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Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility

Professional Learning Communities: The Otterbein College Model

Otterbein College's goal for global learning is to move beyond the confines of one or two cultural diversity distribution requirements to a broader framework that shapes all, or significant parts, of the general education curriculum. Otterbein has established Professional Learning Communities to plan, implement, and assess initiatives towards this goal.

What is a Professional Learning Community?

A Professional Learning Community (PLC) is a cross-disciplinary group of faculty who meet regularly to study pedagogical topics of shared interest. In 2007-08, Otterbein had three PLCs consisting of 24 faculty members spread across the three major academic divisions:

  • Humanities (English, Art, Religion and Philosophy, History)
  • Sciences (Life and Earth Science, Physics and Astronomy, Chemistry and Biochemistry, Education-Science Ed)
  • Social Sciences (Sociology, Political Science, Communication, Business, Psychology, Center for Community Engagement)

Otterbein's PLCs met twice a month for two hours to examine existing research on their common area of inquiry.  Faculty then designed and pursued individual projects to apply and test new ideas and information about student learning. In 2008-09, twenty-two pilot courses that model global learning outcomes will be introduced throughout the curriculum.

What are the Benefits of a Professional Learning Community?

Otterbein finds that the PLC approach is more structured, intensive, student-centered, and outcome-driven than more traditional methods of faculty development such as one-time workshops or informal brown bag conversations. Research shows that, in these latter approaches, participants can encounter and appreciate new ideas about teaching and learning, but are less likely to internalize and incorporate them into teaching practice. In addition, the supportive and safe environment provided by a learning community encourages participants to take risks with new approaches to teaching as well as to reflect critically upon findings with colleagues.

Strategies and Outcomes of PLCs at Otterbein College (2007-2008)


In the Humanities PLC, three organizing themes and objectives anchored the understanding of global learning, propelled conversations, and inspired course designs:

  • Perspectival Consciousness
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Interconnection / Interdependence.

Perspectival Consciousness: The ability to recognize the forces that shape one's world view plays a vital role in students' understanding and tolerance of global diversity.

  • Students in "Art Forms: Images and Ideas/What does God look like?" took a comparative approach that compared visual representations of god in Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism.

Cosmopolitanism: A cosmopolitan citizen reflects critically on the self and traditions while seeing oneself as a member of local and global communities.

  • Cosmopolitanism can be promoted as an organizing a theme and learning objective. Students enrolled in " Global Citizenship: Issues and Problems for the 21st Century," spend a quarter defining, investigating, and discussing a series of significant global issues and problems that will impact their future decisions as citizens and professionals. The problems assigned are approached from the perspective of a collective citizenry interested in understanding and resolving the root of persistent global conflict.
  • Cosmopolitanism can also be approached through interdisciplinary curriculum. While studying abroad in Italy, Otterbein students are offered an integrated course that combines religion, philosophy, and the study-abroad experience.

Interconnection and Interdependence: The recognition that the world is a complex and unpredictable system of human interactions.

  • Interconnection and Interdependence can be examined as an organizing theme and learning objective. In "Issues in the Global Experience," students explore how the past shapes the issues confronting individuals and societies today. It explores ideas and institutions of past societies in the context of cultural traditions and values, political systems, economic conditions, and social structures. Looking at selected societies from across the globe in different major historical eras, students will examine what made these cultures unique and how they influenced
    one another. Students will trace the emerging transition from interconnected societies to interdependent ones.
  • In the integrative course, "Growing Up," students to explore the study of adolescent development with cultural interactions. Engaging intercultural coming-of-age literature and film, the course invites students to wrestle with issues of love, nurturing, violence, rage, religion, sexuality, gender, resistance, relationship, and identity. Interconnection and interdependence will play an important role in the examination of these issues.
  • The course, "Connect the Dots" requires students to create a visual arts project that communicates connections between the issue of water sustainability and each student's disciplinary focus.


Nine faculty from the sciences and education participated in the Professional Learning Community on Global Learning.

