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School strengthens its global perspective

August 21, 2006

by Kerry Hill
Communications Coordinator,
UW-Madison School of Education

We live in a world that’s becoming increasingly interconnected, notes Ken Zeichner, the Hoefs-Bascom Professor of Teacher Education and the associate dean responsible for teacher and international education in the School of Education. “We want students coming out of here to have the broad perspective of global citizens – not just in the economic sense, but across all aspects of life.”

Zeichner has been working with faculty and staff on a new effort to boost the School’s international programming, starting with the addition of a global perspectives component to the liberal studies requirements for students in all School of Education programs, from teacher certification to art and kinesiology. This push is designed with an eye toward the campus-wide strategic goal of internationalization and to more closely link the School with UW-Madison’s Division of International Studies and other global efforts on campus.

International concerns are not new for the School of Education. Since the mid 1980s, the School’s international student-teaching program has allowed 111 teacher-education majors to complete a portion of their student teaching abroad. Current sites include Windhoek, Namibia; Cuenca, Ecuador; Newcastle, Sydney, and Townsville, Australia; Wellington, New Zealand; London, United Kingdom; and Toulouse, France.

Also, several faculty and staff members – including several scholars from other countries – have been engaged in research and collaborative projects of an international nature. Since the mid 1990s, for instance, Zeichner has consulted on teacher-education reform with the Ministry of Education in Namibia in southern Africa. The School also has formal agreements with several non-U.S. universities – including Umea University in Sweden, University of Melbourne in Australia, and the London Institute of Education in the United Kingdom – that have engaged faculty and graduate students.

The latest focus aims at helping all the School’s undergraduate students develop into “global citizens,” which is defined as individuals who:

  • Are aware of the world and have a sense of their own role as world citizens.
  • Respect and value diversity.
  • Have a critical understanding of how the world works economically, politically, socially, culturally, technologically, and environmentally.
  • Are outraged by social injustice.
  • Are sensitive to and willing to defend the human rights of all inhabitants on the planet.
  • Are willing to act and are capable of helping to make the world a more sustainable and just place.
  • Take responsibility for their actions.

According to Zeichner, the School aims to promote this in part through changes in its liberal studies requirements – general education classes that undergraduates complete during their first two years of university study. “During the next academic year, we will compile a list of courses across campus that will meet the global perspectives requirement for students.” Beginning in the fall of 2007, each student will be required to take at least one course from this list.

Zeichner describes the emphasis on global citizenship as a broadening of the School’s multicultural education efforts beyond the domestic context. “Although we have had an ethnic studies requirement at the University for a number of years and additional multicultural education requirements in our professional-education courses, these requirements have not necessarily ensured that prospective teachers and other undergraduates have had courses that will help them develop into global citizens.”

He acknowledges that the initial change – a single three-credit course – seems modest, but sees it as “a lever for further change.”

He explains: “The strategy here is to engage in a targeted intervention that it is hoped will have a much broader impact than appears to be the case on the surface. It is my expectation that the introduction of the global perspectives requirement alone though will lead to increased study-abroad participation by teacher-education majors.”

He adds, “Once the global perspectives requirement is in place, we plan to develop an optional global perspectives core within the liberal studies requirements where students would meet their 40 credits of liberal studies courses in the humanities, science, social studies, etc. largely through courses included on the global perspectives list.”

Research opportunity

While promoting increased global perspectives, Zeichner sounds a note of caution: “Currently there is a lot of talk around the world about the desirability of internationalizing teacher-education programs, but there are little data on the effects of these efforts from systematic research.”

He views the addition of the global perspectives requirement as an opportunity to study the impact of internationalizing teacher education and has secured a $23,000 grant from the Longview Foundation to help fund some of the research.

“We will examine the impact of the global perspectives requirement on course-taking patterns of students, on their perspectives, their infusion of global perspectives into their teaching during student teaching, and their participation in study-abroad experiences,” he says.

The research will involve surveys, observations, and interviews to assess global consciousness and to measure the extent to which student teachers, at both the elementary and secondary levels, infuse global perspectives into their teaching – before and after the requirement takes effect.

The research itself involves international collaboration, Zeichner notes. “In developing the survey to assess student teachers’ global perspectives, I am working with an international consortium of researchers from the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom, led by Professor Luanna Meyer of the University of Victoria in New Zealand. We are working as a group to develop the survey and will use it in teacher-education programs in all of these countries to assess the efficacy of various internationalization strategies in teacher education.”

The study potentially could have an effect beyond UW-Madison, says Zeichner, who plans to share the findings widely. “We hope that our project will have an impact on teacher-education programs throughout the world,” he says. “If we can have a broad impact on teacher-education programs, this will eventually impact schools.”

Profound impact

Simply because a program is international doesn’t necessarily make it good, according to Zeichner; how it is done is important. Student teachers who go abroad are placed in structured programs that are coordinated with UW-Madison, he notes.

Those who have participated in these educator-immersion programs have found it to be a powerful way to develop their cultural competence in teaching. They usually experience a shift in their world views.

For example, Kate Jorgensen was profoundly affected by her four-month student-teaching assignment in 2002 in Windhoek, Namibia. While living in a wealthy neighborhood with an Afrikaans family, she worked in a “peripheral” part of the city, teaching history/geography, science, HIV/AIDS awareness, investigative science, life skills and mathematics in the fourth, sixth and seventh grades.

“The two biggest challenges I faced were corporal punishment and cultural relativity,” Jorgensen says, adding “all the rest seemed more like ‘adjustment’ issues.”

Although officially forbidden, corporal punishment is sometimes used in Namibian schools, and expected by students, teachers, parents and community members, Jorgensen says. “Eventually, we found ways to engage each other without physical reinforcement.”

