Internationalization in Action: Internationalizing the Curriculum, Part 1 - Individual Courses


By Robin Matross Helms, Senior Research Specialist at ACE, and Malika Tukibayeva, Graduate Research Associate at ACE

Student mobility – both the outward flow of students studying abroad and the inward flow of international students – has typically been a cornerstone of institutional internationalization plans. Sending students to other countries and populating the home campus with students from abroad, it was assumed, facilitates cross-cultural interactions and experiences that build students' global understanding and competency.

However, given changing student demographics, economic challenges, consistently low study abroad rates, and an increasing imperative to ensure that all students are prepared to live and work in a globalized world, institutions are recognizing the need to deliver international competency via the core student learning experience: the on-campus curriculum.

While an internationalized curriculum will look different on different campuses based on institution type and mission, student population, availability of resources, and other factors, there are four "levels" of the curriculum that require attention in order to create a comprehensively internationalized student learning experience: individual courses, academic program components (majors, minors, and certificates), degree programs, and disciplines as a whole. 

This installment of Internationalization in Action focuses on the first of these levels (individual courses), and includes strategies, institutional models, expert advice, and other resources for institutions seeking to internationalize the curriculum "from the ground up." Subsequent installments of Internationalization in Action will tackle the other three levels of curriculum internationalization outlined above.

Read on to learn more!

Curriculum Internationalization by the Numbers

Data from ACE's Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses study indicate that curriculum internationalization is a priority for many colleges and universities. Overall, 55% of respondents to the 2011 survey reported that they have efforts underway to internationalize the curriculum, though as the chart below indicates, there was considerable variation by sector.

At some institutions, curriculum internationalization efforts are supported by designated institutional funding. In all sectors for which comparative data are available in the Mapping study, the percentage of institutions offering such funding has increased at least slightly since 2001, however the overall percentage remained unchanged between 2006 and 2011.

Level 1: Individual Courses

Internationalized courses are the building blocks of an internationalized curriculum. Globalized general education requirements, international minors and certificates, and other institution-wide curricular initiatives that ultimately create a coherent student learning experience first require a selection of internationalized courses from which to draw. While the overall impetus for curriculum internationalization may come from institutional leadership, parallel efforts are needed by faculty to build a globally-focused curriculum from the ground up, starting in their own classrooms. 

What Are the Elements of an Internationalized Course?

Just as internationalized courses are the building blocks of an internationalized curriculum, courses themselves are comprised of components – content, materials, activities, and student learning outcomes – all of which play a role in overall internationalization. Examples of internationalization in each of these areas include:


  • Cross-border, regional or global trends in the field
  • Different national historical, political, and cultural perspectives course material
  • Challenges for developing countries
  • Intercultural issues in professional practice
  • International and national laws, standards, and customs pertaining to professional practice in different national settings
  • Nuances of field-specific terminology in different linguistic and cultural contexts


  • Books and articles written by scholars from other countries
  • Texts that explicitly include an international perspective on subject matter (e.g. in the topics presented, through non-US-based examples, and as part of problem sets and other assignments)
  • Case studies that are set in non-US countries or explore international themes and challenges
  • Articles from international journals in the field and newspapers
  • Foreign films, television, and radio broadcasts
  • International and non-US-based websites
  • International datasets

In her Elementary Statistics and College Algebra and Pre-Calculus courses at St. Petersburg College, Professor Jacqueline Copland requires students to analyze data from the World Health Organization's [WHO] Global Health Observatory Data Repository.

Students select two countries that differ in terms of culture or development and make comparisons on variables related to their primary fields of study, such as health sciences, public policy, and environmental science. They are then required to interpret and apply the data to real-world questions

For example, a student comparing population growth per square mile and carbon dioxide emissions in China and Germany might be asked, "If you were an official in China/Germany, what evidence-based policy recommendations would you make based on this data?"

 Activities & Assignments

  • Guest lectures by scholars and practitioners with international background and experience – in person or virtually
  • Field trips to local offices of internationally-owned companies and other organizations engaged in international activities
  • Participation in campus and local events with an international component (e.g. talks by visiting faculty, museum exhibits, concerts, festivals, etc.)
  • Simulations, role-plays, and debates to approach issues from different cultural perspectives
  • Analysis and interpretation of media reports from other countries
  • Student presentations to a real or simulated international/cross-cultural audience
  • Analysis of internationally-collected data
  • Interviews with international students or professionals who have worked internationally
  • Journal writing/other self-reflective writing on global topics and cultural issues
  • Group projects or assignments involving teams comprised of both domestic and international students collaborating in-person or virtually

IUPUI's Global Voices Speakers Program (GVSP) "is a resource available to faculty members wishing to internationalize their course content. GVSP volunteers are international students who participate in in-class panel discussions or provide formal presentations on topics related to their home country and culture. Faculty can work together with GVSP volunteers to create an interactive inter-cultural experience for their students."

