University of Kentucky to offer classes linked to international universities

ahancock@herald-leader.comJune 10, 2012 

Instructors from UK and Sorbonne Nouvelle University tested the technology for their linked course, to be offered in the fall.

After more than two years of planning, the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences is ready to implement a program that will allow UK students to take courses "linked" to international universities.

"It's exciting to use all these new technologies to make a more collaborative and international education," Kathi Kern, director of the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching.

In addition to the academic side of the program, Kern said, she expects her students to gain insight on the many challenges of international communication. Students will have to manage time changes, language barriers and cultural differences to interact with students from other countries, she said.

Susan Carvalho, the assistant provost for international affairs, and Kern collaborated with the College of Arts and Sciences to find a way to make international experience more accessible for all UK students. The result was Global Connections, which will begin in the fall.

"International experience is an essential part of the UK curriculum, and this program attempts to bring that in reach of all students," Carvalho said.

Ted Schatzki, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, proposed Global Connections as a way to introduce internationalism across the curriculum. He teamed with Carvalho and Kern. "We noticed a few of the universities who were pioneering the idea and decided it would be a good initiative to follow," Schatzki said.

The University of Michigan and University of Southern California offer similar courses.

UK's globally connected courses include one in Appalachian studies that will link with a university in India, a sociology course pairing with a university in China and two English courses that will link with a Palestinian university and one in the Czech Republic.

Kern, who will teach a history course linked with a university in France, said the courses are open to all UK students and do not require additional tuition fees.

The College of Arts and Sciences is cutting $4 million from its budget during the next few years. That cut comes as part of a universitywide effort to make up a $45 million budget hole during the next two fiscal years.

"This is a period for the university where there is a lot of fear because we don't know what it's going to look like in the future," Kern said.

The cost of the program for the courses in place is about $9,000, Schatzki said. He said they were "severely" limited in funding, but were able to cover course development, technical assistance and travel expenses that allow UK faculty to meet with their partner instructors to plan the links. The enhancement center and College of Arts and Sciences will provide technical support for the courses.

Global Connections is targeted at students who are not able to study abroad. "We understand that it's not feasible for everyone," Kern said.

According to Schatzki, the program will give students a taste of an international experience.

"It's certainly not the same as traveling to another country, but it's a cost-effective version," he said.

After teaching at UK for 23 years, Kern is using Global Connections to shift the way she teaches her American history course. Kern said it has taken a great deal of planning to link her course with one from Sorbonne Nouvelle University in France.

"But something like this, although it takes a lot of effort, can be done without a lot of money," she said.

By using video conferences, social media, wikis and blogs, her students will be able to interact with students from the French university to essentially work together on course material.

Schatzki said that bringing together students from different backgrounds can create meaningful discussion and relationships.

"Simply having to cooperate with students in a classroom who are elsewhere in the world is a huge learning experience," he said.

Schatzki said he hoped the fall courses are successful enough to expand the number of courses in the Global Connections model and continue to diversify how students can gain international experience.

"This might be the way of the future for students using technology in the classroom." he said.

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