TOWARDS A GLOBALLY-NETWORKED UNIVERSITY
New York University (NYU), which has recently announced plans for a fourth portal campus in Madrid (to join those in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai), is transforming itself into a global networked University. The Global Liberal Studies (GLS) bachelor’s program, which graduates its first class in spring 2012, represents one of NYU’s most fully-fleshed attempts to make globally-networked education a reality. All students in the program take a globally-inflected set of core courses, study for a full year at one of seven NYU-Global sites, and write a senior thesis on a topic that involves the intersection of the global and local.
Connecting students and faculty in an online network is both a practical necessity for maintaining the unification of a far-flung University and a pedagogical opportunity to model the kinds of networks that underpin globalization in all ages. To achieve the practical and academic aims of creating such a network, however, one must abandon a number of assumptions that influence current curricular and technological structures. Among the primary technological barriers to realizing the vision of a globally-connected university are the constraints of the traditional Learning Management System (LMS). The traditional LMS assumes the course as the sole locus of education, a place within which all learning happens and outside of which the student does not exist as an agent. The ATLAS network, based on the Sakai Online Academic Environment (OAE), makes all members of the University community equal participants in a network that offers tools for connection, self-representation, content-sharing, and archiving.
While integrating students into an academic network is always valuable, a global program must take special advantage of networking technologies to enable students and faculty to collate local experiences from around the world into a picture of the complex interplay of global phenomena. In recognition of this potential, the GLS curriculum emphasizes experiential learning, particularly during the junior year at a global site, where students not only take a required experiential learning course on-site, but also collaborate online across sites to share their work and develop it into extended research projects.
Moreover, GLS students using the ATLAS environment have the opportunity to collect and organize these experiences in a free-form archive portfolio they share with their professors and advisors. In much the same way as the conventional LMS works against the internet’s potential to free learning from the boundaries of a course, online portfolios have tended to stress the demonstration of pre-determined competencies, rather than to give students a free hand to represent and reflect on their experiences in their own ways. The Liberal Studies portfolio allows students to choose their own modes of organization, which reflect the ways their taxonomic assumptions develop over their undergraduate years; thus the structures of students’ portfolios, as much as their contents, help shape their conversations with advisors, particularly in relation to the senior thesis.
In our vision, educational goals and technological platforms can inform and transform each other in a fluid, iterative process. This principle affects the design of both curriculum and educational technology, which must be open-ended enough to respond to the changing ways that technology integrates the human community as a whole.