One of my responsibilities at the University of California, Davis, is to develop ways to engage students in “global learning.” Global Learning is a concept that may seem intuitive, and what might come to mind is “study abroad.” While study abroad may be a means of helping students to engage in global learning, it is far from the only approach.
Global Learning, as we define it at UC Davis, is a process of “helping students develop their capacity to be informed, open-minded, and responsible people, who are responsive to diverse perspectives. Global learning prepares us to address the world’s most pressing issues collaboratively, equitably, and sustainably. Global learning helps students understand that pressing issues must be faced in an interdisciplinary way given the complexity of environments and competing needs and interests.”
Teasing that out a bit it includes
- helping students appreciate diverse perspectives;
- preparing students to participate in addressing global challenges; and
- helping them problem-solve in interdisciplinary ways with an appreciation of the complexity of environments in which they develop solutions.
As you can see, global learning involves building intercultural learning skills and reflection processes and preparing them to solve global challenges.
Our global learning goals for students are:
- Global Awareness – Students examine actions and relationships that influence global systems from multiple perspectives, analyzing how complex systems impact self and others.
- Global Diversity – Students explore complex dimensions of diversity, equity, and inclusion around the world, including language, culture, and identity.
- Global Action – Students create strategies to apply knowledge, skills, and abilities to collaboratively and equitably foster global well-being and resilience.
A useful way to introduce students to global challenges and global actions is through the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The 17 goals are a concise summary of responses that communities and nations can take to create a more sustainable world. The SDGs are attractive to students because they can connect their interests, majors, and research and internship interests to them and feel connected to efforts that are “bigger” than themselves.
As educators, one challenge is to help connect students to the reality that the SDGs are not merely problems “out there” somewhere in the world but are relevant to their local communities–here in Davis and at home, wherever home might be.
Another challenge is to help students not approach the SDGs as technical problems to be solved via narrow disciplinary approaches. Further, we want them to consider the full historical and social environment in which they develop and offer solutions.
This means that they must contend with historical forces of exclusion, local power dynamics, questions of equity, and the role of policies shaping people’s ability to benefit from the solutions they offer.
All of this is a pretty big task, but it is possible by sharing real-world examples to students–case studies.
So, here is my “ask” of you. I want to collect case studies of real-world problem solving around the SDGs (broadly) in a local context you know or about which you have heard. Here are the criteria:
Case studies should
- be about addressing one or more global challenges as articulated by the SDGs;
- offer a solution or solutions–ideally arrived at through interdisciplinary problem-solving; and
- demonstrate a complex social or historical context that affects the solution’s effects on people, how it is targeted, or how people respond to it.
Here is an example from a recent graduate student (simplified):
An engineer seeks solutions to the problem of small community wells drying up in the Central Valley of California. An answer she considers involves diverting seasonal rainwater to locations that will promote recharge. In the process of her research, she discovers that the communities most affected are non-native language speakers–farmworkers primarily. Further analysis shows that wealthy landowners control the fields over which the water must flow to recharge the ground. Finally, she learns that these same communities have been, by policy, excluded from obtaining sustainable water supplies by connecting to nearby municipal water systems.
Notice that this case study does not require proof that the solution will work, but it addresses the sixth UN SDG: Clean Water and Sanitation. Notice also that there is both a social and historical context that affects the solution. The setting determines whether it is feasible, and history demonstrates why other solutions have not worked. Finally, it brings in social science as well as engineering tools to offer a targeted solution.
So, my request to you is to get creative and provide me with some ideas. I can work with them and develop them further as case studies for use in classes and trainings I will conduct this fall and beyond.
I look forward to hearing your ideas!