 Student Learning Outcomes

  • Discipline-specific knowledge and skills related to internationalized content presented throughout the course
  • Familiarity with specific other cultures, countries, and regions
  • Appreciation for the importance of culture and context in decision-making
  • Successful navigation of cultural and linguistic differences (e.g. in group projects)
  • Greater awareness of students' own cultural identity and place in the world

Developing effective course-specific student learning outcomes is both an art and a science. Faculty should consult campus teaching experts (e.g. in a center for teaching and learning) for guidance, but the following resources provide an overview:

Institutional Guidance and Resources for Course Internationalization

ACE/COIL Internationalization Through Technology Awards

Recognizing the importance and potential of technology in advancing internationalization of US campuses, ACE has strategically partnered with SUNY's Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) to create the Internationalization Through Technology award program. Through the generous support of Asahi Net International (ANI), this program will award and showcase institutions that have used technology in innovative ways to enhance their internationalization efforts and can demonstrate the impact this has had on global student learning. Institutions can be recognized in one of two categories:

  1. Leaders in Internationalization through Technology; or
  2. Advancing Internationalization through Collaborative Online International Learning.

For further information on this program, please click here.​

How Do You Know a Course is Really Internationalized?

Just as institutional internationalization ranges from a collection of uncoordinated international activities to strategic  comprehensive internationalization of the institution as a whole, there is a continuum for internationalization within individual courses.

Dr. Barbara Hill, director of ACE's Internationalization Laboratory program, defines four levels of course internationalization, which incorporate the elements described above to varying degrees:

While recognizing this continuum, some institutions have sought to create an official international course designation, often for the purposes of indicating which courses students may take to earn an internationally-focused certificate or fulfill a general education requirement (stay tuned for more on these topics in subsequent installments of Internationalization in Action). 

Such a designation means that institutions identify a specific threshold for internationalization in order to make a "yay" or "nay" decision about whether a course is internationalized. The criteria and process for obtaining such a designation vary by institution; typically faculty submit their syllabi to a review committee, which makes a decision about whether the course qualifies as international.  

International Course Designations

Advice from Up North: A Canadian Perspective on Course Internationalization

In her 2003 paper, Engaging Educators: Bringing the World into the Classroom: Guidelines for Practice, Canadian scholar Sheryl Bonds outlines three approaches to course internationalization:

  • The "add-on" approach: Adding a guest speaker or a reading on an international issue - the main body of the curriculum is untouched.
  • The "infusion" approach: Infusing intercultural knowledge, attitudes and skills throughout the course.  Requires more preparation, such as rethinking course goals to include intercultural issues or approaches, or selecting readings reflecting diverse points of view.
  • The "transformation" approach: Orienting the entire course to produce a shift in the way students understand the world - enables students to move between two or more worldviews.

Whichever approach is taken, Dr. Bonds recommends the following strategies for faculty to maximize the impact of the international elements of their courses:

  • Be explicit about the internationally-focused course goals with students.
  • Get to know students in the class, and refer to and draw on students' international and intercultural experiences. This can be accomplished through a handout asking students about themselves and their experiences in the beginning of the course.
  • Build trust and respect with students. Tell them about your own international and intercultural background and experiences and why you include international/intercultural objectives in your course. Draw on the experiences of international students, but do not single them out or see them as "different."
What Does an Internationalized Course Syllabus Look Like?

Fortunately, faculty seeking to internationalize their courses have many models to choose from. The following chart provides just a few examples from a variety of fields and institution types. These samples illustrate various combinations of the elements of internationalized courses described above and different levels and degrees along the continuum of internationalization. 

Examples of Internationalized Course Syllabi

 Arts & Humanities

Postcolonial Literature in English (Florida State University)

First Year Honors Seminar - Women's Voices: Twentieth Century European History in Female Memory (University of North Carolina)

Music Education (University of Minnesota)

Genocide and Human Rights (College of New Jersey)


Introduction to Business (Portland Community College)

Applied International Marketing Research (Utah State University)


 Health Professions

Adolescent Health and Development (Johns Hopkins University)

Introduction to Global Health (University of Washington)


Biomedical Engineering for Global Health (Rice University)

Earth Resources (Florida International University)

Global Technology Development (Santa Clara University)

History of Mathematics (Florida International University)

Introduction to Microbiology (Florida International University)

Technical Graphics (Ivy Tech Community College)

 Social Sciences

Anthropology of South Asia (New York University)

The International Economy, 1850-2010 (Duke University)

Political Science
Foundations of Comparative Politics (California State University – Los Angeles)

Cross-Cultural Psychology (University of Missouri)

Sociology of the Third World (Rutgers University)

 Social Service Professions

The Politics and Law of International Human Rights (University of Washington)

Public Administration
Global Poverty (Rutgers University) 

Social Work
International Social Development (Elizabethtown College)

​There are more where these came from! A number of institutions maintain their own on-line repositories of internationalized course syllabi, some of which are for specific schools or departments, or are connected to particular grants or projects.

