On April 12th, I released the first in a series of blog entries on different types of organizing principles for global learning syllabi. In that post, I contended that when it comes to global learning, instead of just having students break down complex questions and problems into their disconnected parts, we also need to help students bring diverse parts of the whole together.
One way to do this is by utilizing an organizing principle. Organizing principles bring momentary order to chaos. Faculty can employ an organizing principle for their syllabus to structure the examination of complex content and questions. An organizing principle also provides students with a cognitive framework to helps them absorb and connect new and increasingly complex ideas.
The first organizing principle I explored concerned scale. In this post, I’ll explore what I call the “boomerang” approach: starting with the local, moving to the global, and then returning to the local.
I was first introduced to the local-global-local boomerang approach in 2009 when working with a faculty team developing a brand-new interdisciplinary global learning course for FIU’s general education curriculum, “Our Coastal Environment: From the Bay to the World.”
“From the Bay to the World” was categorized as a lab science course, and the team was composed of a marine biologist, geographer, and anthropologist/sociologist. The team coalesced around a clear shared mission: to engage students in the process of sustaining the well-being of interconnected coastal communities. The purpose of the course was to equip students with the knowledge they needed to engage, namely an understanding of how local human economic and political processes interact with global climate change and threats to marine and land ecosystems.
When the team proposed their course, the way forward seemed clear. But when they started to organize their syllabus, things got very messy.
We commenced with a Backward Curriculum Design process. The team identified three essential questions to frame students’ enduring understanding:
- How do different cultures and societies interact with their environments?
- How do cultures and societies perceive and value their relationship to the coastal environment?
- How do global dynamics drive the relationships between people and the environment?
The team then translated these questions into observable, measurable course learning outcomes that were aligned with our three graduation-level global learning outcomes. The outcomes could be assessed via a variety of individual and group tasks—including those conducted in the field as part of the course’s lab section:
- Global Awareness: Students will be able to interpret current global physical and human dynamics of the oceans and coasts in the context of interrelated sociological, biological, and environmental changes.
- Global Perspective: Students will be able to assemble a cross-disciplinary and multi-perspective analysis of ideas about the interrelationship between humans, oceans, and coasts.
- Global Engagement: Students will be able to analyze and critique the relationship between the environment and different cultures and societies with particular reference to the coastal and marine environment.
The team was excited to explore the essential questions with their students. They could envision a wide range of traditional and authentic assessment tasks, collaborative learning experiences, and diverse content and readings to prepare students to achieve the outcomes. But the course’s questions and content were very complex, and some of the students taking the course would have little or no disciplinary background to address them. The team did not know how to organize the semester in a way that would establish foundational understandings and then enable students to layer and connect increasingly complex ideas as the course progressed.
I don’t recall who made the boomerang breakthrough, but when it happened everything came together—even the course’s title. Here’s how the team organized the course. In the first part of the lecture section and its accompanying lab, students explored basic concepts of natural and human systems within the context of Miami’s Biscayne Bay. In the second part, students examined how these same concepts played out in other coastal communities around the world: Bangladesh, New Orleans, the Arctic, and Gloucester, Massachusetts. To conclude, students re-examined one of the issues facing the sustainability of Biscayne Bay and proposed solutions that were informed by their greater global awareness, perspective, and engagement.
I would love to hear how you use the boomerang approach in your course. Reach out to me! And to hear more stories of how faculty design their global learning courses, check out Season One of the Making Global Learning Universal Podcast.