Harvard Dialogues on Global Education

Defining and assessing global competence in teaching and learning

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by Dana Mortenson
Executive Director
World Savvy

In the last decade, global education has received renewed focus, study and support as the world around us changes rapidly and we usher in a new era of global cooperation, collaboration and interdependence.  We've achieved much broader consensus around the need for a more globally competent society, to confront the challenges of the 21st century more effectively - although how this should be done is still a subject of heated debate.  A variety of frameworks in education have been offered as the solution, and in the field of global education, as Fernando pointed out in his blog, the efficacy of integration versus specialized instruction is a point of contention among practitioners in the field.  However, before debating the merits of approach, more attention must be paid to defining and assessing global competence in teaching and learning. This remains an underdeveloped area of this growing field, and is crucial if we are to truly understand the implications of reforming our education system and 'globalizing' teaching and learning.

There has been notable progress on this front, including Oxfam's  Global Citizenship curriculum framework, CCSSO and the Asia Society's matrix for  global competence and though framed differently, National Geographic's definition and case for geo-literacy strikes similar chords with the rest of the field in identifying what students need to be prepared for success in the 21st century. When I step back to consider what these frameworks specifically and global education generally seeks to accomplish, it is simple: to prepare students for a changing world. Most in the field do agree that our 20th century framework for teaching and learning do not accomplish this need to teach students in this century how to think, rather than what to think, and that a reliance on rote memorization works against these aims.

At World Savvy, we've helped to develop more globally competent teachers and learners through integrated, interdisciplinary programs--youth engagement in arts, media and project based learning, and professional development which builds educators' capacity to embed global competency into teaching.  This approach is focused on creating a global lens for all teaching and learning which illuminates the connections between issues, events and people, locally and globally, and promotes informed, positive action.  We've experimented with many approaches to gauge impact, and to more fully understand the complexities of assessing global competence (see evaluation consultant Tom Shaw's blog on World Savvy's website)To this end in 2010, we adopted a Developmental Evaluation model, which allows us to operate in this complex space and navigate, sort out and adapt effective principles in this realm, allowing us to understand the range of contexts within which teaching and learning for global competence takes place.  When our organization took on the task of defining global competence and developing an instrument to assess it among our students, we turned to our teachers, students and staff to understand the components of this dynamic concept, and settled on the following framework:

- Complexities and interdependency of world events and issues
- Geography, conditions, issues and events
- Historical forces that have shaped the current world system
- One's own culture and history in relationship to others

- Research
- Communication and collaboration
- Coping and resiliency
- Critical and comparative thinking
- Creative thinking and problem solving

Values and Attitudes:
- Openness to new opportunities, ideas and ways of thinking
- Self awareness about identity and culture, and sensitivity and respect for differences
- Empathy and valuing multiple perspectives
- Comfort with ambiguity and unfamiliar situations

- Seek out multiple opinions and perspectives
- Form opinions based on exploration and evidence
- Taking informed action on issues that matter to you
- Sharing knowledge and encouraging discourse

To assess students' development of global competency as defined above, we created an instrument that evaluates, in a variety of ways, an individual's willingness to explore how the world works, rather than their specific knowledge of how it functions; interest in other cultures, rather than their specific knowledge of those cultures; desire to take a stand on global issues, rather than specific knowledge of the issues, and so on.  We are interested in evaluating our students' "readiness" to participate in a complex, interconnected world.  This is not intended to diminish the value and importance of specific knowledge about global issues, which is critical; but what we've found in programs is that what is done with the knowledge acquired is even more critical--how it impacts dispositions and ways of seeing and thinking about the world and interacting with it. The instrument is meant to assess that dynamic space, to understand what takes a student from being 'globally aware' or knowledgeable to 'globally competent'.

1 Comment

A measurement instrument in global competency is an exciting and immensely important contribution!

I find your instrument, as you describe it, to be fascinating, in that it evaluates dispositions ("willingness to explore how the world works... interest in other cultures... desire to take a stand") rather than a particular domain of content knowledge.

I don't disagree with the importance of these dispositions, and believe that ignoring dispositions in favor of cognitive measurements has been a shortcoming of research in this field in the past. However, I am interested in your thoughts on why a cognitive piece is left out of the measurement completely. From an analytic standpoint, you will not be able to measure whether, and to what extent, certain domain knowledge is related to global competency. I'm very curious to hear more about what you left out of the instrument and why. And in general, I'm interested in hearing from others whether there are grounds to think that there are cognitive elements that one must know in order to be globally competent. Thanks!