Internationalization in Action: Internationalizing the Curriculum, Part 4 - Disciplines


By Robin Matross Helms, Senior Research Specialist at ACE, and Heather H. Ward, Senior Program Specialist at ACE

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 4 “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. 

The previous three installments of Internationalization in Action focused on individual coursesprogram components, and degree programs. This installment addresses the fourth (and final!) level of curriculum internationalization: disciplines.

Research* suggests that faculty often feel greater loyalty to their disciplines than to their institutions. Even when institutions push full steam ahead with curriculum internationalization, it may be hard for faculty to see how such efforts should play out in their own classrooms – in some fields, the argument that “the content is just the content, no matter where in the world you are” can be challenging to overcome without specific guidance. Discipline associations, accreditors, and other professional organizations can play an important role in defining field-specific international content and student learning outcomes that complement institutional efforts.

This installment of IIA covers the efforts of these organizations, then wraps up the series on curriculum internationalization with a section called “Putting It All Together,” in which we’ll consider where to start the process (At level 1? With a multi-level approach?), and how to assess the success of such efforts – i.e. the extent to which curricular initiatives succeed in broadening students’ perspectives and knowledge base, and preparing them for life in a globalized world. In short, how well does all this work?

Read on for more information, resources, and strategies! 

*See, for example, Cummings, William K., and Martin J. Finkelstein. 2011. “Declining Institutional Loyalty.” In Scholars in the Changing American Academy: New Contexts, New Rules and New Roles, edited by William K. Cummings and Martin J. Finkelstein, 131–140. New York: Springer.

Discipline Associations

In 1990, the American Forum for Global Education published a book called Group Portrait: Internationalizing the Disciplines. The volume’s introduction highlighted the importance of discipline-specific curriculum internationalization efforts: 

"In colleges and universities, the academic disciplines are often the gatekeepers of educational change. Because it is in the disciplines that faculties, curricula, and research are based, basic changes in the curriculum do not occur until faculty in their disciplinary and departmental arenas are ready to implement them. The harbingers of changes in the curriculum are new perspectives in the disciplines."

Nearly 25 years later, this statement still applies. While interdisciplinarity has gained traction, the organization of individual institutions and the broader research enterprise largely still reflect a discipline-specific orientation. Future professors build an attachment to their academic field as they progress through college and graduate school – a faculty affiliation to a particular institution comes much later in the game. It is not surprising, then, that faculty turn first to their disciplines for guidance on what and how to teach.

Discipline-based professional associations often serve as the voice for the field, and play a key role in shaping its focus and direction. As internationalization has become a priority for institutions, discipline associations are also recognizing the need to prepare students to work effectively in a globalized world. These organizations are well placed to help faculty recognize and articulate the international dimensions of their work, make the link between field-specific knowledge and the broader global context, and convey these connections to their students.

Where Faculty Live: Internationalizing the Disciplines 

Beginning in 2004, ACE conducted a 2-year project on curriculum internationalization in collaboration with 4 discipline associations:  the American Association of Geographers (AAG), the American Historical Association (AHA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Under the premises that “the disciplines are the ‘intellectual homes’ for faculty,” and “disciplinary associations can and should lead the way in promoting internationalization,” the project focused on curriculum as a vehicle “to ensure that all students acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes they will need as citizens and workers in a rapidly changing and globalized world.”

A report on the project was published in 2006, and includes lessons learned, sample student learning outcomes, and other resources from the participating associations.

Not surprisingly, the resources for curriculum internationalization available from discipline associations vary substantially. Taken together, however, they illustrate the array of possibilities for such organizations as they seek to expand their involvement in this area.  Examples include:

 Direct guidance on internationalized content and student learning outcomes

Direct guidance on internationalized content and student learning outcomes. Some discipline associations – including participants in ACE’s “Internationalizing the Disciplines” project (see box above) – have articulated globally-focused student learning outcomes and content guidelines for programs in their fields. In some cases, these are included in formal policy documents; in others, they are provided in less formal venues as a resource for faculty.

