Diversity and Democracy

Awakening Global Awareness in the Humanities

Since founding the Global Humanities Institute (GHI) at Montgomery College in 2012, participating faculty have taken a comprehensive approach to global studies at our institution. We are charged by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which supports our work with a challenge grant, to (1) bring global perspectives to the humanities and other relevant disciplines; (2) establish faculty training and development programs that promote globalization of humanities curricula; (3) enrich the college culture by highlighting issues, topics, and events of global significance; (4) develop academic partnerships with institutions abroad; and (5) create a model program that can be replicated by other colleges and universities near and far.

While we have launched a range of initiatives supporting these goals, the GHI’s key focus in its first four years is on transforming the curriculum by preparing full- and part-time humanities faculty to teach courses and lead interdisciplinary learning communities centered on global themes. Two concurrently convening groups of GHI faculty fellows meet twice monthly to study global theory and issues, internationalized curricula, pedagogy that promotes cultural awareness, and service that addresses global problems. Our goal is to create curricula that guide students in critical contemplation of and humanistic response to the globalized world. The GHI’s first internationalized humanities courses and learning communities will be offered in fall 2014. Over three years, forty-eight faculty fellows will transform thirty humanities courses and nine learning communities, potentially affecting thousands of students.

Backward Design

The GHI’s two faculty fellowships—one focused on individual courses and the other on learning communities—take the concept of “applied humanities” as inspiration. To apply humanities means to “embody” and “enact” insights and values gained through humanities study (Nikitina 2009, 36). Students of applied humanities are preparing to be not only humanist scholars, but also alert and responsive citizens of the world. The goal of the GHI fellowships is that students gain the global knowledge, skills, and attitudes (such as openness to various perspectives) that will help them become engaged, humane, and ethical participants in an increasingly globalized and interdependent world.

To help realize these outcomes, GHI faculty fellows engage in a process of backward design (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). Building on the college’s outcomes assessment process and existing Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), GHI fellows use backward design to create Internationalized Student Learning Outcomes (or ISLOs, a term coined by Sharyn Neuwirth) that guide the development of global curricula. Backward design begins with identifying end goals, as faculty ask themselves the following questions in sequence:

  1. What knowledge, skills, and attitudes do I want my students to gain as a result of internationalized study? What outcomes should occur as a result of internationalized course work?
  2. How will my students demonstrate these learning gains? What assignments will enable my students to demonstrate achievement of the ISLOs? How can I create tasks that will allow students to apply the global knowledge, skills, and attitudes they have acquired?
  3. What teaching methods and materials will prepare my students to achieve the ISLOs? How can I make students active participants in building their knowledge base, examining their beliefs and attitudes, and applying skills to real-world situations?

Fellows begin this process of inquiry by identifying a “big idea” or “big question” that will determine the overarching theme of their internationalized course or learning community. Identifying a big idea or question helps fellows discern the most important and relevant aspects of course content, as well as appreciate the content’s potential to affect students’ enduring understanding of how the world works.

Example I: Individual Courses

Through the GHI faculty fellowship Teaching Humanities in a Global Context, faculty members from diverse humanities disciplines use backward design to internationalize an individual course that they currently teach. As described above, they begin by identifying a big idea or question (see fig. 1, column A). They then pinpoint global competencies that they want students to develop (see fig. 1, column B). Stating specific competencies in this manner helps faculty members sharpen their focus and helps students see the importance of what they learn.

After selecting a big question and identifying global competencies, fellows consult the existing SLOs for their current courses (see fig. 1, column C). In most cases, fellows are inserting new global content into an already-packed course, so rather than create additional outcomes, fellows internationalize their existing SLOs to create ISLOs. In other words, they place the general SLOs in a specific international context, so that as students achieve the internationalized form of the course outcome, they also master the SLO (fig. 1, step 1). Once they have written the ISLOs, fellows determine the means of assessing them (fig. 1, step 2). Faculty fellows then use the stated ISLOs and assessment measures to guide their selection of materials, learning activities, and pedagogies.

Figure 1. Backward Design in Individual Humanities Courses (click on image to enlarge)


Example II: Learning Communities

Exploring global themes such as poverty, peace building, a sustainable earth, or global citizenship necessitates reaching across disciplinary boundaries. “Quality interdisciplinary education” is crucial in developing “global consciousness … [the] capacity and disposition to understand and act on matters of global significance” (Harvard Graduate School of Education 2014). Thus in the GHI fellowship Creating Global Humanities Learning Communities, humanities faculty work in pairs to join and integrate courses across disciplines as a means of exploring a compelling global issue. This internationalization of two linked courses takes advantage of the role of learning communities as a high-impact educational practice that can rouse students’ passionate commitment to learning (Kuh, O’Donnell, and Reed 2013).

