Global Understanding Course
Today's students live in a global society composed of widely diverse cultures spread across the globe. Their understanding of these cultures is often shaped by what they see on television and in the movies. Although students realize the importance of understanding other cultures, few of them actually study abroad. In fact, fewer than 5% of American college students study abroad. The Global Understanding course provides a platform for students to learn about other cultures without traveling. Currently there are more than 40 international institutions participating in the Global Understanding course from more than 24 countries around the world.
The Global Understanding course is a regular, credit bearing course that is taught in more than half a dozen disciplines at ECU. Each GU course is partnered with three diverse universities around the globe. Institutions are partnered in pairs so that only two cultures meet at any one time. Partners switch in a round robin fashion during a semester so each culture is partnered with three other cultures, one at a time for four or five weeks each. Class sessions are conducted in real time using Internet based video.
Using guided questions, students discuss topics that include college life, cultural traditions, family, the meaning of life, and stereotypes and prejudices. Each class session includes live discussion in both small video groups and one-to-one keyboard chat. After each class, students use reflective journaling to chart their evolving experiences and the effects on their viewpoints. Local-only sessions provide the opportunity to integrate and synthesize information gained in the global sessions into a discipline-specific framework. This intimate, small group setting provides undergraduates with a graduate seminar type experience not often found in undergraduate classes.
For the four or five weeks that ECU links with each university, students from ECU are individually partnered with students from the linking institution to provide for continuity and foster an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. This comfortable atmosphere engages students to share information, opinions, values, attitudes and emotions. Partners use email and other tools on a daily basis to further their class discussions. These one-to-one discussions lead to a better understanding of and appreciation for cultural and personal differences and similarities. Students read online newspapers to learn what is current, timely, and of interest in their partner's culture. Student partners also develop a joint project. Through this project students learn how to collaborate effectively across cultures. Through learning about other cultures, students begin to understand their own culture and gain a broader perspective on life.
As a result of the cross-cultural communication students learn to express themselves effectively. Slang, clichés, or words without translations in other languages complicate the communications process of expressing thoughts, viewpoints or feelings. Students must consider carefully not only what they say, but how they say it. On the other hand, students also learn how to listen so they understand the nuanced meanings of the words, as well as, their partners express their attitudes and the emotions associated with them.
The Global Understanding course is aimed at freshmen, but it is suitable for upper classmen who wish to learn about other cultures. This course provides a basis for the 21st Century education needed by all graduates.