Documents that Include Guidance on Internationally-focused Content and Student Learning Outcomes

 International units/divisions within associations

International units/divisions within associations. Some discipline associations have a dedicated staff member or full office whose focus is international affairs. Responsibilities may include designing professional development opportunities and curriculum resources with an international component, as well as liaising with international members, overseeing international activities of the organization, and providing advice and consultation to staff and members on international issues within the discipline.

When Christopher LaPrade started his job as Manager for Global Affairs at the Society for Neuroscience (SFN) his primary charge was to ensure that the organization’s resources and programs  had a “global face,” and were relevant to the 40% of its members who live outside the U.S. He and his colleagues have worked to infuse international perspectives and non-U.S.-centric language into professional development opportunities and on-line materials available to faculty and students both in the U.S. and abroad. Now, he notes, an international mindset is the norm throughout the organization, and meetings, training programs, on-line information, and other resources routinely include a global dimension.

One example is SFN’s upcoming Latin America Training Program, which begins with a 3-week hands-on course in Mexico for 15 early career scientists. The course will be taught by leading faculty in the field from the U.S., Mexico, and other countries in Latin America, and is intended  to “foster cross-disciplinary exchange of ideas and techniques.”  Key sessions will be recorded, and will be offered to additional participants as part of a monthly webinar series covering topics such as manuscript publishing and how to be a citizen scientist. Ultimately, the content will be made available publicly on SFN’s website, as a resource for faculty and students.

Many associations (with or without a designated international office or staff) also convene international “interest groups” comprised of members whose work focuses on international aspects of the field.  Activities of these groups include sponsoring conferences, symposia, and  internationally-focused sessions at association conferences and meetings, maintaining a member listserv, and producing publications. Though not necessarily focused on curriculum internationalization per se, these groups draw attention to the international aspects of the field and can point faculty towards key international topics and trends that can be addressed in their courses.

International Sections

 Links to international “sister” organizations

Links to international “sister” organizations. U.S.-based discipline associations (i.e. the American Association of…) often have counterparts around the world – both country-based organizations (i.e.  the Australian Association of…) and organizations whose work is explicitly international in scope (i.e. the International Association of…). In some fields there are formal linkages and joint activities such as workshops and conferences sponsored by “sister” associations in different countries. Even without such cooperative arrangements, however, the work of international disciplinary associations can provide insights into the international dimension of the field.

Links to International Counterpart Organizations

 Area studies association resources for faculty in other fields

Area studies association resources for faculty in other fields. “Area studies” is a catch-all term that refers to fields that focus on a particular country, region, or language-based category of countries – examples include East Asian Studies, Francophone Studies, German Studies, and many others. These fields are interdisciplinary by nature, and include faculty who focus on the history, politics, culture, and other aspects of the target geographic area. 

Area studies associations are often a good source of information and material that can be incorporated into courses housed in other departments. The Association for Asian Studies (AAS), for example, has designed materials specifically for this purpose. Its Education About Asia journal is intended as:

A practical teaching resource for secondary school, college, and university instructors, as well as an invaluable source of information for students, scholars, libraries, and anyone with an interest in Asia. Teachers and students from a wide range of disciplines –anthropology, Asian studies, business and economics, education, geography, government, history, language and literature, political science, religion, and sociology, among others – subscribe.

AAS also produces a series of booklets called “Key Issues in Asian Studies,” which is designed for use in humanities and social science courses. 

Along similar lines, while most area studies associations publish peer-reviewed journals that are technical in nature and geared for specialists in the field, a number also produce newsletters or similar, less formal publications.  Typically, these are accessible to a wider audience, and can inform non-specialists of key developments in the country or region that would make sense to highlight in more broadly-focused courses in politics, sociology, and other fields. 

For example, in describing its intended audience, the introduction to the Association for Canadian Studies “Canadian Issues” publication states:

Over the course of several decades, the publication has evolved from an academic journal with limited readership to a history magazine with a broad audience comprised of history educators, librarians, archivists, academics, researchers, [and] policymakers. 

