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A Collaborative Alternative to MOOCs: AASCU’s Global Challenges Project

Diversity and Democracy

A Collaborative Alternative to MOOCs: AASCU’s Global Challenges Project

di Shala Mills (Association of American Colleges & Universities)

How can we best prepare students to be culturally competent, globally aware citizens capable of leveraging the knowledge and skills necessary to engage difficult global issues? Failure to provide such an education invites a grim future for all, but determining how best to do so can be daunting. To foster creative approaches to teaching about global challenges, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) created its Global Challenges Project. Conceived by George Mehaffy, AASCU’s vice president for academic leadership and change, the project (which I direct) uses technology effectively and cost-efficiently to support faculty as they educate students to become globally competent and engaged citizens.

Massive Collaborative Design

The Global Challenges Project is the first offering developed using AASCU’s Red Balloon model. The model draws its guiding metaphor from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency exercise where teams used the Internet and social networking to locate red balloons scattered around the country. The winning team of five individuals found all ten balloons in less than nine hours by relying on a social network of some four thousand people. George Mehaffy (2010) thought that American classrooms could benefit from a similar model, one that relies on the “wisdom of the crowds” and uses technology to connect faculty and students in building content superior to what any single faculty member might be able to create alone.

The Global Challenges Project deploys this model while building on the Seven Revolutions framework developed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a leading nonpartisan think tank in Washington, DC. CSIS developed the framework as a lens through which to consider seven key drivers of global change: population, resources, technology, information, economies, conflict, and governance. As participants in the Global Challenges Project, faculty from multiple disciplines on a dozen campuses across the country collaborated to design learning objectives (see sidebar below), lessons, assignments, activities, quizzes, and exams associated with these seven global challenges. These scholars have assembled valuable teaching resources—including videos, books, articles, and web-based materials—that they have refined on their home campuses and through institutes and workshops around the country.

These materials have evolved into what AASCU is calling a Massive Collaboratively Designed Course. An effective alternative to MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), the course curriculum is available for use on any campus. Created collaboratively, the course encourages collaboration in another sense: it provides educators with a set of tools to bolster their teaching in content areas outside of their disciplines, allowing modifications to make the best use of an instructor’s particular expertise, to highlight issues of special relevance to the campus or the community, and to meet specific learning objectives. The course uses a blended model, where supplemental assignments and interactions outside of the classroom allow students to meet face-to-face less often than in a conventional course. Finally, project offerings include a pre- and post-course test, and campuses using these materials can join a national assessment effort aimed at measuring students’ learning and attitudinal shifts. Nationally, faculty use the Global Challenges course in a wide range of settings, including honors programming, first-year experiences, writing or speaking classes, global studies classes, and discipline-specific courses.

Preliminary assessment data and anecdotal evidence suggest that the Global Challenges Project is effectively advancing global learning and engagement. With challenging content and tested pedagogical approaches, the course confronts students with the promise and peril of our interdependent world. Most students who have encountered the material have responded with a sense of social responsibility and a desire to take action—signs of civic learning at its best.


© 2013 Fondazione Etica.