The Sciences PLC goals for 2007- 08

  1. Define Global Learning from a scientific perspective
  2. Identify goals and objectives for the Integrative Studies science curriculum beginning with the lower level INST 240 courses and the developmental linkage to the upper 300 and 400 level INST courses.
  3. Develop an assessment tool to evaluate students understanding of global perspectives in science.
  4. Develop and pilot courses with global learning objectives in five sections of INST sciences courses.
  5. Create course portfolios that highlight the development of these courses to be shared when appropriate with colleagues.
  6. Share common readings and develop a list of shared books as resources for teaching about different global problems with scientific application.
  7. Submit the work of our group to AAC&U meeting on “Engaging Science, Advancing Learning” to be held November 2008.

PLC Goal 1: Definition of Global Learning

  • "To foster student understanding and appreciation of science and its cultural significance. To empower students to develop and apply scientific and analytical skills both in further understanding of themselves and human nature; and in an ethical context towards solving global, national and local problems.”

PLC Goal 2: Goals and objectives for Integrative Studies science curriculum

Lower level course: The main theme of this course is to provide students with an understanding of how science is done, and a chance to model it while completing various lab type exercises. The course does not have a formal lab meeting, but has two hour breakout sections which can be used for lab activities.

Science Goals for the course:

  • Understanding of scientific methodology.
  • Explicit discussion of how science differs from other types of inquiry.
  • Understanding of data as the foundation of course topic.
  • Practice of science methodology through: Lab exercises, Data collection, and Quantitative reasoning.
  • Interdisciplinary, team taught.

Upper level course: The main theme of this course is to show how science and scientific data are foundational to society, through the exploration of a current global issue. The course will explore how science is applied to the issue, and how other influences also impact the issue.

Common “Global” Objectives for the course:

  • Understanding of data as the foundation of course topic
  • Understanding of the active building of scientific body of knowledge: new advances, future challenges
  • Understanding of how the issue affects parts of the world differently.
  • Understanding of how cultures react to the global issue differently.
  • Understanding of how student decisions/actions impact the issue (locally and globally).
  • Ethics and the possibility of addressing issue in a sustainable way.

PLC Goal 3: Assessment Tool

Wendy Sherman Heckler, a PLC member from Education brought great insight and background on the language and assessment of curriculum. Beginning with a well established survey instrument on the Views of Science and Technology in Society (pdf), PLC members developed a pre and post test of ten multiple choice survey questions evaluating student perceptions of science methodology, as well as the role of science and technology in global issues, based on our developed global objectives. The pre and post assessments enable Otterbein to gage the effectiveness of Integrated Studies courses as the main variable. The survey was administered in 4 pilot courses and 2 conventional INST science course to serve as controls. (INST 240 Why Sex? and INST 410). These surveys have been coded and analysis is underway.

The following preliminary understandings about science, technology, and society are necessary for students to possess to realize appreciation for global perspectives in science.

  • Science is an ‘active’ and ‘contemporary’ practice; while it encompasses more-or-less stable ideas, science is not a collection of ‘dead facts.’ There is no one definitive ‘scientific method,’ but scientists tend to solve problems in systematic ways and operate under shared beliefs about the ways in which the natural world operates.
  • There is a relationship between science as a human practice, and the larger society. On the one hand, this implies that (to some extent) the people who practice science are influenced by and influence the society in which they live. There is a practical relationship in the sense that society at large helps determine what scientific research questions get asked and funded, and how results get applied.
  • There is a relationship between science, technology, and societal problems and issues. Often, science is employed in the pursuit of solving societal problems and issues, and science can be a powerful means of explaining and predicting natural phenomena. However, natural phenomena are typically only one aspect of a societal problem or issue, and so solutions often require that scientific understandings are integrated with other kinds of human knowledge.
  • Many contemporary societal issues and problems are global in scope. In one sense, this means that many human actions cannot be understood in mere local terms. In the global scope of societal issues and problems scientific knowledge is meant to inform solutions to issues and problems may get integrated with other kinds of knowledge differently in different parts of the world.

