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Business Officer Magazine
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Cost-Effective Connections to the Global Community

Spotlight: Comprehensive and Doctoral Institutions, from "Business Briefs" department in January 2010 issue of Business Officer

By Rosina C. Chia and Elmer Poe

With all the talk about young people needing to be prepared for regional and cultural differences in an increasingly connected world, only about 262,000 American college and university students participated in study abroad programs in the 2007–08 academic year. That number, from the “Open Doors 2009” report of the Institute of International Education, represents a fraction of the approximately 18 million students the Department of Education notes as attending degree-granting institutions in 2007. Clearly, there is an urgent need to provide an international experience for the majority of students who don't have the opportunity for overseas study.

In response, we developed the Global Understanding project at East Carolina University (ECU), the third-largest state university within the University of North Carolina system. This effort provides a growing number of ECU's 28,000 students with essential international experiences without ever leaving the Greenville campus.

Bringing the World to ECU

Using inexpensive and relatively unsophisticated technology—a low-bandwidth video link and an e-mail chat function—we connect East Carolina students with 28 foreign institutions in 22 countries across 5 continents. We offered our first Global Understanding course in fall 2004, and within five years the project expanded to include eight course sections. Some classes are developed in lecture format and others are framed as study modules that include a one-hour lecture, a collaborative research project, and jointly taught courses.

Shared courses are typically based on the cooperation of professors in two countries agreeing on content, level, and other details. We provide faculty training workshops each semester to help faculty incorporate global components into their courses. One full-time administrator and a team of student workers provide additional program support.

We modify existing courses that are normally taught in the various curricula. Therefore, there is no additional cost for faculty salary or classroom space. We do incur expenses for student technical support. Our overseas partners have similar costs.

The East Carolina model for bringing international insight to our students is distinctive in that it links each participating class with partners at several foreign universities, exposing students to multiple points of view. Its low-cost, low-tech approach has allowed the university to build relationships with institutions in less-well-off countries, such as Pakistan and Namibia, and to sustain such interactions even as budget constraints have forced many institutions to curtail overseas and out-of-state travel.

Recognized Progress

In 2008 the Global Understanding project received an Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education (given by the Institute of International Education)—and the 2009 Nikolai Khaladjan International Award (as part of the American Association of University Administrators' award programs).

Formal assessment has been part of the project since the beginning, and the data consistently shows that participating in the course provides transformative experiences that shape the outlook of students toward persons from other cultures. As one student says, “The Global Understanding program has influenced my academic and professional life far beyond any other student experiences I've had here. It has caused me to be more globally minded, empathetic, and knowledgeable about our diverse and deeply connected world. ... I am inspired on a daily basis as I witness students at ECU building lasting friendships with their peers all over the globe and becoming not just citizens of this great community and state, but more importantly, citizens of the world.”

To maintain the momentum of the Global Understanding project, East Carolina University continues to explore new ways to provide technology-based transformative international experiences for students unable to study abroad. With all these efforts flourishing, ECU is rapidly achieving its goal of preparing the majority of its students to be “global ready” when they graduate.

SUBMITTED BY Rosina C. Chia, assistant vice chancellor for academic initiatives, and Elmer Poe, associate vice chancellor for academic outreach, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina