by Matthew Buckmaster and Nina Namaste
The 2016 AAC&U Global Learning Conference in Denver, Colorado, last October, provided multiple opportunities to see how the CEL Seminar on Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience is in conversation with broader global learning research. There were a myriad of sessions, speakers, and workshops that explored the complexity of how we define and operationalize “global learning” and its many interpretations, which the CEL Global Learning Seminar projects have found as well. Moreover, salient themes emerged from the conference also replicated in the seminar—intentionality, purposeful design, global citizenry, intercultural competency, diversity, access and equity, assessment—and proved that these topics are critical to our research and understanding of students’ learning during study abroad and study away experiences.
An important takeaway from the conference was that global learning can be actualized in many different ways. It isn’t necessary nor sufficient to simply travel abroad—this much has been clear for years—but it isn’t even necessary to travel at all, as Neal Sobania convincingly argues in Putting the Local in Global Education. Case study presentations from institutions such as Emory and Henry College, the University of South Florida, and Soka University (Japan) demonstrated deliberate strategies to enhance global learning in existing on-campus courses. While the specific strategies offered varied, it is clear that engaging our students in globally meaningful ways does not require a passport. Rather, the intentionality of how we engage students is what matters; that is, our pedagogy determines if students learn while in navigating difference, whether in a global or local context.
The aspirational construct of “global citizenship” is a familiar one at many institutions, and at Elon it’s a key component of our mission. Yet defining the phrase is problematic—how can one be a “citizen” of their own nation/culture and the entire world at once? Discussions across several sessions echoed this paradoxical sentiment, while still conceding the goal of global citizenship as a worthy one. As Fred Dervin and Zehavit Gross argue in Intercultural Competence in Education: Alternative Approaches for Different Times (2016), there is a pressing need to critically evaluate these terms and concepts. Emory and Henry professors Celeste Gaia and Matthew Shannon shared their college’s definition as a step toward advancing that conversation: “A global citizen is an informed, open-minded, responsible person who is attentive to diversity across the spectrum of differences; understands how their actions affect both local and global communities; and addresses the world’s most pressing and enduring issues intellectually, collaboratively, and equitably.” Nevertheless, the core question remains—how intercultural is global learning? This relatively new focus on intercultural learning in global education is exciting. If the CEL seminar research groups are any indication, while often the terms are used synonymously in certain educational contexts, the terms are most definitely not interchangeable.
Focusing on the “why” of global learning in addition to the “how” is an important and necessary paradigm shift across many institutions. It also serves to make our learning goals more sound as we seek to measure them. In considering this, Dawn Whitehead (who will also be speaking at the CEL Symposium on Integrating Global Learning next week) challenged the conference participants to consider how inclusive our pedagogies and practices are, and how we might view access beyond study abroad scholarships. As we develop learning goals, we must consider how clear they are not only in regards to equality across our students (i.e., how they will afford them or fit them in their advising plans), but also in regards to equity (i.e., seeking to understand why students are and are not choosing to participate in global learning opportunities and finding ways to facilitate solutions). Mark Salisbury’s research documents well the white, female majority that continues to dominate study abroad (2012), and exciting research is coming out of the CEL seminar regarding the pathways students take that lead them to study abroad and self-actualization and self-efficacy that results from it.  
While surely global learning can and should be assessed, the intentionality of how and why we assess matters. Instruments such as the GPI, IDI, and other more discipline-specific models were examined in several sessions, with Elon’s own Mike Carignan presenting promising preliminary data from his multi-institutional intercultural competency study (attend this summer’s CEL seminar conference for the final analysis). AAC&U’s Global Learning VALUE Rubric defines global learning as both a global and a local concept, and certainly we know that intercultural consciousness can begin on campus, and deepen on international and/or domestic study away programs. Beginning to develop intercultural competency at home and in our own classrooms is a key step in that process.
Conferences such as the AAC&U Global Learning, research happening at institutions of higher learning in the U.S. and internationally, and the ongoing multi-institutional research stemming from the CEL Global Learning Seminar indicate a new trend or focus of global learning: intentionality, purposeful design and constructed intercultural learning activities are crucial to students’ development of global learning while on study abroad/study away programs. Continued concerted research on the topic will advance our understanding of how to make study abroad/study away experience as learning-laden as possible.

Matthew Buckmaster, Ph.D., ( is Assistant Dean of Global Education and an Associate Professor of Music at Elon University, where he teaches global engagement courses and manages the global education curriculum.  He has also taught coursework in music education, jazz and trombone performance, and interdisciplinary studies at several institutions, and has held several administrative positions in higher education.
Nina Namaste is Associate Professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultures at Elon University. She is a co-leader for the 2015-2017 research seminar on Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience: Higher-Impact Study Abroad and Off-Campus Domestic Study.

How to cite this post:

Buckmaster, Matthew and Nina Namaste. 2017, June 6. The Globality of Global Learning: Reflections from a Recent AAC&U Conference. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from