Creating a Culture That Fosters Global Citizens

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 21–22, 2014

University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
San Juan, Puerto Rico

The research is increasingly clear that a key component of a 21st-century liberal education is global awareness. Knowledge of global interconnections leads to better citizens, who are more prepared and engaged to interact locally and globally. Because of this, national organizations like the American Association of Colleges and Universities have included global learning as an expected outcome for all undergraduates and have begun to develop ways of assessing this important goal.

However, increasing global awareness is a great challenge as students in the United States lag behind their peers in other countries in basic geography and in knowledge of global issues. In fact, “the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress in Geography (NAEP Geography Assessment) found that only 25% of U.S. students had passed the test and that these students consistently ranked below those in other countries” (Hoeflinger 2012). In addition, not only do students lack basic skills in global awareness, but many lack the curiosity and motivation to gain this knowledge.

In order to address these deficits, colleges and universities need to provide appropriate curricular and co-curricular learning opportunities that highlight the importance of global citizenship, and that challenge students to increase their level of competence both in and out of the classroom. The learning impact will be greatest if these opportunities begin early in the student’s academic career, and continue throughout with some coherence, connections, and redundancy, so that students become familiar with the goal and the language of globalization, and their institutions’ cultures shift to a more global focus.

For example, this past year incidents such as the Ebola outbreak, which touched the United States in a relatively small way, and the heightened concern about Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have had college students going to the world map to locate the regions and countries making the news so frequently. These unfortunate incidents serve as concrete points of connection and discussion for more advanced and nuanced looks at events, movements, and social conditions occurring in other parts of the world, but also affecting us here in the United States. These political, social, and medical events constitute a bridge between our students’ interests and the global landscape. They help students move from the concrete to the abstract as they engage with global issues.

In addition, a consideration of events from a global perspective often necessitates an examination of local culture and identity, and emphasizes for students such issues as sustainability, conflict resolution, social justice, and interdependence in a way that takes multiple points of view into account. This is a valuable development process from both a personal and an intellectual perspective. Structural diversity can be a major precipitating factor in favor of global interest and knowledge. The heterogeneity that characterizes some college populations is an important and valuable resource that other schools lack, and constitutes an advantage in getting global conversations started. However, with planning and intentionality, we can also create the right set of conditions for more homogeneous populations to approach global learning from multiple disciplinary and co-curricular points.

However, it is not always easy to connect some subject matter to global issues. Some disciplinary areas and many topics within disciplines present few opportunities for faculty and students to engage with global matters. Faculty who teach statistics, physical chemistry, physics, computational science, and philosophy do not have the intuitive points of connection to global issues that social and health science faculty can access easily. Gibson and Reysen (2013) found that many instructors were unprepared to introduce global issues in their classes and lacked the motivation to do so. These researchers also found that faculty were uncomfortable sharing their opinions about global matters with their students.

There are, however, intellectual and integrative abilities that support the development of global perspectives, including connecting critical thinking and global awareness. Kakai (2000) postulates that cross-cultural studies support the development of critical thinking and that this intellectual habit is a key advantage in negotiating a global playing field. Global perspectives will present fewer challenges to persons who are adroit at critical thinking coursework, and experiences that foster critical thinking will help lay the foundation for the mastery of global learning. Similarly, Engberg (2013) indicates that classroom experiences matter in the development of global perspectives, whether or not students have the opportunity to study abroad. He proposes that although study abroad is important, service learning and reflections may be equally powerful tools in fostering global perspectives in students. Both Engberg (2013) and Kakai (2000) endorse the view that coursework that supports the taking of a global perspective will be an asset as we transition students from local to global perspectives.

Similarly, technological competency can provide an additional tool to increase access to global communities. Gibson et al. (2008) found that authentic global learning activities with substantive learning goals can best leverage technology and lead to increased intercultural competence. An example of this was described in Bachen et al. (2012), where simulation games led to increased global empathy.

Therefore, when content presents challenges to taking a global perspective, faculty can support students in their development of global perspectives by foregrounding how curiosity, critical thinking, and perspective-taking will prepare students to be adroit global thinkers. Classroom and co-curricular experiences as well as technology-enriched instruction of all types can show gains in these learning outcomes.

The Stockton Story

Stockton serves a relatively homogenous undergraduate population that is primarily local to the state. More than 95% of the student body is from New Jersey (with more than 80% of those students from the southern counties) and approximately 75% of the student body is white. Stockton has been intentional in planning for the global learning of students. Indeed, our vision statement—“The Richard Stockton College [now University]: an environmentally-responsible learning community of engaged citizens embracing a global perspective”—declares our commitment to global learning. Global perspective is one of the University’s four strategic themes, and global awareness one of its ten essential learning outcomes, demonstrating Stockton’s clear commitment to this dimension of student learning. The strategic plan for global perspectives supports faculty and student engagement with global issues in an effort to ensure that our graduates are prepared to meet the challenges of a world of diverse cultures. In this effort, Stockton engages the diversity that exists locally, regionally, and nationally. The University also provides and supports study abroad and many shorter study tour courses.

We have, in the recent past, employed with some measure of success a cultural apprenticeship model of using the diversity that exists in the institution to support the cultural, global, and racial exposure of first semester students. Although this supporting educational practice is not currently in effect, it has been a very successful first-level experience for incoming students to get an inside look into an unfamiliar culture. In this enriching educational experience, incoming students who are enrolled in a Diversity Issues seminar were required to spend 40 hours in cultural apprenticeship with a university community member who self-identified in some way that is culturally different from the student’s identification. It was expected that this one-on-one interaction with people of difference would lead to openness and curiosity, two of the qualities that are associated with the development of global perspectives.

