With the Dec. 4 award deadline approaching for 2021 winter and summer Globally Networked Learning (GNL) proposals, York’s GNL project team held the first of its virtual drop-in information sessions Nov. 9. The next session, which will take place over Zoom (https://yorku.zoom.us/j/93493130996) is slated for Monday, Nov. 16 from 10 to 11:30 a.m.
Globally Networked Learning is a teaching and learning methodology that fosters exchange and collaborations between faculty and students and partners across the globe. It provides an inclusive opportunity for university students to experience other perspectives and cultures, whether or not they are able to go abroad themselves. It is ideally suited to COVID-19 restrictions, since travel opportunities are so uncertain.
The GNL project team at York – Helen Balderama, Vinitha Gengatharan and Marierose Talla from York International, Lisa Endersby from the Teaching Commons and Professor Dominique Scheffel-Dunand from the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies – organized the 90-minute drop-in session, which included a brief description of a GNL activity by Karen Bernhardt-Walther, a breakout session that allowed interested faculty from York and partner universities worldwide to ask questions about specific projects and a wrap-up.
Bernhardt-Walther, an assistant professor in the economics teaching stream, has created a virtual journal club, an extracurricular GNL activity for her class in partnership with Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich. Ten students from each university are taking part.
“The GNL has a dual purpose,” she told attendees. “We’re exposing undergraduates to research in economics, something that doesn’t always happen at the undergraduate level, and we’re involving them with students worldwide.”
Scheffel-Dunand explained that York’s information technology department has made it possible for non-York students participating in GNLs to access necessary information and relevant resources co-prepared by the instructs on Moodle, but there are also collaborative platforms, such as Padlet, that allow students to work on assignments together. In addition, both Apple and Microsoft offer the functionality to translate from oral to written text and in many languages that are good enough to ensure students can work collaboratively on their activities in languages other than English.
The GNL team is exploring linguistic tools or a strategy that would offer the GNL participants the opportunity to collaboratively exchange in non-European or indigenous languages. However, Endersby emphasized, “It is important to start with your learning outcomes first and how you want students to experience the course. You can integrate the technology into that.”
The breakout sessions involved the project team, York faculty, and partners from Mexico and the Dominican Republic. There were queries about whether a GNL experience was required to be an entire course (No) or a component of a course (Yes) and whether it was possible to have access to tools that would allow participants to work in virtually augmented environments or use Virtual Reality for their GNL activities requiring modelling simulations or creating art.
Regardless of the technologies chosen, Bernhardt-Walther recommended developing it in pieces, and taking advantage of funding opportunities when feasible. Approved GNL projects receive $1,000 funding from York University, but that doesn’t preclude faculty from seeking additional funding.
After the breakout sessions, the exchange veered to a general discussion of GNL experiences.
“GNL collaborations can range from one or two activities in existing courses to an entire course,” said Balderama. “One or two activities at the start gives you a chance to test out GNL to see how it works for you and your students.”
Endersby said that GNL falls under the umbrella of experiential education, something that is valued at York, in education, and by employers.
“Although you can’t replicate studying abroad or being in the community with GNL, you can adapt and recreate elements of the experience,” she said. “There are many paths to the same learning outcomes.”
Scheffel-Dunand said that the project team is exploring evaluation frameworks for GNL experiences, because “institutionalizing and growing GNL requires a robust plan for assessment to ensure it can be sustainable.”
That’s the goal, noted Balderama: involving all of York’s Faculties in discussions about GNL in the next few years.
“We want to build a York-GNL community where we share insights with each other and also share our experiences with York partners and global virtual learning communities,” Balderama said.
By Elaine Smith, special contributing writer