Professor provides GNL experiences with Latin American partners

Students working together

By Elaine Smith

Marlon Valencia, an assistant professor in the Department of English at Glendon College, is using remote course delivery to ensure students can benefit from experiential learning opportunities with academic partners across Latin America.

Valencia had always incorporated experiential education into his courses, but it was the necessity for remote course delivery that really sold him on the value of Globally Networked Learning (GNL).

GNL is an approach to teaching, learning and research 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. 

Today, Valencia, who is also director of the English as a Second Language program and coordinator for the Certificate in the Discipline of Teaching English as an International Language, incorporates GNL into all of his courses.

Marlon Valencia
Marlon Valencia

“I had no option but to incorporate GNL, because I was teaching a practicum course,” said Valencia. “Our students traditionally go to Cuba for three weeks to observe classes and teach, but we weren’t able to do that in 2021 and 2022, so I saw this challenge as an opportunity to build strong relationships with international partners and provide students with good experiential opportunities via Zoom and Webex.”

As a native of Colombia, Valencia already had ties to faculty there, and his work as a member of the scientific committee for the Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal fostered connections with faculty elsewhere in Latin America. Today, his partners include faculty from five universities in three countries: Universidad Autónoma de Occidente, Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas and Universidad ECCI in Colombia; Universidade Estadual Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil; and Universidad Técnica Nacional de Costa Rica in Costa Rica.  

“I love collaborating,” said Valencia. “It’s part of my nature.”

Each term, his students learn to enjoy collaborating with their overseas counterparts, although it can be a bumpy ride for them at first.

“I let my students know that working with international partners requires a lot of flexibility and negotiation,” he said. “It’s not always something we appreciate in Canada; students expect everything to go according to the course outline, and if it doesn’t, they may experience a great deal of anxiety. However, sometimes, for instance, the school calendars of our international partners don’t match ours, so it requires patience to work out a solution.

“It’s a good opportunity for life lessons. They will get insight into other cultures and learn that time can be malleable.”

Valencia’s first-year course entitled English in the World; The World in English, which looks at how English developed worldwide from a broad historical and political perspective. As part of the course, his students were paired online with students from ECCI in Colombia for informal conversations about why they were learning English and what English means to them. It was a way of bringing their course readings to life.

“I wanted them to understand what teaching English internationally would be like and what English means to others,” he said. “It was an eye-opener. As first-year students, it might have been the first time they engaged in conversation with someone who spoke English as an additional language. It was a rich experience. They often got together for longer than was required and some of them became friends. Some of the students told me it was the best part of the course.”

As part of the course The Nuts and Bolts of English: Grammar for Teaching and Learning this semester, Valencia’s students worked in partnership with students at Universidad Autónoma de Occidente to create a program for one of the university’s student radio shows, UAO Speaks English, which is broadcast on YouTube.

The students will be guest hosts on Thursday, April 13 at 5 p.m., discussing key concepts such as language contact, plurilingualism, Canadian English, and living with more than two languages.

“I’ve appeared on the show myself and I had stage fright in the booth, but the Colombian students producing the show were naturals,” Valencia said.

In addition, Valencia incorporates GNL into Teaching English as an International Language practicum course. The students observe professors at partner universities in Latin America teaching prospective English teachers there and then have the opportunity to deliver lessons to those students online.

“I definitely want to include GNL in all teacher education courses,” Valencia says. “GNL is one way for students to see what’s out there in the world and it’s affordable and easy to make happen. It allows students to explore the world’s possibilities and its limitations. It’s all about enriching their educational opportunities.”

The Glendon-hosted episode of UAO Speaks English will air April 13 at 5 p.m. Check out the trailer, Things Only Canadians Can Understand.