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Online master's degree gives teachers the tools to think globally

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor


Fazal Rizvi and Nicole Lamers
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Photo by Kwame Ross
Fazal Rizvi is the director of the Global Studies in Education program at Illinois, and Nicole Lamers is the graduate student who coordinates the program.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — All education is global. At least that’s the perspective of a new online master’s degree program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The new “Global Studies in Education” program, near the end of its first semester, aims to give educators resources and skills for teaching in an age of “global interconnectivity,” says education professor Fazal Rizvi, the program’s director.

Rizvi, whose family heritage is Iranian, was born and raised in India, educated in England, and spent most of his academic career in Australia. He has been studying global issues related to education for more than a decade.

He came to the College of Education at Illinois to develop its global studies curriculum at a time when there has been a growing campus emphasis on global studies and study abroad. Making it all the more pertinent and timely was his arrival at Illinois exactly three weeks prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In the aftermath of those attacks, “we were hearing from everyone in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere that Americans need to know more about the world,” Rizvi said, “but there wasn’t all that much attention being paid to teachers’ professional development.”

Rizvi thinks the Illinois program is the first to do that in a comprehensive way, bringing together a number of diverse elements, ranging from curriculum and policy to technology and cultural issues.

And the response of teachers signing up for the first group seems to demonstrate a need, according to Nicole Lamers, the graduate student who coordinates the program. Almost all the potential spots were quickly filled with little advance notice, she said.

“For most of them, it’s the same thing: It’s something that they’ve been looking for and haven’t been able to find.”

Most of the group, which will stay together throughout the program, are experienced, mid-career teachers with experience abroad or with ethnically diverse populations. “I think it’s those kinds of experiences that bring people to a program like this,” Lamers said.

One group member is a California teacher with a class composed almost entirely of Mexican or Mexican-American students. Another is a local teacher who was raised in Algeria by American missionary parents. Two of the students are taking the class while teaching abroad, one in Bahrain and one in Japan. The student in Bahrain has to be up at 5 a.m. one day each week to participate in a lecture and discussion online.

Diversity within the groups is “absolutely central to the program,” Rizvi said. That means diversity in experience, family background, subjects they teach, where they teach, etc. He hopes future classes also will include teachers from other countries. “We’re hoping that students will teach each other much more than we’ll teach them,” he said.

Lamers said many teachers in the program are motivated by a desire to explain to colleagues why a global perspective is important for teaching in local schools. “They feel it’s important, but they can’t really say it’s because of ‘this and this,’ ” she said.

“There’s this thing that we (as a society) don’t really understand, this thing called globalization, that’s happening to us,” Lamers said. “We see some of the effects of it, but we don’t really know what those effects are, what’s good about it, what’s bad about it, how we should respond to it, where we fit into it.”

Rizvi said the aim of the program is not to prescribe course content, but to give teachers ideas and resources for exploring the relevance of global interconnections and for finding ways to “internationalize” the curriculum. “We are interested, if you like, in incremental change within the thinking of teachers and schools who believe that there is something new that’s happening out there, but don’t know yet exactly what that is.”

The Global Studies in Education program was developed with funding from the U.S. Department of Education (Title VI), the Illinois International High School Initiative, and the Illinois campus.