Global Partners in Education Conference

Five years ago, East Carolina University introduced a freshman-level course designed to utilize its new technological marvel, the Global Classroom. Today, that class has evolved into the Global Partners in Education, a global consortium of more than 20 academic institutions in 18 countries, and a leader in international education.

Earlier this summer the charter members of the GPE convened for the first time in person at the inaugural Global Partners in Education Conference on ECU’s campus in Greenville, North Carolina, to examine new possibilities in collaborative learning around the world.

GPE was born out of ECU’s Global Academic Initiatives program. Created in 2003 by Rosina Chia, assistant vice chancellor for global academic initiatives, and Elmer Poe, the associate vice chancellor for academic outreach, the program was intended to provide an international educational experience to ECU students unable to travel abroad. The program included construction of the Global Classroom, and development of Global Understanding, a course that gives students one to one interaction with their peers from universities around the world.

Attendees learn about the technology of the Global Classroom during the GPE conference at ECU on May 20, 2008.

“It’s a method for getting students to both examine the diversity in humanity, and also the similarities,” said Jami Leibowitz, coordinator for the Global Understanding program and associate professor in the Department of Anthropology. “[Students] overcome stereotypes, they overcome prejudices, and they become more open to the world. So that is the crux of our program, but we’ve always been talking about expanding into a number of different directions.”

The first GPE conference was held May 19–22 at ECU to examine other potential possibilities for partnership among the GPE’s member institutions, as well as ways to expand and grow the program. Currently, apart from the Global Understanding course, ECU engages with partners through lecture exchanges, joint courses, and international research. Participants from 11 of the 21 partner institutions attended the conference, some traveling halfway around the world just for the opportunity to take part in such a momentous event. Others attended remotely, using the same technology used to conduct the Global Understanding course itself.

“Including transit, it took me about 24 hours from Kuala Terengganu to Greenville,” said Nazli Aziz, a Global Understandings instructor from University Malaysia Terengganu, in Terengganu, Malaysia. “But it was worthwhile taking the trouble to travel that long way.”

An important goal of the conference was to establish GPE as an autonomous global entity for education. Currently, the GPE is heavily dependent upon ECU for funding, management, training, and technical support, but the hope is that in the near future the consortium can assume a greater role so no one institution has an disproportional obligation, especially as expansion requires greater resources.

To that end, the conference at ECU witnessed the ratification and signing of the first GPE charter, as well as the establishment of an executive committee and standing committees for curriculum and pedagogy; technology; and administration and research. It was an enormous undertaking for just four days, but the group was eager to take advantage of their time together.

“I think [the conference] was extraordinarily successful and productive,” Leibowitz said. “I was extremely pleased about what we were able to accomplish. Next year we will have papers and presentations and I’m really excited to seeing what our partners come up with.”

Educators from around the globe attended the inaugural Global Partners in Education Conference at ECU.

In establishing the executive committee, the GPE determined the next two locations for the annual conference. Next year the conference will be hosted by China Agricultural University in Beijing, China, and in 2010 it will be hosted by Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola

 in Lima, Peru.

Apart from the international universities in attendance, two American universities, the University of Michigan and El Camino College, were on hand to learn more about the ECU model for the Global Understanding course, and to meet with members of the GPE. Both universities hope to have their own versions of the Global Understanding course based on the ECU model next year, and at that time they will be made full members of the GPE. The interest in the GPE and the ECU model bodes well for the future of the program and its potential impact around the world.

“For many of our partners this is really something that they will build a whole program around—a whole strategy for the whole entire university,” said Leibowitz. “So it’s really important for many of them in terms of their livelihood and what they are willing to invest.”

Thanks to the conference, GPE members have a better understanding of what it takes to run a program of their own. While many of those who attended the conference were teachers and not technology experts, they could still appreciate the tremendous effort that ECU has made towards making the Global Understandings course a success.

“All participants had the opportunity to be in the actual classroom of this program,” said Aziz. “Looking at the facilities that are used in conducting the class, I realized that ECU did invest a lot, and is very serious about the program.”

One of the lessons learned this year is the need for the GPE to take an active role in helping partners in developing nations attend next year’s conference in China. Originally, more partner universities were scheduled to attend this year’s conference, but problems securing visas into the United States, as well as funding issues prevented some delegates from attending.

According to Leibowitz, it has always been a priority of the GPE to provide all member institutions with an equal voice, regardless of their resources. By providing financial assistance to members who would otherwise be unable to attend these conferences, the GPE is working to make a priority into a reality.

This year is turning out to be an important one for GPE. The conference followed ECU’s Global Initiatives program receiving honorable mention at the 2008 IIE Andrew Heiskell Awards for Innovation in International Education in March. Now with the inaugural conference concluded and a charter and executive committee in place, the GPE can continue to work together to grow the program, and bring the world closer together one student at a time.