​​More Internationalized Syllabi

As faculty evaluate these and other examples for use in designing their own courses and think about how they might need to be adapted to their own classrooms, issues to consider include:

  • Access to resources: Does the institution provide the technology needed for a virtual lecture by a faculty member in another country? Are field trips to relevant destinations geographically possible? Is it economically feasible to require students to purchase texts published in other countries?
  • Student background: How likely are students to have had previous international exposure and/or have developed international competencies? Will there be international students in the class whose perspectives can be tapped?
  • Institutional criteria/requirements for course internationalization (if they exist): What elements are needed to obtain an international course designation? Are there specified institution-wide, globally-focused student learning outcomes that should be addressed in the course?
  • Professional development opportunties: What programs, workshops, and conferences are available on campus, on-line, and through discipline associations and other organizations to help faculty internationalize their syllabi? 

The SUNY Global Workforce Project offers several 6-hour modules on topics of globalization, culture, labor, demographics, and others that can be incorporated into an existing course. Each module contains at least six one-hour lesson plans which include activities that address the module's learning objectives and teach global skills.

The University of Minnesota's Center for Teaching and Learning offers a free, publicly-accessible on-line tutorial called "Internationalizing by Design which uses a "Backwards Curriculum Design" approach to help faculty integrate global perspectives into either a new undergraduate class that they intend to teach or one that they have already taught. Sample syllabi of internationalized courses are included.

Many institutions offer workshops and programs to guide faculty through the process of course internationalization. See the previous installment of Internationalization in Action, "Engaging Faculty in Internationalization, Part 2 – In the Classroom: Faculty as Stewards of the Curriculum" for examples.

Internationalizing Community College Courses

Two projects – the Internationalization Collaborative Across Bloomington (ICAB) at Indiana University Bloomington and the World View Curriculum Grant Project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – are working with local community colleges on curriculum internationalization. 

ICAB is a collaboration between Indiana University Bloomington and Ivy Tech Community College Bloomington. The program consists of year-long professional development workshops for faculty from both institutions and focuses on creating internationally-oriented courses that integrate global learning outcomes and pedagogies.

Thus far, three cohorts of faculty – 34 in total – have participated. The resulting courses represent a wide range of disciplines, including engineering, arts and sciences, business, nursing, hospitality, and others.  Examples of faculty portfolios from the program are available on the ICAB website.

According to the project's director, Dr. Hilary Kahn, Indiana University and Ivy Tech have benefitted greatly from the ICAB collaboration in a variety of ways, including:

  • Both institutions have included more global competencies among their target student learning outcomes, and their missions and strategic plans also have a global component. The ICAB program furthers institutional objectives in these areas.
  • The collaborative nature of the program creates an on-going faculty learning community where faculty engage in intellectual and academic exchange with colleagues from different disciplines at both institutions.
  • Faculty who participated in the program find that their pedagogy and teaching techniques have improved, and the skills gained in these areas are easily transferrable to other courses.

In collaboration with the Title VI National Resource Centers at UNC and Duke University, the World View project awards community college instructors in North Carolina up to $750 to create a "global module" for a course they already teach. The global module must be a self-contained unit that includes a variety of activities and course material, such as student projects, films, wikis, and so on.

Grantees make research visits to UNC to work with international specialists from the university library, faculty, and National Resource Centers. They also have the option to attend World View's year-round professional development programs and workshops.

According to Dr. Neil Bolick, director of the World View Project, because community college students often do not have the same opportunity to go abroad and to otherwise gain exposure to international content as students at four-year universities, the project targets courses that have not included international content previously, and are likely to have the greatest impact in terms of the number of students enrolled. Thus, required or very popular courses are prioritized.

So far, the project has funded about 70 courses in a wide range of disciplines, including both traditional academic and vocational subjects. Examples of courses that have received awards can be found on the World View website.

Coming Attractions!

Building on the material covered here, the next installment of Internationalization in Action will focus on Curriculum Internationalization, Level 2: Academic Program Components, including majors, minors, and certificates.  Subsequent installments will cover degree programs and internationalization at the discipline level. Stay tuned!


 Internationalization Toolkit

Looking to jumpstart internationalization? No need to reinvent the wheel. Explore ACE's repository of resources for colleges and universities.

Visit the Toolkit

 Model for Comprehensive Internationalization

ACE's model is a strategic, coordinated process that aligns and integrates policies, programs, and initiatives to position institutions as more globally oriented and internationally connected.
Explore the Model