As part of the efforts of the American Council on Education's (ACE) Center for Internationalization and Global Engagement (CIGE) to provide guidance to institutions engaged in internationalization, Internationalization in Action features institutional strategies and good practices gathered from participants in CIGE programs and other experts in the field. Topics rotate regularly, and each installment includes examples, sample documents, and advice from a variety of institutions. We welcome your contributions!
Co-curriculum, together with curriculum and learning outcomes, forms one of the six dimensions of CIGE’s Model for Comprehensive Internationalization. A co-curriculum can encompass a wide range of programs and services separate from, but complementary to, the curriculum. Student development, learning, and interaction occur both inside and outside the classroom. Internationalizing the co-curriculum, therefore, is critical to a comprehensive approach.
“Comprehensive internationalization” as defined by CIGE is a strategic, coordinated process that seeks to align and integrate international policies, programs, and initiatives, and positions colleges and universities as more globally oriented and internationally connected. “It is the obligation of colleges and universities to prepare people for a globalized world, including developing the ability to compete economically, to operate effectively in other cultures and settings, to use knowledge to improve their own lives and their communities, and to better comprehend the realities of the contemporary world so that they can better meet their responsibilities as citizens.” (American Council on Education 2011)
Internationalization is gaining momentum at more than 80 percent of U.S. colleges and universities, and a majority have articulated international or global student learning outcomes, according to ACE’s Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses: 2012 Edition. While education abroad is a deeply transformative experience that can increase students’ global awareness, IIE’s 2014 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange indicates that only 9.4 percent of U.S. undergraduates who complete a four-year degree will have that experience, and for associate, master’s, and doctoral degree students the participation rate is much lower. Therefore, the responsibility “to prepare people for a globalized world,” cited in ACE’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Global Engagement report, Strength through Global Leadership and Engagement: U.S. Higher Education in the 21st Century, is increasingly borne by educators on campus.
Ideally, a co-curriculum should align with institution-wide learning outcomes, mission, and strategic goals. Strategies for co-curricular internationalization depend on factors unique to each college or university, such as its institution type (community college, liberal arts, research), the composition and size of the student population, the availability of resources, history, location, and others. Introducing new, globally oriented co-curricular programs—or reorienting existing ones to meet strategic goals—can be daunting and complex. The co-curriculum, relative to other aspects of comprehensive internationalization, presents distinct challenges:
Despite these challenges, focusing internationalization efforts on the co-curriculum is essential for the kind of deep, transformational learning that international education promises. While students may sit for 12–18 hours per week in the classroom, the remainder of their time (particularly for residential students) is spent on campus interacting with peers, accessing services, and attending student events. The experiential nature of the co-curriculum—where students encounter cultural “others,” navigate shared space, learn to manage conflict, calibrate their moral compasses, and test their leadership skills—can offer some of the richest opportunities for students to encounter cultural differences that test their beliefs and assumptions.
"An internationalized curriculum and co-curriculum ensure that all students, including those who do not have the opportunity to study abroad, are exposed to international perspectives and can build global competence.” (American Council on Education 2012)
As the United States becomes increasingly diverse and globally connected, higher education provides a laboratory for students to test the values, beliefs, skills, attitudes, and behaviors that will shape their lifelong participation in a democratic society. Colleges and universities can serve as microcosms of our increasingly interconnected and multicultural world, challenging students to practice empathy, understanding, listening, respect, and conflict resolution. The experiential nature of the co-curriculum presents many opportunities for students to develop these skills. When students are members of a diverse community, they have the opportunity to practice engaging openly and constructively with cultural difference.
This kind of engagement does not happen spontaneously by enrolling students who check a variety of demographic categories. It requires intentional and well-structured programming, faculty and student affairs personnel who can help students interpret and learn from their cross-cultural experiences, and also students’ own willingness to shift their beliefs and assumptions based on what they encounter. Engaging with difference can be uncomfortable, but the cost of avoiding it is too high for higher education leaders to ignore.