Following backward design, learning community faculty fellows pose interdisciplinary big questions and link their two courses’ existing outcomes into integrative ISLOs that reflect the union of disciplines in approaching real-world problems (see fig. 2). They then write integrative assignments that preserve “disciplinary grounding” while meaningfully and purposefully joining different analytical frameworks (Dunlap and Sult 2013, 28, 38). Finally, they create team-taught lessons and other experiences to enable student learning. 

Figure 2. Backward Design in Global Humanities Learning Communities (click on image to enlarge)


The Role of Service Learning

Service offers a meaningful way for students to apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they develop by studying the humanities. Service learning is more than an opportunity to witness and respond to global ills; indeed, it can affect students’ attitudes about the world and transform their belief in their ability to be agents of change. GHI faculty fellows capitalize on this potential by including assignments within their courses and learning communities that use service activities as opportunities for powerful experiential application. To support the creation of these activities, the fellows learn best practices in service learning, articulate their vision of service for their students, select a service partner, and devise assessments in the form of reflection assignments occurring before, during, and after service is performed.

In the GHI learning communities, faculty envision global service as occurring “glocally”—at community organizations that serve immigrant communities, for example, or at the college, where students may educate others about an international issue or raise money for a cause. In the fall 2014 learning community A Right to Work in the World—developed to explore world-wide issues of discrimination, education, and rights affecting women and work—a service project will connect students virtually with the Women’s Network of Morazán, El Salvador. Students enrolled in the learning community will research the problems, needs, and innovations of the rural women workers the network serves. In reflection papers, students will describe, contrast, and compare women and work in Morazán and other settings they have studied, using the analytical tools they have learned in their integrated sociology and women’s studies courses. In consultation with the Women’s Network, they will create a fund-raiser supporting a cause designated by the Morazán workers.

In the short term, service projects like these provide real-life contexts within which students can apply the concepts they learn in class, enact humanism, and move toward global competence. On a more enduring level, these projects are a rich, bracing way to effect transformation, of both students and their service partners.


The work of the GHI is well underway. In addition to supporting the faculty fellowships, the GHI has hosted noted humanities scholars whose work focuses on globalization. We offer online resources, including language learning software, to the college community and the public. We have initiated Humanities Days, a new tradition at Montgomery College, featuring college and community speakers, workshops, and multimedia on topics of global consequence. We have formed partnerships with institutions abroad to enable teaching collaborations, faculty and student travel, and scholarly exchange. Through this multifaceted approach, we aim to mobilize and apply the humanities to help guide students and the institution toward higher and broader levels of learning that will build global consciousness, competence, participation, and exchange.

For more about the GHI, visit http://cms.montgomerycollege.edu/globalhumanities/.


Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). n.d. “Integrative Learning VALUE Rubric."http://www.aacu.org/value/rubrics/pdf/integrativelearning.pdf.

———. n.d. “Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility.” http://www.aacu.org/SharedFutures/documents/SharFutFinal2.pdf.

Dunlap, Lynn, and Larry Sult. 2013. “Juggling and the Art of the Integrative Assignment.” Learning Communities Research and Practice 1 (1). http://washingtoncenter.evergreen.edu/lcrpjournal/vol1/iss1/7/.

Harvard Graduate School of Education. 2014. “The Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Project.” Project Zero.http://www.pz.gse.harvard.edu/id_global_studies.php.

Kuh, George D., Ken O'Donnell, and Sally Reed. 2013. Ensuring Quality and Taking High-Impact Practices to Scale. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Nikitina, Svetlana. 2009. “Applied Humanities.” Liberal Education 95 (1): 36–43.

University of Minnesota. 2010. “Global Perspectives Theme Proposal.” One Stop Student Services. http://onestop.umn.edu/faculty/lib_eds/guidelines/global_perspectives.html.

Wiggins, Grant, and Jay McTighe. 2005. Understanding by Design. Expanded 2nd ed. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marcia Bronstein is professor of English and English as a Second Language and curriculum coordinator of the Global Humanities Institute; Shelley Jones is associate professor of Spanish and curriculum coordinator of the Global Humanities Institute; Sharyn Neuwirth is professor of English as a Second Language and curriculum coordinator of the Global Humanities Institute—all at Montgomery College, Maryland.

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