Internationalizing Teacher Education 

Given the potential for a “ripple effect” across a variety of disciplines and levels of the education system, as a field, teacher education is a natural target for curriculum internationalization efforts.  Initiatives include:

  • Teacher Preparation for the Global Age: The Imperative for Change,” published by the Longview Foundation in 2008, sets forth a definition of student global competence, and includes discipline-specific strategies and resources for incorporating international elements into the curriculum.  The paper also makes the case for language learning and international experiences (“at home, abroad, and on-line”) as key elements of teacher preparation programs.  
  • Global Teacher Education (GTE) is an organization whose mission is “to ensure that U.S. teachers are properly trained to prepare our young people to cope and thrive in a globally-connected world. By partnering with colleges of education and professional bodies in the education and teacher preparation spaces, GTE will support the internationalization of teacher preparation programs by connecting professionals, as well as advancing and disseminating research and best practices.” The GTE website includes strategies, case examples, and other resources.
  • NAFSA: Association of International Educators has undertaken a number of projects related to teacher preparation, including a letter to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (CAEP) to request the integration of global perspective building into the standards for teacher education accreditation, and a 2013 colloquium on internationalizing teacher education.


Ultimately the onus is on faculty to take advantage of the resources offered by discipline and area studies associations, but institutions can facilitate the process by steering faculty in the right direction. Providing travel grants to attend international conferences , encouraging deans and department chairs to connect with associations’ international units, and incorporating discipline-specific resources into faculty development workshops on curriculum internationalization can be effective strategies.

In case you missed it…

For details on travel grants, faculty development opportunities, and other topics related to engaging faculty in internationalization, see the April 2013 and June 2013 installments of Internationalization in Action.

Accrediting Bodies

​Like broader professional associations, discipline-specific accreditors help define and articulate the key priorities and direction of their fields.  Because their influence reaches beyond guidance to actual requirements, however, accrediting bodies are in a particularly strong position to infuse an international dimension into the curriculum across a wide range of institutions. Though certainly not exhaustive, the following chart  includes some examples of discipline-specific accreditors that have incorporated international elements into their criteria.

​Discipline/field Accreditor​ Policy​ ​Internationally-Focused Standards/Outcomes




​Criteria for Accrediting Engineering Programs


​Included in student learning outcomes for baccalaureate programs:

Students should “understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global, economic, environmental, and societal context.”

​Interior Design

​Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)


Professional Standards 2014


​Included in the “Critical Thinking, Professional Values, and Processes” standard:

“Entry-level interior designers have a global view and weigh design decisions within the parameters of ecological, socio-economic, and cultural contexts.”

Further details are provided about specific “student learning expectations” and “program expectations” on page II.13 of the policy.

​Social Work

Council on Social Work Education, Office of Social Work Accreditation


Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards


​Included as part of a curriculum goal to “advance human rights and social and economic justice”:

“Social workers recognize the global interconnections of oppression and are knowledgeable about theories of justice and strategies to promote human and civil rights.”

​Journalism and Mass Communications

Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC)


ACEJMC Accrediting Standards


​Included as the “Curriculum and Instruction” accreditation standard:

“The unit provides a curriculum and instruction, whether on site or online, that enables students to learn the knowledge, competencies and values the Council defines for preparing students to work in a diverse global and domestic society.”

Included as a learning outcomes for this standard:

Graduates will be able to: “demonstrate an understanding of the diversity of peoples and cultures and of the significance and impact of mass communications in global society.”


AACSB International


Eligibility Procedures and Accreditation Standards for Business Accreditation



​Included in accreditation criteria “that represent core values of AACSB”:

“The school fosters sensitivity toward and greater understanding of cultural differences and global perspectives. Graduates should be prepared to pursue business or management careers in a global context.  Students should be exposed to cultural practices different than their own.”

