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Teaching Global Citizenship

Ross Priory, Scotland.
The next speakers here at ICE 3 are Leah Macfadyen and Anne Hewling, presenting on their experiences with a University of British Columbia online course in global citizenship, which they developed from scratch. Aims of the course were for students to develop an understanding of the concept of global citizenship, as well as ultimately to consider the impact they might have as global citizens within local, national, and international communities. Students within this (elective) course come from a very brad range of disciplinary backgrounds (and in fact also from the universities of Hong Kong and Melbourne, who were remote partners in the project).

Student feedback was very positive overall - students felt that the course was a very different and meaningful experience, and that it did change the way they thought about and acted in the world. But what was it about the learning environments used that did produce such responses? Leah and Anne have analysed the data emerging from the online student interactions, and a number of major themes have emerged from this. One such theme was the expression of shock or surprise by students - moments of cognitive dissonance - who apparently felt that their world-view had been significantly challenged by the ideas encountered in the course (but there is also some surprise here on the part of Leah and Anne that students did come so unprepared to the course that these ideas could shock them).

A second theme related to reflection: students frequently noted the role which (public and private) reflection played in the course, in addition to 'mere' learning. Students turned out to be very prepared to expose themselves - to put online some very raw emotions in response to the material they encountered. This was built into the the course requirements, but it was surprising how readily students responded to this. Further, this also led to a kind of peer-based counselling - students who had exposed their raw thoughts in this way were then also able to support others in doing so. The absence of visual cues in the online environment may also have proved an enabling factor here.

A third theme centred around disembodiment in online spaces - some students noted the absence of some of the standard elements of offline classrooms, while simultaneously highlighting the specific features of online spaces which could also enable other forms of participation. Indeed, in student descriptions of the process there was a great deal of bodily metaphors (from 'different voices' to 'hearing from others' to 'digesting ideas'). Leah links this to Marshall McLuhan's ideas around media as the extensions of human experience, and as in the process turning opaque some things which were lucid, and clearing up others which previously had been opaque: providing a different view on commonplace concepts.

The experience in this course should therefore most likely be described as a process of transformative learning (following Mezirow's work) - in such learning, disorienting dilemmas serve as triggers provoking perspective change, and new frameworks and ideas are integrated into the self and lead to new identities and new behaviours. Critical and crucial elements of this learning and teaching context appear to include the involvement of multinational and multicultural perspectives which trigger cognitive dissonance; the utilisation of harsh raw knowledge which cannot be compartmentalised as 'academic' content, but directly impacts on students' daily lives; and the involvement of students as a 'forced' community that must negotiate itself to sustain itself as a cultural context.

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