The Globally Effective Citizen (GEC 314) explores the incredibly diverse world of indigenous people, and examines the juxtaposition of the Western worldview with the world inhabited by indigenous people. We examine this relationship within historical, political, geographical, cultural and environmental contexts. This assignment draws on evidence from two main sources: one, a position paper written from the student’s point of view as a member of the NGO, directed to Alverno College students and; two, a persuasive presentation to Alverno College students, faculty and staff in which she seeks support for her NGO’s work with or on behalf of indigenous people.
My course, GEC 314, is part of a series of courses called the Global Effective Citizen (GEC), which is a general education requirement that students take when they are Juniors or rising Seniors. The courses are taught across the disciplines. Each division within the school of Arts and Sciences as well as the professional schools of Business and Management, Nursing, and Education is responsible for offering at least one course every semester. These are three credit courses that meet once a week for three hours. Though different topic-wise, they all share the same outcomes.
As a historian with scholarly training in Native American history, I designed this course to expand the students’ perspective of “native” beyond their conceptual models and the physical borders of the United States. Teaching a “contemporary issue” allows me to explore with the students indigenous people beyond my narrow scholarship. Since there are over 5000 distinct indigenous people, and since students choose their own people to study and represent, I stress to them that we are all learning and discovering together.
Two Institutional outcomes are assessed. We have eight in total, which we call abilities. They are taught developmentally, with six discrete levels. Mastery of all eight abilities through level four is required for graduation and informs our general education curriculum. Levels five and six are taught and assessed in students’ major(s). By the end of the semester, students in my Global Indigenous People’s course must demonstrate Developing a Global Perspective and Effective Citizenship. The basic definitions of these abilities and their appropriate levels are:
- Developing a Global Perspective – The student works to understand how issues are globally interconnected – geographically, culturally, historically and economically – in order to develop a broader perspective about them and make informed judgments about them. She strives to find a balance between recognizing diversity and maintaining an awareness of the common interests held by citizens of the world. Level 3: The student selects and applies disciplinary frameworks in order to identify implications of the world’s diversity and global interconnections within a particular context. Level 4: The student draws on disciplinary frameworks to articulate a perspective markedly different from her own on a topic with global dimensions, demonstrating her awareness of the worldviews underlying that perspective as well as the likely implications of holding the perspective.
- Effective Citizenship – Effective Citizenship involves making informed choices and developing strategies for collaborative involvement in community issues. The student must demonstrate and master the ability to act with an informed awareness of issues and participate in civic life through volunteer activities and leadership. Level 3: The student learns how to “read an organization” in terms of how individuals work with others to achieve common goals.
These learning outcomes are further contextualized in the course and, in their most specific definition, at the assignment level. This continuum of increasing specificity from institutional to program to course and finally to assignment is explicitly designed and shared with my colleagues in the Developing a Global Perspective Ability Department, which oversees the teaching of these courses, and the students who take my course.
I love to teach this course. Students are stunned by what they learn and can do with their knowledge. It opens a window to them about global indigenous people, the role of the State, the impact of multinational corporations on indigenous people, and the power and limitations of non-governmental organizations as change agents on the international level. I’ve had students from various disciplines, from nursing to business to humanities to education, who have sought out NGO’s for internships and employment. They are becoming globally effective citizens. I like to think in some small part I helped them get there.
- Specialized Knowledge – Students study conceptual frameworks such as marginalization, ethnocide, oppressive authenticity, tribalism, market capitalism, and self-determination.
- Broad and Integrative Knowledge – When considering the lives of the indigenous, students learn about the tension between utility and artistry. They explore differences between spirituality, religion, and the religious. They contemplate value versus the material, of poverty in competing economic paradigms.
- Intellectual Skills – Students use their disciplinary training to inform their understanding and expand their response.
- Applied and Collaborative Learning – In this collaborative classroom setting, students continually confront new problems and seek solutions in myriad group processes.
- Civic and Global Learning- Aside from learning about global actors in the political decision-making process, the assignment places students into a role-playing scenario as an NGO representative.
Alignment and Scaffolding
I assign the assessment on the first day but it is due at the end of the semester. As students work through the semester towards this final performance, they must make three basic decisions; choose a non-US indigenous people to study, select an issue currently impacting their people, and identify and research a non-governmental organization that works with their people. This backward design scaffolds multiple learning experiences along the way to help students move successfully toward their final project.
Among the steps, students:
- Are introduced to indigenous people through a text by David Maybury-Lewis, “Indigenous People and the State” and through various additional readings and films that allow them to “meet” indigenous people and hear their stories;
- Use a weekly, on-line, Indigenous Media Blog, divided between reporters and reflectors, that help students accumulate news articles and practice discourse on current indigenous issues;
- Write an opinion piece (first assessment) to the local newspaper that offers a critique of its failure to cover global indigenous stories and explains the relationship between global indigenous issues and local Milwaukee issues;
- Do a group research project on one indigenous people. In small groups students identify key aspects of a people and practice their research skills. Together the class constructs a portrait of a people;
- Attend a research lab conducted with assistance of a library liaison to get students started on learning about their indigenous people (this also connects with their learning experiences on the previous research project);
- Participate in a mid-semester (second) assessment organized as an NGO Café, where students circulate through a series of table prompts on various questions related to their indigenous people, global indigenous issues, public awareness, and the role of NGOs in all the above. They write a self assessment afterward to set the stage for future work.
- A draft of their policy paper is peer reviewed and then provided instructor feedback — at least two weeks before the final is due.
I am generally pleased with this assessment because I have seen positive results and the level of student engagement is quite high. However students are more consistently successful in demonstrating their own global perspective in their final presentations than with their position papers. There may be something about the human interaction from a presentation that draws out a student’s point of view in more profound ways than when they craft a persuasive paper. (Or the learning experiences towards crafting the paper aren’t doing the job, or the prompt itself is weak!).
In post-assignment discussions with students, there is a general sense of dread in writing a position paper of this nature. While the peer review and instructor feedback on the drafts is helpful (this was an adjustment made to earlier feedback on performance and student comments), making substantial changes is challenging given the tight timeline. From my conversation with NILOA Charrette participants, my goal for improvement is to compartmentalize aspects of their writing and embed it into earlier classroom assignments/experiences.
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