Included in student learning outcomes (“general business and management knowledge  areas”)   for Bachelor’s degree and higher:

“Economic, political, regulatory, legal, technological, and social contexts of organizations  in a global society.”


As is always the case when making comparisons across disciplines, there are variations in how each accreditor formulates its criteria and incorporates international elements. As indicated in the chart above, some requirements are more specific than others – in some cases, globally-focused learning outcomes are articulated, while in others, only a broad statement referring to the need for an international perspective is included. 

While the former is likely to be most effective in guiding faculty as they design their courses, formal incorporation of any international element into curriculum requirements is progress in the right direction, and sends a message about the importance of the global context for curriculum content. 

As more accrediting organizations recognize the need to help students understand the international dimensions of their fields, it is likely that more such requirements – and greater specificity – will follow.

According to Dr. Michael K.J. Milligan, Executive Director of ABET, engineering and other STEM disciplines present some unique challenges when it comes to internationalization. Certainly, many of the key issues in these fields are global in scope, and professionals are likely to travel and collaborate internationally.  However the rapid pace of technological development means that academic programs are under pressure to incorporate more and more technical content in order to adequately prepare students for their careers. This can lead to a curriculum with little room for study abroad, globally-focused modules, or other exploration of international issues.

Nonetheless, Dr. Milligan notes that institutions are finding creative ways to incorporate international experiences and perspectives into engineering and other STEM programs. By including language such as that noted in the table above into its accreditation standards, ABET hopes to encourage innovations in global learning, and dispel the “urban legend” that stepping off the beaten path curriculum-wise will jeopardize accreditation status.

ABET is also working to set an example for institutions and programs by increasing its own level of internationalization; mutual recognition agreements and other ties with accrediting bodies abroad, as well as outreach efforts to international institutions, are part of these efforts.


​What About the Regional Accreditors?

Many of the internationally-focused guidelines and policies set forth by the U.S. regional accrediting bodies relate to overseas programs (study abroad for U.S. students as well as branch campuses and programs that enroll non-U.S. nationals), accreditation for foreign institutions, and international student enrollment. When it comes to teaching and learning on the home campus, accreditation standards typically emphasize that content should be determined by faculty, and the curriculum should be consistent with the institution’s mission – which may or may not include internationalization.

Some accreditation standards do, however, provide more detailed guidance on content. For example, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education standards section on general education states:

"Graduates successfully completing an undergraduate program demonstrate competence in written and oral communication in English; the ability for scientific and quantitative reasoning, for critical analysis and logical thinking; and the capability for continuing learning, including the skills of information literacy. They also demonstrate knowledge and understanding of scientific, historical, and social phenomena, and a knowledge and appreciation of the aesthetic and ethical dimensions of humankind"

The North Central Association Higher Learning Commission’s criterion on “Teaching and Learning: Quality, Resources and Support” requires that:

"The education offered by the institution recognizes the human and cultural diversity of the world in which students live and work."

While these statements in their current form hint at global competence, they could easily be modified to incorporate a greater emphasis on international learning and global perspectives. As more discipline-specific accreditors include international components in their guidance on curriculum, the institution-level regional accrediting bodies may follow suit. 

Where Do We Start?

This completes our series on curriculum!  We’ve covered four levels and a lot of information. While all four levels are important, Rome wasn’t built in a day – for institutions that are just beginning to focus on curriculum internationalization, where is the best place to start?

As always, the answer to that question depends a lot on institutional context, including available resources, campus culture and processes around decision-making, and the status of internationalization efforts more broadly.  Looking back over our four installments, however, advice from experts and the experiences of institutions that have made strides in curriculum internationalization suggest some useful strategies:

 Balance “top down” and “bottom up” approaches to curriculum internationalization

​While institutional culture may dictate that one of these directions tends to dominate, when it comes to the curriculum, they are complementary. Progress in one direction is often necessary in order to make progress in the other, and the synergies created by a multi-dimensional approach help accelerate efforts campus-wide. 

