One of the key strengths of TCU’s current Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), appropriately dubbed “Discovering Global Citizenship,” is the multi-faceted approach its framework provides for addressing global learning outcomes. Study abroad—the mainstay of Global Learning programs that typically comes to mind first when we think about internationalizing curriculum—certainly still claims a central place in the QEP’s vision and the university’s mission overall. However, as Provost Steve O. Michael of Arcadia University has pointed out, moves to signal a commitment to teaching “global leadership” have become so pervasive in university mission statements these days that we’ve reached the point when phrases like “global-minded students and scholars” have lost their aspirational (not to mention their pragmatic and conceptual) force (“In Pursuit,” Bridging Cultures, 138). Thus, for an institution like TCU to claim genuine leadership in the field of global learning, the university community must approach global learning proactively and creatively, stepping outside the familiar fields of instruction such as travel abroad. Fortunately for students (and faculty) at TCU, the QEP provides a number of models for doing just that.

A quick look at the QEP website’s presentation of its initiatives confirms the comprehensive vision for global learning that has been a hallmark of the program—one recently recognized by the prestigious 2015 IIE Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalizing the Campus. The range of programs being delivered through the QEP includes initiatives that are each distinct yet, taken together, convey an interactive approach to global learning. (Check out the descriptions for Virtual Voyage, Visiting Scholars, TCU Abroad, Global Academy, Local/Global Leaders, and Global Innovators on the website.) Significantly for faculty, each of the programs offers important pathways to learning by teacher-scholars. That is, even though TCU’s QEP—consistent with SACS guidelines—focuses on enhancing student learning, the various initiatives sponsored by Discovering Global Citizenship also enable faculty to build new scholarship, enhance their teaching, and enact major opportunities for leadership on campus and beyond.

I can testify to the support the QEP has given to my own professional development as just one example of its efficacy for faculty. In offering this account of one modest program event organized by one team of faculty members, I hope to inspire others to tap into the QEP’s transformative potential.

One Visiting Scholar, Many Routes to Learning

During the 2013-14 academic year, I applied for a Visiting Scholar QEP Mini-grant to bring to campus an author whose work I have long admired—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. I had been teaching Ngũgĩ’s fiction and non-fiction for years, in a wide range of instructional contexts, including post-colonial and world literature courses; classes on literature as an avenue to political activism; and writing studies in social context. And in spring 2014, I was planning to teach his newest memoir, In the House of the Interpreter, for a new course I had developed for TCU’s John V. Roach Honors College, “Cultural Contact Zones.” So when I read an announcement that the QEP’s regional focus for that year would be the Caribbean and Africa, it seemed an ideal time to organize a visit to campus by Ngũgĩ himself. Having benefited from several small internal grants since coming to TCU, I wasn’t intimidated by the prospect of writing the proposal. However, I did find, on reading through the directions for the proposal-writing, some initially daunting language around program assessment. Most of the grant projects I’d facilitated before coming to TCU used a model of formative, qualitative assessment. The rubric for the QEP Visiting Scholar proposal called for measuring student learning in a more quantitative way than I was used to doing. After re-reading the directions and consulting with the always-affirming QEP leader Ed McNertney and Associate Provost Catherine Wehlburg, however, I was reassured that I could count on their help with the actual assessment process, assuming I was funded. Thus, this project seemed a good chance not only to bring an esteemed scholar-writer to campus but also a fortunate occasion for learning about different approaches to assessment myself.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Once I received notification of funding, Catherine and I met to discuss how best to implement an assessment process that had been only tentatively described in the proposal. Because I am actively involved in doctoral education in my home department of English, I had included a modest stipend in the budget for two graduate student research assistants to assist with the assessment portion of the work. I hoped that having them involved would also provide an opportunity for us to learn together about how student writing produced in response to project-related prompts can help illuminate the impact of humanities programming initiatives like Ngũgĩ’s visit. With that in mind, besides employing the rubric to “score” various pieces of student writing through the framework of the QEP rubrics, the two doctoral students (Tyler Branson and Chase Sanchez) also did a separate close reading from a more inductive stance. Intriguingly, what they found from this more qualitative and open-ended approach was that students who interacted with Ngũgĩ during his visit actually seemed to achieve more learning at a “higher” level on the QEP rubric than they did at a relatively “lower” level domain. (See the rubric for learning outcomes #2 versus the rubric for learning outcomes #4, via the URL link above.) More specifically, many of the student texts produced after the visit spoke quite eloquently about how seeing and conversing with the author had led them to feel much more deeply what the experience of colonial control of education and political oppression would be like; to engage more empathetically and thoughtfully with his writings; and to wish to learn more about Kenyan history and culture.

What we learned from this close look at student writing—and at what that writing seems to say about avenues for global learning—is now shaping new program initiatives both inside and outside the classroom.

For example, we are drawing on our learning from this project as we design new projects linked to global learning. For example, this fall Tyler and I worked together with a group of undergraduate students from my fall course on Popular Literature, faculty, and alumni to organize a community reading project linking study of Albert Camus’s The Plague to current media reporting on the Ebola outbreak in several African regions and its eventual reach into the Metroplex via Thomas Eric Duncan, a patient treated at Dallas’s Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, whose case in turn led to a very close-to-home patient’s contracting the disease, TCU alumna Nina Pham. The idea for the on-campus roundtable came from an alumna of TCU’s Honors program, Linda Newman. But an online discussion board where the novel and its link to current events are still being discussed—as well as another experiment in using writing to assess humanities programming—were inspired primarily by the learning our Ngũgĩ team experienced through that earlier project. And the extension of that learning through the roundtable and online discussion board for “Contagion, Quarantine and Social Conscience” has been enabled by funds from the Koehler Center’s Global Learning Fellowship.

Overall, then, this foray into QEP-funded project design and evaluation has affirmed for me how generative Discovering Global Learning opportunities can be—not only for our undergraduate students, but also for faculty. In this case, one very modest grant has allowed me to build new cross-campus networks, enrich my own teaching in several courses, and begin to develop new research options.

Work Cited

Michael, Steve O. “In Pursuit of Excellence, Diversity, and Globalization: The Art of Leveraging International Assets in Academia.” Bridging Cultures: International Women Faculty Transforming the US Academy. Edited by Sarah Robbins, Sabine Smith, and Federica Santini. Lanham: University Press of America, 2011. 138-144.

Sarah Robbins

This article was written by Sarah Ruffing Robbins, Lorraine Sherley Professor of Literature, Department of English Acting Dean, John V. Roach Honors College, and 2015 Koehler Center Fellow for Global Citizenship for the Spring 2015 Issue of Insights Magazine.