Globally Networked Learning proving to be an effective pedagogy

An image of the Earth from space

For the past two years, the Globally Networked Learning (GNL) Project, funded by York University’s Academic Innovation Fund, has been proposing exciting and innovative changes to pedagogy in higher education.

Working closely with students, instructors, librarians and educational developers, the project team has been exploring approaches to pedagogy that allow for experiential learning in an internationally focused curriculum. GNL provides a powerful lens to interpret inquiries with a comparative perspective, promote meaningful communication across diverse audiences, and foster actions that entail an understanding about the world that ultimately make students contribute fully to its future as global citizens. It achieves this by emphasizing a commitment to cultural diversity, the importance of intercultural understanding and acceptance of differences of opinion on questions of local, regional, or global significance.

Dominique Scheffel-Dunand
Dominique Scheffel-Dunand

“Based on our extensive work with students, faculty, instructional designers and staff at both campuses, we are confident that some York community members are ready to adopt the GNL pedagogy and make it a distinctive attributes,” said Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, project lead of GNL at York University.

A closer look at GNL pedagogy

Globally Networked Learning refers to an approach to research, learning, and teaching that enables students, faculty, stakeholders and communities of practice from various locations around the world to collaboratively reflect on and engage in knowledge-making processes within or across disciplines, learning environments and cultures.

It pivots on students’ ability to understand how social and cultural mores influence events and the development of knowledge around them, and narrate phenomena by revealing transnational connections and articulating how differential access to knowledge, technology and resources affects perspectives, ideas and opinions. With the aid of various forms of technology – including learning management systems, video conferencing tools and social media – participants from diverse social and physical geographies are brought together in a learning space to collaborate on projects that allow them to nurture engaged learning and actions. This promotes a nuanced understanding of an increasingly complex, diverse and inter-connected world.

There are different routes to integrating GNL pedagogy within an existing or new course. Courses may be from any discipline, and do not require an existing international focus. To engage students to identify, explain issues of significance and craft focused and researchable questions that make domestic and international perspectives visible and comprehensible, GNL pedagogy typically involves two or more instructors working to create a shared four to 10-week module in a team-taught networked learning space.

GNL pedagogy emphasizes experiential collaborative learning opportunities, including active learning and reflective activities. The intercultural elements of the pedagogy further enhance the syllabus. To this end, a GNL course might include: a few joint lectures over multiple time zones to introduce students to complex ideas, relevant tools, methods, and languages used by the various course instructors; one or more asynchronous assignments engaging students to communicate about their identities, develop trust in one another to voice their ideas and opinion; or a collaborative project inviting students to weigh in on other’s perspectives, considering and interpreting the factors – including culture, geography, religion, politics and others – that inform and shape the different perspectives.

GNL courses or modules should be designed with the goal of comparing disciplinary or cultural perspectives. A GNL approach applied to course design begins from this premise:

  • a course syllabus that identify topics of local, regional and/or global significance, inviting students to recognize the value of comparing diverse point of views on these topics;
  • the structuring of course activities that will entice students to develop best communication strategies to share ideas and opinions on research questions;
  • a choice of course activities that will allow students to select and use appropriate technology, media, communicative styles to share insights, findings, concepts, and proposals with audiences from diverse geographies or disciplines;
  • the design of assignments and marking rubrics that reflect on how effective communication across genres, cultures and languages impacts understanding and collaboration in an interdependent world, and inform students’ capacity to advocate and assess impact of actions taken.

Typically, student characteristics and capacity, experiential learning, and the establishment of definitions of, learning/teaching objectives, and conditions for success form the basis of effective pedagogy. In the context of GNL, additional considerations are at play: student characteristics and capacity must be assessed across two or more different countries, cultures and contexts; experiential, collaborative learning opportunities need to be presented with an intercultural focus; and lastly, instructors must create definitions of and conditions for success that take into consideration different institutional resources and rules.

Within a university, teachers generally develop means and tasks to assess students’ learning outcomes. However, within a GNL environment, assessment is more complex, as there may be different institutional norms and values, ideas/practices of assessment, and weight given to intercultural awareness or attitudes. Consequently, GNL pedagogy allows and emphasizes flexibility in how success is defined, especially given differences in institutional resources and rules. Holding on to one single approach to assessment and imposing it to another learning context may be detrimental to a meaningful approach to learning and teaching with an international and intercultural scope.

What’s next for the GNL Project at York?

The GNL project at York may be thought of as an autonomous zone, one that brings 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 creates rich cultural connections by designing a learning environment that engages students, faculty and researchers – locally and internationally – in conversations with the goal of collaboratively advancing the latest thinking on globally-focused pedagogy.

In the past three years, the Project team has developed various GNL resources and coordinated many training workshops, webinars, speaker series, and focus groups to not only raise awareness about GNL pedagogy at York but also, to develop and design GNL curriculum for the internationalized classrooms. Now in its third year of funding, the GNL Project team is working with other units at York, Teaching Commons, York International and Information Technology hubs on Keele and Glendon campuses to develop instructional guides and videos for faculty to use. The Project is will also coordinate one-on-one consultations with a core group of faculty who are in the process of developing GNL courses.

“York U stands for critical scholarship that engages global citizenship, and GNL provides the pedagogy to advance and concretize this thinking. At the moment, the GNL team is finalizing the organizational architecture for a GNL hub at York that can provide continuous and meaningful support to faculty and staff that are rethinking their curriculum for the internationalized classroom, and for the students and young scholars who will be taking these exciting courses,” said Scheffel-Dunand.

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