A message from top leadership about the importance of curriculum internationalization, for example, helps set the tone and establish priorities, but ground-up efforts in individual classrooms are needed in order to build a critical mass of internationalized courses before a certificate of global competence or internationalized general education requirements can be introduced at the institution level. Implementing the latter, in turn, can encourage additional faculty to explore the global aspects of their disciplines, and incorporate international content into their courses. Developing globalized student learning outcomes requires both top-down and bottom-up engagement by faculty and students in order to ensure buy-in throughout the institution.

In 2012-13, California State University, Long Beach’s Global Studies Institute (GSI) conducted a “Global Learning Inventory,” described as “a first look at internationalization throughout the CSULB curriculum.” GSI staff systematically analyzed syllabi for all courses offered by the institution during that academic year and classified them based on international content.

The purpose of the project was to help administrators gauge bottom-up curriculum internationalization in order to inform institution-level efforts.  The report states that the results “offer some next steps for the Global Studies Institute and its focus on curricular and co-curricular issues.  In the coming months the GSI will employ these findings to inform its assessment tools development process and, critically, its investment strategies for maximizing its resources towards the incentivization of new global learning outcome opportunities.”

 Provide strong support for faculty

​Faculty are the stewards of the curriculum, and the “front lines” in terms of delivering international content and helping students attain global competence. Grants and other incentives for faculty to travel abroad, attend international conferences, and engage with peers in other countries give faculty a foothold in terms of exploring the international dimensions of their disciplines, and developing globalized content for their courses. Workshops and other faculty development opportunities at the campus and departmental levels can help them translate these materials into appropriate assignments and activities in their courses.

Data from ACE's Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses study indicate that institutional support for such activities has decreased in recent years.  Nonetheless, many institutions are finding innovative and cost-effective ways to support faculty development - see the April 2013 and June 2013 installments of Internationalization in Action for examples.

 Draw on campus experts

​Certainly, it is important to involve  internationalization committees (see the very first installment of Internationalization in Action for more on this topic), as well as other faculty and administrative staff who focus on international activities and issues. However, as Dr. Susan Carvalho pointed out in our last installment, drawing on the expertise of teaching and learning experts is also a useful strategy. Technology specialists can provide guidance on connecting classrooms with counterparts abroad. Area studies faculty might be tapped for content related to their geographic areas of expertise.

 Build dialogue with discipline associations and accreditors

​Institution and association efforts are often complementary – campus-wide student learning outcomes, for example, provide a framework for faculty, while guidance from discipline associations can help fill in the specifics for their own courses. Initiatives on both sides reinforce each other, and build momentum for internationalization of U.S. higher education more broadly. Individual institutions are well positioned to provide feedback to discipline associations and accreditors on the usefulness of resources and application of guidelines in the real-life campus context.

 Content Editor ‭[2]‬

​Ultimately, attending to all four levels of curriculum internationalization (simultaneously or over time) will ensure that institutions develop the most comprehensive, integrated curriculum possible – one that moves beyond specific content, to helping students develop a global mindset that they will carry forward into their careers and lives as citizens of the world. Continued discussion, collaboration, and sharing of strategies and good practices – among institutions, discipline associations, and other organizations – will help advance these efforts.

​Internationalizing the Graduate Curriculum

Often the conversation about curriculum internationalization focuses on the undergraduate level. But what about the graduate curriculum? While many (though not all) of the topics and strategies discussed in this series have applications as the graduate level, two themes merit further exploration:

International students as experts. A key point of differentiation between undergraduate and graduate programs in terms of internationalization is the prevalence of international students. In some disciplines, particularly the STEM fields, international students outnumber domestic graduate students at U.S. institutions; according to NSF data, for example, 65% of total graduate enrollment in computer science is comprised of international students. 

In theory, international students bring a global perspective to the classroom, laboratories, group projects, internships, and other aspects of the curriculum; more international students, it would seem, should lead to a more internationalized curriculum and learning experience.

