Teaching global citizenship in different subjects
Yesterday I was invited to do a session on exploring global citizenship with colleagues from across the faculty of Technology, Design, and Environment. Since the faculty offers courses ranging from Law and Filmmaking to Architecture and Fine Art, it was not surprising to hear that people from different departments have a different relationship to teaching for global or active citizenship. Whilst for some, it is almost integral to their subject-matter, for others, it is something that they never spent much time engaging with.
As I wrote in an earlier post, Oxford Brookes University is committed to supporting the development of five graduate attributes across all subjects - one of which is global / active citizenship. In previous conversations with staff, I noticed that not everyone has been keen on engaging with what they felt to be another framework imposed on their teaching. Therefore, I decided to start my session off by asking the question: What are your hopes for your students? What do you hope they will gain from your teaching? It turned out that people’s responses mirrored much of what was spelled out in the graduate attribute: flexibility, collaboration skills, cross-cultural communication skills, critical thinking, the capacity to relate to the challenges of our time, to find a meaningful way to contribute to society, to be inspired, to find viable ways of living on the planet.
When we then looked at the university’s definitions together, an interesting discussion arose. Is teaching for global citizenship something we do anyway, because we bring related values into class, or is it something that requires particular activities or a special focus? Depending on their subject, people have different takes on this question.
In Architecture, for example, small groups of students work in a studio setting. They do projects in the local community and they go on a field trip to Brazil. A perfect situation for learning skills associated with active citizenship, which is therefore central in the curriculum! Someone else shared that it was easier to enable students to learn the social, problem-solving skills required to function in today’s world when she was still working groups of about 10 students. However, her course has been very successful, with the result that she now teaches up to 100 students at a time, some of whom are distant-learners. Her question – how the same quality of teaching can be maintained if your main focus is on managing the crowd, and if you see some of your students only once a year – was echoed by others.
Despite there being different points of view as to how one can meaningfully teach for global or active citizenship across different subjects, most people present at the session agreed that much more would be possible if appropriate resources were available. These could include financial means allowing for more personal contact with students or for field trips. Also, an online resource with practical ideas for teaching for active citizenship in small, large, and distance-learning groups would be useful. Finally, people mentioned that they appreciated the space this session offered them for having a dialogue with colleagues from other subjects and departments – a space that embodies something of the spirit of global or active citizenship, because it allows for crossing disciplinary boundaries and establishing a meaningful dialogue between people who wouldn’t talk to each other on a day-to-day basis.
Since I started this project, one of the aspects I’ve valued most is the contact with people from other pockets of the university. It is inspiring to find that some of the most thought-provoking exchanges can happen with colleagues from different backgrounds. Many thanks to Laura Novo de Azevedo for creating the SPARK platform, which made this conversation possible!