study abroad. It is the same for Global Learning.
What are many universities doing about this challenge?
A survey of universities revealed that many larger and even smaller universities have adopted strategic measures such as appointment of Vice Provost level leaders on campus to consolidate often scattered efforts in international/global education. These efforts are often supported by significant budget allocations and endowments. Even Ivy-league universities are looking to build endowments to internationalize their faculty with travel and professional development opportunities. An important role of the VP Global/International is to lead a process of course and program transformation that integrates global content and interculturally-oriented collaborative learning opportunities with partner institutes around the world. The investments being made by these forward-looking and strategically-oriented universities will benefit future graduates as they prepare to meet the many challenges of the 21st Century.
Updated on January 16th, 2017 by Glyn Rimmington