However Dr. Maresi Nerad, Professor in the Leadership in Higher Education Program, College of Education at the University of Washington, and Director of the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education, cautions that this is not necessarily the case. In a book chapter on the internationalization of doctoral education, she notes: 

"No systematic study has been undertaken to understand the effect of the presence of international students and postdocs on domestic students and institutions. The curriculum at the graduate level has not changed in spite of the increase in international students in the classroom."

Dr. Nerad advises graduate faculty to purposefully draw upon international students’ experiences and perspectives in their courses. She suggests that faculty can “empower international students by recognizing them as equal members of the graduate community, rather than conceptualizing them from  deficit point of view.” Classroom activities that bring together domestic and international students to work in cross-cultural teams can facilitate interaction and mutual learning.

International graduate students might also be tapped to serve as advisers to faculty in the department. Dr. Nerad suggests organizing a brown bag lunch, for example, during which international students discuss differences between the cultures and education systems in the U.S. and their home countries. In terms of content, given that many international graduate students have already attained a level of expertise in their fields (through undergraduate education and work experience), they may also be able to provide insights on key issues and applications of their disciplines in international settings.

Use of technology. While study abroad rates are generally low across the board among domestic students in U.S. higher education, graduate students may face particularly high barriers to mobility. Many students at this level have parenting and other family responsibilities, full- or part-time jobs, and financial constraints that prevent them from traveling for significant periods. Rigid program requirements at the master’s level and long time-to-degree periods in PhD programs may also dissuade graduate students from taking time away from campus.

For these reasons, the use of technology to facilitate international interactions for graduate students is particularly compelling. In addition, notes Jon Rubin, Director of SUNY’s Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Center, “because graduate students are usually more focused than undergrads, they tend to do even better in a COIL environment, where initiative and perseverance are important.”

Dr. Laura Lewis, Director of Field Education in the University at Buffalo’s (UB) School of Social Work, co-created a master’s level COIL course with a social work professor at the Pedagogical State University “Ion Creanga” in Chisinau, Moldova. Participants used Blackboard, Skype, and Adobe Connect to collaborate on assignments and exchange ideas, and delivered joint presentations via videoconferencing technology.

Dr. Lewis notes that she pursued the jointly-taught course because “I’m a big believer in multiple perspectives. We have a particular way of thinking about things in the Western world, and to see how the profession is practiced in another context, to see different interpretations of theory, helps students’ ability to think critically.” In her opinion, the course was a success; “I see how transformative the experience is,” she says, “and that it is not dissimilar from actually traveling.”

Building on her own COIL experience, Dr. Lewis now works with other faculty at UB to help them incorporate on-line, cross-cultural components into their courses. And, the Moldovan faculty member with whom Dr. Lewis initially partnered has since visited UB for an extended residency and now lends her global perspective to other courses on campus. Dr. Lewis observes, “students are choosing to come here because we have these options available.”

Assessing Global Learning

In a perfect world, institutions would be able to measure directly the extent to which curricular initiatives and policies actually lead to student achievement of the globalized learning outcomes set forth and agreed upon by the campus community. However such clear proof of causality is almost certainly unachievable

Many of the desired global learning outcomes are “soft” in nature and difficult to quantify and measure – the ability to navigate cultural differences, for example, is much harder to capture than, say, the ability to complete a calculus problem. And as the spirited conversations taking place around this topic at international education conferences attest, single inventories or other instruments intended for this purpose are often deemed imperfect and/or too limited in scope.

Perhaps the best approach, then, is to use a variety of assessment tools to piece together an overall picture of student progress on global learning – in terms of specific skills, codified learning outcomes,  and more broadly. Options to consider include:

 Assessments from individual courses

​The December 2013 installment of Internationalization in Action discussed curriculum internationalization at the level of individual courses, including course-specific learning outcomes. Gathering evidence (e.g. portfolios – see box below of student global learning from faculty members’ direct work with students in their courses can identify common themes and areas of strength, and help gauge progress towards institution-wide learning outcomes. 

