Students, faculty invited to offer input on Globally Networked Learning at York

Starting in November, students and faculty will be invited to participate in a series of engagement sessions to help visualize, design and implement a Globally Networked Learning (GNL) environment at York University.

Globally Networked Learning (GNL) refers to an approach to research, learning and teaching that enables students, faculty and non-academic researchers from different locations around the world to participate in, and collaborate on, knowledge-making processes and concrete research projects.

With the aid of various forms of technology – including but not limited to learning management systems, video conferencing software and hardware, cloud computing and social media – participants come together in a consortium and collaborate on projects that bring together their diverse perspectives in order to produce a richer, more nuanced, understanding of the issues at hand.

A GNL project might entail or produce cross-cultural discussion on a particular course concept, a joint lecture over multiple time zones, a shared assignment, or a collaborative research project, among other possibilities. The promise of GNL lies in its facilitation, and institutionalization at York U, of these new and creative forms of knowledge-making across cultures.

Dominique Scheffel-Dunan
Dominique Scheffel-Dunand

The GNL Project at York was conceptualized by Robin Roth, professor in geography, and is funded by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF). Speaking of the vision of GNL, Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, the current GNL project lead, said: “The GNL project at York is currently an autonomous zone bringing researchers, instructors and students together to imagine and experiment with the idea of ‘global thinking’ as a critical skill to acquire for globally networked working environments. GNL can create rich cultural connections by designing a learning environment that engages students locally and internationally in conversations with the goal of advancing collaboratively the latest thinking on global issues.”

Together, Scheffel-Dunand and a steering committee of faculty members and graduate students are currently exploring ways to engage with, and receive feedback back from, students and faculty at Keele and Glendon campuses to design and implement a GNL environment at York.

The aim of the GNL environment is to bring together undergraduates, graduate students and faculty members across York’s many Faculties, departments and research centres into a network that would collaborate with counterparts working on similar projects in Canada and/or around the world.

The GNL environment in turn will position York University as an innovative, socially progressive and forward-thinking institution of higher education – a leader in socially relevant research and pedagogy to transform imminent and global issues.

The 2016-17 academic year is Year 2 of the AIF for the GNL Project. The aim of this year’s activities is two-fold: first, it will build awareness of GNL at both of York’s campuses by conducting an environmental scan of faculty and students to gauge their interest in piloting and participating in GNL courses in Year 3 and, to find out how students and faculty themselves would like to shape the direction of the project; and, second, it will conduct background research into the forms of technology and institutional support currently available and needed in the future, to implement GNL courses and a GNL environment at York.

Starting in the first week of November, the Project will launch a series of workshops and focus group sessions for faculty and students at both Keele and Glendon campuses. Sessions designed for faculty members will provide an overview of GNL, focusing particularly on: the pedagogical approach to critical thinking and collaborative research; teaching, technology and the institutional culture for success; the first-hand experiences of York faculty members and TAs working through the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) program at York; and, finally, a forum for discussion on envisioning the process of GNL course creation, implementation, and participation here at York and abroad. Details of faculty workshops may be found at here.

Image of a BHER classroom
Image of a BHER classroom

Concurrently, there will also be an effort to engage students, both undergraduate and graduate, through a series of focus groups. These meetings with small groups of students will include a brief introduction to current GNL projects currently with the larger focus on getting feedback from students themselves about what globally networked learning opportunities would mean for their current learning experience at York, and future experience beyond university. Details of student engagement sessions may be found at here.

Professor Don Dippo from the Faculty of Education has taught courses for the BHER project for the last two years. He has integrated some GNL pedagogical elements into the three courses he has taught in Toronto and in the refugee camps of Dadaab and on the Thai-Burmese border. He says the experience has been invaluable both for him and for students in his courses.

“There were certainly many challenges to implementing a GNL approach in each of the three courses that I taught, including issues of Internet connectivity, pedagogical assumptions, culturally appropriate and responsive curriculum, as well as institutional set-backs,” he said. “But despite these challenges, for me, it is crucial to continue to work at making the process better. The experience that both faculty and students at York and abroad get from these types of courses serve as unique examples of international, intercultural, experiential learning – something beyond what they are likely to receive in a traditional classroom setting.”

Hawa Sabriye and HaEun Kim – both second year MEd candidates in the Faculty of Education who have worked as teaching assistants (TA) in Dadaab refugee camps – echoed Dippo’s sentiments

Sabriye noted that through her TAship, she “witnessed how partnerships with diverse learners and instructors can promote alternative perspectives on studies/learning and cultivate global interpersonal skills that are needed in today’s growing international education sector.”

Kim said that “as a graduate student at York, these cross-continental engagements have helped me realize the importance of developing effective and inclusive collaborations as well as meaningful relationships in research.”

Various manifestations of GNL and GNL environments have been implemented at universities, including the Centre for Collaborative Online International Learning at SUNY, Cultura at MIT and Soliya. There are currently no operational GNL environments in Canada. For more information on this exciting York University initiative, and to follow the project as it develops, visit