The apprentices and their mentors structure their time together in ways that are convenient, and the students write summary reflections of the apprenticeship and the impact that it had on their concept of the culture to which they have been newly exposed. An analysis of student reflections of these experiences indicated that students are informed, surprised, and delighted by the relationships that they form with their mentors and, most importantly, the associations result in positive perceptions of unfamiliar cultures and a greater sense of openness to difference.

Gibson and Reysen’s (2013) research suggests that faculty need support and strategies to integrate global perspectives into their course content. To this end, Stockton has found creative ways to encourage faculty to strengthen their pedagogy. Through the strategic planning initiative for global perspectives, the University earmarked funds for projects that are connected to our global learning and perspectives agenda. All members of the community have the opportunity to submit proposals to the global perspectives initiative team for review and consideration for funding. Experienced global “coaches” assist proposers in the development of their ideas and help them to connect to existing resources and collaborators on campus and in the community. Since the program’s inception in 2013, the University has funded eight global engagement projects totaling more than $60,000.

One example of this is the funding of teaching circles. These circles are a direct faculty development initiative that is specifically directed to reviewing the pedagogy of global engagement. For the past three academic years, faculty have proposed teaching circles with diversity and global themes. These circles typically include approximately a dozen faculty who answer a call to affiliate and focus their discussions on global or diversity issues. They meet regularly throughout the year to discuss instructional, research, and operational issues that relate to global learning. The University provides funds for resources, speakers, and for retreats. The groups produce a white paper at the end of their grant period and these papers are made available to the wider teaching community. The teaching circle process has unearthed a cadre of leaders in a pedagogy for globalization. These faculty can act as models and resources for faculty who are motivated but not yet prepared to explore global perspectives in their teaching.

To further integrate global awareness into student learning opportunities, our global awareness essential learning outcomes (ELO) ensure that all our graduates, irrespective of major, have ample opportunities to construct global knowledge and develop competencies. Stockton has a global awareness learning map that covers both our conceptual and operational definitions of global awareness. It can be found here: The map was developed through an institutional grass roots effort that engaged faculty, staff, and students in a two-year discussion of the meaning and implications of global awareness for our population of learners, and describes three levels of achievement: aware, competent, and skilled. For each of these three levels there are identified indicative behaviors that guide the assessment of global awareness.

The learning map has been a catalyst for university-wide curriculum mapping efforts. Programs and individual faculty examined the maps and indicated whether or not their courses would contribute to students’ global learning. The curriculum maps serve to direct students’ attention to courses that have global content and help them to choose the levels to which they would like to build their global knowledge. Fundamental to our process is the recognition that students construct their knowledge and that the mere act of taking a course with global content does not guarantee the extent to which this is integrated into learners’ existing knowledge frameworks. Portfolio assessment of global awareness places the responsibility on the students to demonstrate, through their portfolio inclusions, the scope of their development in this area over the course of their university careers.

This year, the University piloted an initiative to help entering students begin to grow their global awareness prior to the start of their first year. Over 100 students accepted an invitation to take a free online course called Go Global! that was developed by scholars from across the country. The six-week course covered seven global challenges, including topics such as population and resources, and its purpose was to educate and encourage the development of globally competent citizens and leaders. Pre-test and post-test surveys were conducted on global knowledge and awareness to assess gains in the course. The survey results indicated the curriculum increased students’ knowledge about issues facing the globe, increased students’ awareness of ways to get involved in civic life, led students to read more about global issues, and increased agreement that world events impact the students’ lives. Further study will be conducted on long-term gains in global awareness and civic engagement.

In sum, essential to the success of integrating a global perspective into the culture of the University is the challenge of establishing its importance to all constituents. Faculty and students must care about global learning if they are to make their best effort to integrate it into their existing teaching-learning priorities. The process is best if it proceeds at an unhurried pace and makes room for both supporting and dissenting perspectives in the formative discussions of all aspects of the process and outcomes. As the global perspective learning initiative has unfolded, we have had ample opportunity to hear and respond to the skepticism of those who doubted that we would be able to secure buy-in from faculty, sustain the interest of students, manage the challenging task of assessment, and keep abreast of faculty development demands. These were all valid concerns and we took time to hear the arguments and to work through the doubts and arrive at acceptable solutions. Although our community is very homogenous, we were surprised at the available resources that we were able to marshal as we explored implementation options. We continue to explore innovative ways to ensure that global awareness is a priority to our community, and to prepare students to become global citizens ready to interact locally and globally.


Bachen, Christine M., Pedro F. Hernández-Ramos, and Chad Raphael. 2012. “Simulating REAL LIVES: Promoting Global Empathy and Interest in Learning Through Simulation Games.” Simulation Gaming 43: 437.

Cseh, Maria, Elizabeth B. Davis, and Shaista E. Khilji. 2013. “Developing a Global Mindset: Learning of Global Leaders.” European Journal of Training and Development 37(5): 489-99.

Engberg, Mark E. 2013. “The Influence of Study Away Experiences on Global Perspective-Taking.” Journal of College Student Development 54(5): 466-80.

Gibson, Kay L., Glyn M. Rimmington, and Marjorie Landwehr-Brown. 2008. “Developing Global Awareness and Responsible World Citizenship With Global Learning.” Roeper Review 30: 11-23.

Hoeflinger, Deborah. 2012. “Teaching Students to be Global Citizens.” Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin 79(1): 16.

Kakai, Hisako. 2000. “The Use of Cross-Cultural Studies and Experiences as a Way of Fostering.” The Journal of General Education 49(2): 110-31.

Reysen, Stephen, and Iva Katzarska-Miller. 2013. “A Model of Global Citizenship: Antecedents and Outcomes.” International Journal of Psychology 48(5): 858-870.

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Spring 2015: The Global Imperative for Higher Education