 Surveys, inventories, and rubrics

​Instruments and tools that are designed to measure intercultural competence and related attitudes and skills can provide information about progress made by students in these areas in the course of their college careers. Though it is important to fully understand their intended use - and caution must be exercised in attributing students' gains to particular initiatives and activities - such measures can contribute to an overall understanding of student global learning. 

Surveys, Inventories and Rubrics to Measure International Learning

If staff capacity (time and expertise) allow, institutions might also consider designing and administering their own surveys or inventories based on their specific student learning outcomes; the “models from the field” noted above may serve as a starting point in developing such customized assessments. 

Purdue University has adapted the AAC&U's Intercultural Knowledge VALUE Rubric for use in a study abroad pre-departure course and its Passport to Intercultural Learning program (see the January 2014 installment of Internationalization in Action for more details on this project).  Similarly, the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana Wesleyan University is developing an Intercultural Experience Rubric, also based on the AAC&U model, as part of an overhaul of its "Intercultural Experience" general education requirement; a draft of the rubric is available in this working document.

 Qualitative data from students

​Sometimes it makes sense to go right to the source. Interviews and focus group questions can be designed to assess student levels of global competence, and/or ask them to reflect directly on what aspects of their college experience were most instrumental in helping them acquire internationally relevant knowledge and skills. Although generalizability is limited, qualitative data of this type can complement data collected through surveys and inventories, and provide useful information about the effectiveness of specific initiatives and programs.

As part of its SACS accreditation process, Mary Baldwin College’s Office of Institutional Research convened student groups one year into implementation of its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), based on a student-led discussion methodology, in order to gain insights into the development of their global and intercultural awareness.  

Diverse groups of students, including some international students, were asked to discuss a short film or reading with a strong global or intercultural dimension, led by a randomly selected student from each group. The researchers listened for indications of cultural awareness, references to international aspects of the reading or film, positive or negative attitudes toward difference, stereotyping, and students’ willingness to change perspective. Students were then asked to write a one-page essay on any aspect of the reading or discussion; essays were examined for the same indications of cultural awareness.

This method offered many insights into students’ willingness to engage in global issues and with each other, according to Dr. Lydia Petersson, who led the study, and revealed some of the barriers to their participation in international activities on campus.

 Feedback from alumni and employers

​The application of global learning is as important as its acquisition. For this reason, evidence of how students use the knowledge and skills they acquired while on campus once they graduate and enter the workforce is an important piece of the assessment puzzle. Gathering information from alumni, as well as their employers, through surveys, interviews, focus groups, and informal conversations provides valuable information about the effectiveness and broader impact of curriculum internationalization efforts.

While not specific to internationally-focused outcomes, the 2005 article “Making an Impact with Alumni Surveys," published in New Directions for Institutional Research, provides general background and guidance on this topic.  

ACE/FIPSE Project on Assessing International Learning 

Conducted in 2004-2007, the ACE/FIPSE project, “Lessons Learned in Assessing International Learning,” engaged six U.S. higher education institutions to develop a set of internationally-focused student learning outcomes, measurable performance indicators, and tools for assessing student achievement.

The outcome of the project was the “SPIF/ePortfolio Approach to Assessing International Learning,” which requires students to compile an ePortfolio of internationally-focused work and complete a survey called the Student Portfolio and Information Form (SPIF). Taken together, these tools can be used by institutions to better understand the connections between student experiences and the learning that results from them.

The ePortfolio consists of samples of an individual student’s work, and is assessed holistically based on the extent to which it illustrates student achievement of internationally-focused learning outcomes. Each institution determines how to assemble the ePorfolios (e.g. using open source software designed for this purpose), and what elements students are required to submit.

The ACE/FIPSE team also created a standardized rating scale to assess ePortfolios based on nine internationally-focused student learning outcomes developed by the institutions participating in the project.

See you in the fall!

Internationalization in Action is taking a summer vacation! We will return in the fall with a series on internationalization in student affairs, which will focus on supporting international students, the co-curriculum, and strategies for student affairs leaders. Stay tuned!


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