She also struggled with cultural relativity: “Was I supposed to impose Western/American values and ideals on Namibian children? Was it my place to think I could take over these classrooms and ‘change’ the students and eliminate corporal punishment? How do I convince people I am not a paternalistic/patronizing American woman? Am I that? And of course, all these questions allowed me to discover that the true challenges I faced were within.”

In many other respects, she found teaching in Madison and Namibia quite similar, although she missed the administrative support available in Madison.

Jorgensen was surprised to discover her own inner strength: “My experience in Namibia taught me to be sure of who I am as a teacher, woman, friend, humanitarian and advocate. My experience gave me a global perspective on education, values, politics, HIV, and life. I was also surprised that I cared so much about the people I was working with and for.”

Her student-teaching experience inspired her to enlist in the Peace Corps, where she worked as a teacher trainer in a rural village in Gambia. She also has invested more time in promoting community and educational events in low-income areas in Madison. “I learned that global education is important for world peace and understanding. And I have reminded myself of why I want to be a teacher.”

She currently works as a cross-categorical teacher at Madison’s Work and Learn Center, an alternative high school for at-risk juniors and seniors and those who do not excel in the regular high school setting. She wants to get a master’s degree pertaining to international/global education and travel and teach abroad again. “I would like to start my own school for teenage girls to focus on developing life skills and decision-making.”

World classrooms

Zeichner also hopes that the momentum generated by the latest focus on international education will spur the development of short courses in which UW-Madison faculty take their classes to other countries. Two such classes – in art and kinesiology – were offered this summer.

Li Li Ji, professor and chair of the Department of Kinesiology, earned his physical education degree 30 years ago from one of China’s oldest and most prestigious teachers colleges, East China Normal University. Since coming to UW-Madison, where he did his graduate work and later joined the faculty, Ji has maintained scientific and educational contacts with China. In June, he taught a UW-Madison class on “Physical Education and Sports in China” – his first effort to take a course to the world’s most populous nation.

“Kinesiology majors and graduate students are facing challenges of globalization like other professions,” explains Ji. “The course gave our students a wide spectrum of exposure to how physical activity is incorporated into China’s culture, health system, schools and ordinary people’s lives.”

After a preparatory session on campus, Ji led the class to China for two weeks of site visits to such places as the Shanghai and Tianjin Institutes of Physical Education. The course introduced students – which included three kinesiology graduate students, three Wisconsin teachers, and an assistant professor of theatre and drama – to traditional Chinese physical activities, contemporary physical education systems, scientific research, and sports medicine in China.

During the first day in Shanghai, the group mingled with local folks in a community park where hundreds of retired people gather each morning to perform traditional Chinese sports such as taichi and sword dance. They learned how to use a “taichi ball,” a new fitness device that has gained popularity. The group later observed a high school physical education class engaging in wushu, a traditional Chinese sport.

At the University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Tianjin, the students observed “Tui Na” a traditional Chinese massage to treat injury and muscle disorders and participated in a Chinese acupuncture class. One student, who was suffering in the 90-degree heat, reported feeling much better after an on-site acupuncture treatment.

Since China will host the 2008 Olympic Games, the class paid much attention to preparation for the event and the preparation of competitive Chinese athletes. The students visited the site of the main stadium in Beijing and Shanghai’s Athletic Training Center. They met the Chinese national ping-pong team and observed volleyball, swimming and synchronized swimming team practice. At the Chinese national judo training base near Tianjin, the students challenged team members – 12- to 13-year-old girls – but could barely stay on their feet for more than a minute.

The UW-Madison group received warm welcomes everywhere they visited, Ji says. The electronic billboard at the front gate of a Shanghai high school greeted the group with “Welcome, University of Wisconsin-Madison study delegation!” They also were treated to special banquets. “Food is awesome,” says Brent Johnson, a sport psychology graduate student, “Every day is a feast.”

The group also climbed the Great Wall and toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. “It was definitely a worthy course,” Ji says. “I am looking forward to offering it again next year”.

Young artists seeking to develop their own creative voices crave inspiration. As so many have done for centuries, 13 UW-Madison art students this summer turned to such Renaissance masters as Michelangelo Buonarroti. But instead of pursuing their muse from books, photographs, and websites, they spent three weeks immersed in the visual art and culture of Florence – in a research/studio class taught by UW-Madison art professor Carol Pylant and hosted by the Santa Reparata International School of Art.

Their fieldwork – to study classic art and inspire their own creations – took them to museums, palaces, and cathedrals throughout the Italian city, including the Galleria degli Uffizi, Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo, Pallazo Vecchio, the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, San Marco Convent, Santa Croce Church, San Lorenzo, Santa Maria Novella, Brancacci Chapel, Boboli Gardens, and the Piazzale Michelangelo.

They sketched and researched the history of specific works of art. They then applied what they had learned by creating their own art works in an Italian studio.

“We had a wonderful four weeks together,” Pylant reports. “Everyday presented new and different opportunities to interact with the Italian people and observe the culture. The students produced excellent work and seemed truly inspired. For me it was the most challenging and most rewarding teaching experience of my life.”

The class attended an opening by Romano Morando, a respected senior Italian painter. Moranda invited the group to join him and his friends after the opening reception for a buffet dinner at his studio.

“His studio, which was housed in a beautiful 16th century building, was packed floor to ceiling with his paintings, books and personal art collection,” Pylant recalls. “The buffet dinner featured an abundance of Italian specialties including a delicious Tuscan bean and bread stew. The artist was extremely generous with the students, showing them more of his work, answering their questions and freely discussing his painting technique and ideas.”

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