Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor

Students sometimes think of global learning as coextensive with opportunities to expand their horizons through international exchange—to visit new places, experience new things, and forge new possibilities. These students correctly understand that their perspectives will shift as they occupy new geographical and intellectual positions, and they may indeed find more expansive views in unfamiliar places. But at each new location, they will encounter a new horizon—a new line beyond which they cannot see, wherever they stand. As Ferdinand Magellan and his crew knew well, it is possible to piece together a more complete understanding of the global whole by continually shifting one’s location; but it isn’t possible to occupy all positions—to see all horizons, or even more than a single horizon—at once.

It is, however, not only possible but necessary to try to envision how different perspectives and horizons intersect. For, while the horizon may represent an outer limit to one’s perspective, one’s connection to others extends far beyond this demarcation line. In the twenty-first century, it is more apparent than ever that local occurrences have global consequences, and that global systems—financial, technological, natural, ideological—have palpable local effects. Helping students grapple with this complexity and its ethical consequences, and preparing them to act responsibly in the world, means helping them piece together the connections between what they know and what they can only imagine.

Thus, to an extent, successful global learning rests on helping students understand the limits of their own horizons, whatever their location, while imagining other horizons that exist simultaneously. Victor Kazanjian points toward this idea when he says of perspective-taking and positionality, “These two factors are so crucial in how human beings process information and construct knowledge … that they must be the starting place for where we begin to think about global education” (2013). Kazanjian describes an exercise where he places a box in the center of a table and asks students, each with a differently incomplete view, to describe the box comprehensively without moving either it or themselves. This exercise underscores the importance of knowing one’s own position well and communicating effectively with diverse others.

But what, exactly, is global learning, and how can it build such capacities? This issue’s authors bring various perspectives to this question, but they generally agree that defining global learning necessitates taking a close look at what students should be capable of doing when they graduate from college—as contributing author Fernando Reimers suggests, what knowledge, skills, and competencies they will need to build an appealing future for all. As a whole, this issue’s authors concur, students will need to be able to think integratively and collaborate across disciplines in order to address today’s complex, real-world problems. They will need to have a keen sense of social responsibility and civic commitment and a well-developed corresponding skill set in order to address contemporary challenges like economic inequity and global sustainability in ways that contribute to the greater global good.

What kind of educational experiences, then, will produce these outcomes? Again, this issue’s authors reach consensus around opportunities grounded in what contributing author Tammy Birk might call the “in-between”—those that are integrative, interdisciplinary, and intercultural, occupying spaces that connect different ways of knowing and being and different scales of place, from local to global. They argue that students need opportunities to apply their learning in real-world contexts, whether at home or abroad, and to reflect with others on their experiences. They offer a variety of intellectual approaches and curricular models designed to facilitate such experiences, including learning communities, community-engaged learning, and cross-institutional collaboration. And they challenge readers to rethink what might be possible within their own institutional contexts.

In sum, when envisioning the future of global learning, this issue’s authors call us to imagine what exists beyond our own horizons—not only the horizons of our individual perspectives, but also the broader horizon of what seems possible in today’s world. After all, higher education is preparing students for both careers and global challenges that don’t yet exist. Preparing students well means asking them to imagine what exists not only beyond their own perspectives, but also beyond the vanishing point of what can currently be predicted—and equipping them with the skills they need to address those complex realities, whatever they are.

Reference

Kazanjian, Victor. 2013. “What Happens to Learning When It Becomes Global? Perspectives on Liberal Education and Real-World Challenges.” Keynote address delivered with Haifa Jamal Al-Lail at AAC&U’s Global Learning in College meeting, October 3, Providence, Rhode Island. Available by podcast at http://www.aacu.org/Podcast/podcasts.cfm?id=168.


Kathryn Peltier Campbell is editor of Diversity & Democracy.

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