July 15th, 2008

Two Universities’ Global Learning Initiatives


Marquette University

Despite Marquette University’s emphasis on global learning, including study abroad and international service learning programs, students ranked global issues as very low in importance when they participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement. “When we got the NSSE results, we were mystified. We have lots of co-curricular [activities] and core course that address global issues. Why aren’t students identifying global issues as important to their education?” says Christine Krueger, Marquette’s director of core of common studies.

Seeking to overcome this disconnect between the curriculum and students’ attitudes, Marquette applied and was accepted to AAC&U’s program, Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility, a national initiative intended to infuse the core curriculum of its various partner institutions with global learning.

Over the past five years, Marquette’s core curriculum has undergone “a profound rethink” and is now organized less by department and more by learning objectives than it has been in the past, Krueger says. And the goal is not to make major changes to the curriculum, but rather to make the connections among the core courses more explicit.

By participating in the Shared Futures project, “we are trying to make this group of core courses a much more integrated experience for students, so that they understand the ways in which multidisciplinary perspectives are necessary for addressing real-world problems. It seemed to us that by identifying global learning as the purpose for integrating the core of common studies, we would have a very powerful argument for students and faculty as to why this is important, because I think everybody understands that in a global context, in particular, very narrowly defined disciplinary perspectives don’t help us very much.”

In the first phase of the project, 20 faculty members representing different disciplines are being asked to collaborate in groups of four or five on interdisciplinary research and pedagogy.

“We’re not trying to change the core but to explain it, highlight the most important features of the core, and support the kinds of activities faculty have been doing on their own for a long while. I think all teachers have had the experience of a student who shoots up a hand and says, ‘Hey, what we’re talking about right now is just like what we’re studying in [my other courses].’ That shouldn’t be accidental. That shouldn’t be left up to the students to figure out. We need to be coordinating that,” Krueger says.

Drury University

Another institution that is participating in the Shared Futures project is Drury University. In 1995, Drury University organized its general education curriculum around the idea of global education, and 10 years of assessment data indicate that while students become aware of global issues from first year to graduation, the general education curriculum could be improved by modifying the capstone course, incorporating more faculty and student research, and finding ways to get more students to study abroad.

The redesigned capstone will integrate all the distribution requirements in the core courses and bring in students’ knowledge from their majors. This will be an interdisciplinary research project course. The first half will focus on tying together globalization from students’ previous courses, and the second half will focus on individual research projects, “trying to come to understand how globalization is changing the very thing that they’re being trained to do in their majors,” says Richard Schur, Drury’s director of interdisciplinary studies.

Faculty development will be a big part of Drury’s participation in the Shared Futures project, including skill-based sessions and reading groups.

“One thing we’re piloting is being more intentional and systematized about how we get faculty transitioned into the program, for example, by making systematic links about who we invite to guest lecture by showing them how a course is structured and how their research fits into what we’re doing,” Schur says.

Currently about half of Drury’s students participate in study abroad, and one of the goals is to make study abroad mandatory, not an easy feat considering the costs and logistics involved and the task of convincing prospective students of the importance of study abroad.

By participating in this project Schur and Krueger hope to learn from colleagues who are making progress at other institutions. “I do think there’s a bigger question out there: How is this going to change the structure of the university? I think that’s something that is very clear—though it’s not the primary focus of our group—that even within this group and at my own institution, the structure hasn’t caught up with the ideas. We’ve got some really innovative, exciting ideas, but we’re not really sure how to implement them,” Schur says.

Contact Christine Krueger at christine.krueger@marquette.edu and Richard Schur at rschur@drury.edu.