March 01

On Teaching Online, Part V: Global is Local

GOA’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Eric Hudson, is teaching “Advocacy” this semester. Every week, he will blog about his experience designing and facilitating this online course for high school students. You can learn more about the course here. Read Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV. Follow Eric on Twitter @ericgoa.

“Global Learning” is a term — like “blended learning,” “21st century learning,” and others — that feels important and pressing to teachers, yet its definition is elusive. When we refer to global learning, what do we mean? How do we know it when we see it?

I have the privilege and advantage of teaching for GOA, which means my class is global in composition: my students live across the United States, in China, in Indonesia, and in Africa. Beyond geography, they are diverse in background, experience, and opinion. With a class like this, I have discovered that global learning can be successful by looking inward at ourselves and our communities, not just outward at the lives of others.

Professor Amy Azano has written about “glocalized learning,” yet another new term that boils down to this: global learning can be achieved through the careful examination of local perspectives and issues. This work has a number of benefits: depth comes from exploring a place you know well, relevance comes from awareness of local impact of global issues, and perspective comes from linking local details to the larger global issue. I’ll add one more: when you have a class that is global in composition, “global learning” comes from accumulation and sharing of local experiences in the online space.

Over the past few weeks, my students have defined advocacy, interviewed advocates, and discussed (a)synchronously current issues in advocacy. As I flip back through the class, I am amazed at the global perspectives we’ve archived. There are definitions of advocacy in five different languages. There are recordings of advocate interviews from an official of the Chinese Communist Party, a child abuse victim advocate in Oklahoma, a community organizer in Boston, and a teenager in South Africa fighting on behalf of the Maasai people of Kenya.

This past week, I shared with my class this article from The New York Times about how Manhattan independent schools and students are wrestling with issues of white privilege. Almost immediately, the class took the article’s premise in new directions. For example, students at international schools talked about the privilege and disadvantage of being a “stranger in a strange land.” All the students demanded clearer and more applicable definitions of white privilege from the article, especially those who were interested in seeing these ideas play out in their own schools. The article to me felt very “local” (independent schools in Manhattan dealing with an issue on their campuses), and I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my students took it “global” by thinking about it in the context of their own schools, cities, backgrounds, and interests.

We ended the week by crafting “pitches” for personal projects that will shape the next two months of the course. These projects, which ask students to advocate for change on an issue in their schools or communities, will take our class almost fully “glocal.” I am eager to see how issues of child abuse in Connecticut, gender equity in Michigan, treatment of household workers in China, and violence in California will translate into our global learning environment. As often as we may talk about technology encouraging distance or disconnection, here, the ease with which students can publish, archive, and revisit their peers’ ideas has encouraged a mosaic of global perspectives that has enriched our class.