Q&A: Exploring the Global Classrooms student experience

May 04, 2022


The Global Classrooms Initiative, launched by the Division of Global Engagement in 2020, endeavors to increase opportunity and access to global learning as outlined in our Strategic Plan for Internationalization through supporting faculty in the addition of a Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) component to courses. This pedagogical approach leverages online learning technologies and project-based learning to incorporate international experiences for students in the classroom.

In an effort to explore the impact Global Classrooms might have on a student’s personal and academic growth, two students were interviewed. Paulina Gonzalez, fourth-year legal studies and sociology, and Michael Proestos, fourth-year politics, participated in POLI 190U - Global Health Problems and Political-Ecology Responses, a Global Classroom taught by Professor of Politics Matt Sparke and Coordinator of the Right Livelihood College at UC Santa Cruz David Shaw, in collaboration with Professor of Social Work, Swati Banerjee of the Tata Institute of Social Studies (TISS) in India.

How was this classroom experience, the collaboration with students in India, different from traditional classes, and how did that experience impact your learning?

Paulina: I really enjoyed the collaborative efforts of the class. I usually only work alongside students who are located in Santa Cruz. So the opportunity to work with Indian students was very unique in the sense that we are exposed to information that can only be experienced through human interaction and talking to one another. It was interesting to see how the Indian perspective, ideas about what was important, and how they viewed things, was different from the Western perspective.

I also enjoyed hearing from students who are our age but from a different country. Learning about their academic experience and what they do for fun was enlightening. I believe this is very valuable and it taught me to be mindful of people's backgrounds and their own perspectives. It really fostered respect between us and the Indian students we worked with.

Additionally, Professor Spark and David created a very supportive classroom environment, allowing us to collaborate and work together with our Indian counterparts. It didn't feel as if they were simply leading the class. It was a very inclusive environment where everyone could share and collaborate.

I would also say it was unique from traditional classes in that we were able to interact with one another due to advancements in technology. We were so fortunate to be able to experience an exchange course in this way. Before the Global Classrooms Initiative, it wouldn't be easy to collaborate with students across the globe unless you traveled there.

Michael: It was such a revolutionary kind of unique experience for me, and it kind of spoiled the rest of my learning experience. I became aware that other ways of pedagogical thinking exist beyond the standard.

The foundation on which the class was taught was global citizenship, as opposed to global entrepreneurship that a lot of fields and traditional classrooms tend to focus on as well as, as my former professors Matthew Spark and David Shaw put it, emphasizing responsibility to your community. We understood that as “response-ability” that encourages us to use our knowledge and experiences to respond to the needs of a given community. That was the foundational element in all of our learning from day one.

So, when you look at the rise of the tech world and international sales and finance jobs and you compare this with your average class that is tailored towards training students to enter those workforces, you'll find the two experiences couldn’t really be more different.

The structure of this class was designed to encourage outside of the norm perspectives with a radical emphasis on global communities, both in the macro and micro sense of the term, which emphasizes the importance of allowing voices to be heard that, historically, we haven't had any interest in listening to. Students in my class, both American and Indian, took that message to heart. We used it as our guiding light, our North Star, in navigating the course and completing our video projects. 

Were there any revelations, takeaways, or changes to your perspective academically or professionally?

Paulina: I think going forward, the idea of communicating and connecting with people is something that I'll carry with me. It was such a unique experience, working in different time zones and across countries. Also, we had to coordinate meetings and learn to be open to what each person was saying. I found the improvement in communication and collaborative efforts, in general, to be very valuable. The world is much more than just the United States. There are other countries with other, valuable perspectives. Our perspective isn't always the right one. Often there isn’t only one correct perspective. This understanding is tied to global responsibility in global health.

I also learned that although this was one small project, it is small actions that lead to bigger actions. We created a video that explains the inequalities in both the United States and India. And although it's just a video project, it could lead to something in the future where all of us, you know, take some sort of effort in alleviating issues of poverty, inequalities, and access to healthcare.

Lastly, I would say that this collaborative Global Classroom created a sense of inclusion and vulnerability in our conversations. We were discussing with students our own experiences, and they were sharing their own experiences. There were often no right or wrong answers. We were able to freely share our opinions and our thoughts in an inclusive space without fear of being dismissed.

Michael: The big revelation was both a liberation, and a bit of a burden in learning the human design-centered approach to teaching and formulating solutions and realizing the full potentiality and scope of what we were researching, developing, and hypothesizing. It kind of became clear to us that we weren't, in a sense, developing our vision for the world, but trying our best and letting our knowledge and capabilities be informed through understanding. So the biggest takeaway for me in this course was kind of just that kind of switch in my brain.

Do you think a course model like this could be successfully replicated for different fields, majors, or course topics?

Paulina: I definitely feel it's valuable in different majors. We have a new health major that's on the way. What if we focused on different areas with different diseases, met with students who are in Africa studying how it affects their community? There is value to having this model replicated in legal studies, which is my other major, discussing the legal system from different global perspectives and exploring inequalities that are prevalent throughout the world. 

This format might also be beneficial for psychology and other research-based classes. Rather than virtually looking up articles and whatnot, you can directly hear from people in these different countries, like obviously with research. That would bring a very personal perspective to the class, something you cannot gain by simply reading papers and articles. This would provide a personal sense of knowledge that can't be replicated. 

I think the U.S. tends to sometimes have a savior complex. This type of classroom collaboration gets rid of that and shows us that we all have something to learn, to gain. So I believe that moving forward, there can be more classes offered like this and I think it'd be really valuable and insightful. And, I know a lot of my peers also really enjoyed this. It was something we would never be able to participate in if it wasn't for Global Classrooms.

Michael: Obviously a field like social science, political science, or sociology is a fantastic experimental ground for this sort of course. I believe that it could and absolutely should be replicated for other fields, majors, and course topics, because, the elements of exchange of thoughts and ideas, as well as the global collaborative nature of the course, are elements that I can imagine revitalizing academia across the board. 

Too many students become jaded towards the whole education process in that they see it as a means of training themselves as a worker and getting a job, not really as a place for higher learning, critical thought, or exploration of ideas. I believe this course has reignited those sparks in me in a way that a more traditional kind of coursework wasn’t able to. 

This course, through our collaboration with students in India, really reminded me that our communities, though we have some differences in culture or language, are really not all that different from each other. We're all just people trying our best to live a good life and we strive to give our local community, the people that we love, our family and friends around us, a good life as well. And I think that that kind of unifying force, you know, and just being reminded of that alone made the whole experience worth it for me.

Learn more at the Global Classrooms webpage, and stay tuned there for details of a new call for applications to be announced in late fall 2022.