We’re proud that over 40% of our undergraduates study abroad, and that our education abroad population largely mirrors the overall demographic and socio-economic diversity of our New York campuses. But a truly global education cannot rely on mobility, which remains out of reach for many students—and for a variety of complex reasons. As a Vincentian university, then, we must find other ways to connect students with viewpoints and perspectives from throughout the world that they might not otherwise encounter.
The St. John’s Global Online Learning Exchange (GOLE) program is one way that we expand the range of global engagement options available to our students. Modeled after similar virtual exchange programs developed by the State University of New York and DePaul University, among many others, GOLE brings faculty and students together in cross-cultural learning experiences with counterparts at international partner universities.
GOLE is an innovative, active-learning approach that directly aligns with two of St. John’s strategic priorities, to “ensure student success” and to “expand global and community partnerships,” by integrating a high-impact educational practice—global learning—into participating classes. Through GOLE, students on both sides of the exchange explore cultures and ways of thinking and learning that are different from their own, while benefiting from unique ways to connect with course content.
The exchange is conducted as part of a class and can take the form of a project, activity, or full-semester collaboration aimed at increasing both traditional course content and intercultural competency. Classroom-based and student-to-student interactions are conducted using technology that best suits the needs of the exchange, such as Blackboard, Cisco Webex, various Google tools, WhatsApp, and others.
Faculty members interested in leading a GOLE project will have the tools needed to create meaningful academic experiences. Typically, participating faculty first complete a two-week online training program, then develop a proposal describing planned activities. And while many may already have a colleague abroad who would make an ideal GOLE partner, a preexisting collaboration is not a requirement. We can work with you to facilitate connections to a partner.
Though COVID may require us to re-think how best to support new projects, traditionally, the University has supported selected projects with up to $2,500 in funding for travel to the international faculty partner (or conversely, to bring that scholar to New York) during the course development stage.
For more information on GOLE, please review the Center for Teaching & Learning’s GOLE website, or feel free to contact Zoe Petropoulou, PhD, Associate Professor and Assistant Provost for Global Initiatives, or Matthew Pucciarelli, PhD, Associate Provost of Global Programs.
In fall 2019, I implemented my GOLE project in one graduate level course in the School of Education focusing on designing and integrating learning technologies in classrooms.
After a year-long planning period, my GOLE project was designed around the theme of cross-cultural instructional design with learning technologies. Pre-service teachers at St. John’s University worked collaboratively with partners at East China Normal University in Shanghai, China, on a 10-week-long instructional design project.Each team consisted of approximately two St. John’s graduate students and four or five graduate students from the international partner university. The main task for the virtual teams was to design and develop an interdisciplinary unit for middle school students in two metropolitan cities in both countries, by researching and creating lesson plans that would employ particular technological applications in classroom teaching. The project guidelines required virtual team members to work as communities of practice to design an interdisciplinary unit for middle school students in both countries while simultaneously learning to use various online web- based and mobile-supported technologies in order to collaborate effectively. Students cultivated their cross-cultural competencies throughout the course. Many team members became great life friends after the project.
Being a course-based international exchange that does not require student travel, GOLE project allows St. John’s students who cannot study abroad or travel due to financial and other challenges. This virtual exchange experience became more valuable in the global COVID-19 situation where travel and health concerns rise worldwide. Without traveling to different international places, St. John’s students can collaborate and learn with their peers from around the world.
After a year of preparation, I kicked off my first GOLE projects in fall 2019 and spring 2020. This initiative is not just a peripheral project for a language and culture class. It is well connected with the University’s strategic priority to promote international education through global attitudes, knowledge, and intercultural skills. My French colleague was a professor at the University of Nantes in France, and we worked together to connect students studying French in New York with their peers studying Sociology and English. Over two months, we used course-embedded synchronous and asynchronous sessions to bring students together in groups, then had them work independently in small groups for half-hour sessions in the “target” language (French or English, depending) that totaled four to six hours per semester. Over the course of the meetings, faculty and students created a community through well-structured interactions and real-life experiences across the Atlantic. The overall project aimed to create an immersion experience through which students improved their language skills, cultural insights, and knowledge as they engaged their interests.
With physical mobility severely restricted by COVID-19, virtual exchange collaborations like GOLE have blossomed, quickly becoming one of the central modes of expanding international education at universities around the world.