PLC Goal 4: Develop and pilot courses with global learning objectives in five sections of Integrated Studies

The following courses were developed by members of our PLC group: pilot courses taught in 2007/2008:

  • Biological Sciences: Plagues and Pandemics
  • Biological Sciences: Science as a Way of Knowing
  • Earth Science and Society: Coral Reefs Ecology
  • Earth Science and Society: Energy Sources

Example: Being in Nature- Plagues and Pestilence

This course is focused on the global nature of infectious disease. Discovering how plagues and pandemics, both historical and emerging, impact human health and play a role in how societies are shaped is an important piece of understanding your role as a global citizen. Infectious disease does not recognize state or national boundaries, and the interconnected relationship between microbiology, virology, epidemiology, sociology, politics and history provide a framework for making decisions in today’s world. This course will engage you in issues that affect your personal health, the health of your community and the health of people across the planet, my goal is to help you find those connections.

Learning Objectives:

  1. identify and describe what types of microbes are considered pathogens.
  2. describe historical plagues and pandemics that shaped civilizations.
  3. identify key advances in medicine and technology that contain or prevent pandemics.
  4. describe the current state of newly emerging and reemerging infectious agents that influence current societies.
  5. compare historical events to current events and draw inferences for future pandemic risks.
  6. identify current challenges in human health care and treatment of infectious disease that impact future pandemic risks.
  7. consider how society and culture recognize and respond to pandemic threat, based on societal practices and resource availability.
  8. reflect on how your major and other courses integrate into these topics and what role you play in human health, personally and as a global citizen.

PLC Goal 5: Create course portfolios that highlight the development of these courses to be shared when appropriate with colleagues

Portfolios on their pilot courses will include:

  • Syllabi
  • Reflective piece about rational in course design, learning objectives.
  • Questions the faculty is most interested in evaluating related to Global Learning
  • Samples of assignments and student work.
  • Final reflective piece on outcomes of class and experience of process.
  • These portfolios will ultimately be available to the Otterbein faculty community in conjunction with course portfolios from the other Global Learning PLCs.

PLC Goal 6: Share common readings and develop a list of shared books as resources for teaching about different global problems with scientific application

The PLC group discussed and generated possible topics for global learning science courses. We agreed that focusing on a current issue facing the world in particular, an issue which requires scientific understanding to address was a convenient and meaningful core around which a course could be designed. Possible global issues explored included: health pandemics, climate change,
environmental sustainability, and water resources. Drawing on the diversity of our group, we created a shared reading list representing these major areas of study. The reading list created included:

  • The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science by Natalie Angier (Science Fundamentals)
  • Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (Issues of food in society)
  • The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery (Global Warming)
  • Cadillac Dessert by Marc Reisner (Water crisis)
  • The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction by David Quammen (Ecosystem impacts)
  • Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
    Deadly Companions: How Microbes Shaped Our History by Dorothy Crawford: (Plagues and Infectious Disease)

Social Sciences

The Social Sciences PLC was in a unique position to explore the opportunities and challenges involved in addressing global learning across the curriculum. Representing four departments across two divisions, plus the Center for Community Engagement. The pilot courses developed included first year Integrated Studies (INST), 200 level major, 300 level major, and Senior Year Experience courses.

Using Dr. Lee Fink’s framework for creating Significant Learning Experiences as a common platform, faculty worked to identify, from various perspectives, significant pedagogical and cultural obstacles to the teaching of global issues.

  • Identifying the specific desired learning outcomes and how to assess/measure them.
  • What is the role of critical pedagogy in teaching global issues? How can faculty explore student ‘situatedness’ in the global community, and move students toward understanding their global civic responsibilities?
  • Global problems/issues can seem overwhelming and ‘dark’ to both to faculty and students. How can faculty find other, brighter, ‘lenses’ through which to address them?
  • How to best help students (and faculty) recognize and step out from behind the ‘mindset’ filters– political, ideological, economic (e.g., 'mass-consumption society’), and cultural– that shape how one sees the world?

Pilot Course examples:

  • "Media and (a Global) Society": Students explore and discuss different aspects of media in the US and in the rest of the world and how they influence and are influenced by culture.
  • "Global Social Change": Students examine the international aspects of social change such as globalization, environmental issues, social movements and the increasing gap between First, Second and Third world countries. Special attention is devoted to theoretical perspectives that illuminate and explain change. Case studies incorporate current events around the world.
  • "Free Choices? Making Choices in a Free Enterprise Society"
    Students examine a variety of choices citizens make as individuals and as a society that are impacted by free enterprise.