Global Learning at Appalachian

‘Multiple and varied’ experiences are central for students in new plan

Jordan Scruggs ’12 lived in Costa Rica the last semester of her senior year, taking Spanish classes in San Jose, traveling the countryside and writing her honors thesis in creative writing. The English major said she came back a changed person – from how she perceived herself as a writer to how she relates to others.

“Speaking more than one language is critical in the modern global context,” said Scruggs, a former Honors College student from Hendersonville. She is now pursuing a master’s degree at Yale Divinity School.

How to create transformational cultural experiences like Scruggs’ for more students – through multiple and varied activities at home and abroad – is receiving greater attention at Appalachian State University. The American Council on Education (ACE) has praised Appalachian for its international activities since 2002, and despite being a leader in international education by ACE standards, a 2009 self-study conducted through ACE revealed that these efforts could be improved and expanded to a greater number of students to ensure they can live and work successfully in a multicultural, interconnected world.

A five-year plan called “Global Learning: A World of Opportunities for Appalachian Students,” to be implemented beginning in the 2013-14 academic year, emphasizes strengthened activities which are offered both at home and abroad and earlier in a student’s college career.

From global ‘awareness’ to ‘competency’

National surveys indicate that high school seniors and their families expect their students to have an increased global awareness and/or competency during college, as graduates will likely encounter coworkers, clients and neighbors from different cultures in their professions. In addition, 90 percent of employers consulted for the 2008 UNC Tomorrow report, a guiding document for all UNC institutions, believed colleges and universities needed to improve the quality of student achievement in order for them to be globally competent. Keeping the state globally competitive is among central goals being laid out by UNC President Tom Ross for the system’s next five years, as well.

It’s not enough to be globally aware anymore – all Appalachian graduates must be globally competent, says Dr. Jesse Lutabingwa, associate vice chancellor for international education and development. He is co-leading the team devising how to develop the majority of students from one level to the next.

“In global learning, students will engage in multiple and varied experiences at home and abroad to increase their knowledge of global issues, regions and cultures; improve their intercultural skills; and demonstrate global citizenship,” Lutabingwa said.

To achieve the goals of globally competent knowledge, communication and citizenship, Appalachian advocates eight diverse experiences that can begin as soon as students step foot on campus, regardless of their major:

At Home:

  • Globalized curriculum
  • Multicultural experiences in the U.S.
  • International students and faculty on Appalachian’s campus
  • Globalized co-curricular environment

Abroad:

  • International student research
  • International internships/practicums
  • International service-learning
  • Long-term and short-term study abroad

While these activities already are being implemented to varying degrees, the trick is to ensure they reach the entire Appalachian student body, Lutabingwa said.

“All students should develop a global awareness and competency. One trip abroad does not equal global competency, so we’re talking about getting students to have varied experiences – and that takes place in the classroom and in their co-curricular and extracurricular experiences,” he said.

The way forward, he explained, includes broadening existing international opportunities, expanding current student opportunities, utilizing partner institutions more effectively, taking advantage of technology such as video links and electronic collaboration to connect Appalachian students with those abroad, internationalizing faculty development, and further diversifying the campus environment.

To measure students’ progress in developing global competency, the university will conduct assessments at the course, program and university level using internally and externally developed measurement tools. This includes surveying of students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes as well as their participation in classes, study abroad, and co-curricular activities, said Dr. Renee Scherlen, who serves with Lutabingwa on the team developing the global learning goals. She teaches in the Department of Government and Justice Studies.

A roadmap for student learning

The global learning plan developed out of Appalachian’s reaffirmation of accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a process that occurs every 10 years. A relatively new requirement of the reaccreditation process is for institutions to develop a “quality enhancement plan,” or QEP. While much of a university’s reaccreditation is based on what it has done in the past, the QEP looks forward. It serves as a roadmap that addresses a well-defined topic related to improving student learning, and it includes ways to measure that learning over time, said Dr. Tony Carey, vice provost for faculty affairs, who co-leads the QEP team with Lutabingwa.

During the 2010-11 academic year, Appalachian considered 29 faculty/staff proposed QEP topics, including student research, citizenship and engagement, and sustainability, before selecting global learning.

“These are all great aspects of the Appalachian Experience, and global learning is an initiative that defines who we are as an institution because Appalachian is committed to graduating students who are fully prepared for this global economy,” said Chancellor Kenneth E. Peacock.