“Intercultural competences aim at freeing people from their own logic and cultural idioms in order to engage with others and listen to their ideas. . . . Acquiring intercultural competences is a thrilling challenge since no one is, naturally, called upon to understand the values of others. This challenge is a unique opportunity in the history of humankind.” (UNESCO 2013)
“Internationally focused student learning outcomes articulate specific knowledge and skills to be addressed in courses and activities outside the classroom and provide over-arching goals for academic and co-curricular programming.” (ACE 2012)
Developing and measuring student learning outcomes is increasingly a core activity of U.S. higher education. Institutions of all stripes have established learning outcomes in order to align curriculum and co-curricular programming with mission and vision. Many accrediting bodies now require institutions to measure progress toward student learning outcomes. Funding and other resources may be allocated on the basis of those measurements.
Efforts to develop learning outcomes often begin with the curriculum, but an increasing number of institutions are using student learning outcomes to guide the co-curriculum as well. Ideally, learning outcomes flow from the institution’s mission and strategic plan, and serve to connect and integrate the curriculum and co-curriculum.
A great deal of scholarship exists on the development and application of learning outcomes in general, mainly from the field of educational assessment. The National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment suggests guidelines for learning outcomes and maintains a clearinghouse of articles and examples at the organization’s website. In addition, NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (Resources at NASPA) (Assessment and Evaluation information from NASPA) and the American College Personnel Association (ACPA) provide resources specifically for co-curricular student learning outcomes. Here, we turn to a discussion of learning outcomes with a specific global or intercultural focus.
As internationalization has taken hold at a growing number of colleges and universities, so have learning outcomes with a global or intercultural focus. The 2012 edition of ACE’s Mapping Internationalization on U.S. Campuses report found that 55% of U.S. colleges and universities have established specific global learning outcomes.
Even if global learning outcomes are initially developed with the goal of infusing international perspectives into classroom teaching and learning, they can almost always be interpreted for and applied to the co-curriculum as well. Sharing global and intercultural learning outcomes throughout the institution—both in the classroom and in the co-curriculum—can produce a more integrated global learning experience for students, with knowledge and experience gained in one arena complemented and reinforced by the other.
For institutions that do not have campus-wide learning outcomes, global or intercultural learning outcomes can be developed specifically for the co-curriculum. The learning outcomes then serve as a compass to guide co-curricular programming and student services. The co-curriculum provides an important opportunity for students to apply their global and intercultural learning by demonstrating certain behaviors and through direct experience.
A brief review of co-curricular global and intercultural learning outcomes developed by a dozen U.S. institutions of different types (large, private, public, two-year, and PhD-level) suggests a consistent format:
Though relatively simple, this three-part formula yields an unlimited set of unique learning outcomes. The terminology used in learning outcomes is never accidental and should reflect an institution’s core values. For example, religious-affiliated institutions might describe the purpose of global and intercultural learning in terms of peace or social justice, while a graduate business school might emphasize career preparation for success in a global economy. Outcomes should describe the intended result, not the intervention that produces it. Institutions typically describe outcomes at beginning, developing, and advanced levels.
Below are examples of co-curricular student learning outcomes terminology used in different combinations by a variety of U.S. institutions:
Institutions may find additional ideas for developing co-curricular learning outcomes from the International Learning Outcomes Ranking Document, a tool created as part of the 2004–07 ACE/Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education project, “Lessons Learned in Assessing International Learning.”
If learning outcomes serve as a compass for students’ global and intercultural learning, intentional and inclusive co-curricular programs are the vehicle for their journey.
Some evidence suggests the educational benefit of global and intercultural programs on campus may equal or even surpass that of education abroad: A 2013 study by Krista M. Soria and Jordan Troisi found that “participating in some on-campus global/international activities may benefit students’ development of GII [global, international, and intercultural] competencies more than participating in study abroad; specifically, enrolling in global/international academic coursework and attending international/globally themed lectures, symposia, or conferences. . . .” (Soria and Troisi 2013).
Students may possess widely varying levels of previous experience and interest in advancing their global and intercultural skills; programs should be designed with these differences in mind.
The following section describes a variety of co-curricular programs and approaches that can support students in developing global and intercultural awareness, and that can be adapted to meet specific global learning outcomes. Programs are grouped into three levels of an inverse triangle, illustrating the inverse relationship between intensity/impact and student participation: