Global Learning at Northern Arizona University: The Global Learning Initiative

Overview of the Global Learning Initiative

The Global Learning Initiative (GLI) was launched in 2009 as part of a comprehensive strategic planning process to advance global education at Northern Arizona University. Recommendations that formed the basis of the GLI were developed by the subcommittee on Global Learning, one of five subcommittees of the Task Force on Global Education. The GLI aims to ensure that all students have multiple, substantive and intentional encounters with global perspectives, using the academic disciplines as the principal site for this work, but using the Liberal Studies Program and the co-curriculum in strategic ways to support this process. The ultimate goal of this agenda is to prepare students to be globally competent upon graduation.

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We define global learning “as the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students acquire through a variety of experiences that enable them to understand world cultures and events; analyze global systems; appreciate cultural differences; and apply this knowledge and appreciation to their lives as citizens and workers” (Olsen, Green and Hill, 2006). We also believe that global learning at NAU is mediated by three themes that reflect institutional history, mission and values. They include diversity, environmental sustainability and global engagement.
The GLI calls on all academic departments to develop a global learning strategy for their respective units that involve the following activities:

  • Articulate global learning outcomes in the language of their respective disciplines, filtered through the lens of the three themes of global learning (diversity, environmental sustainability and global engagement)
  • Conduct an audit of existing academic coursework and other activities offered to determine the extent to which global learning already exists in the department
  • Develop strategies both within the curriculum and co-curriculum to help students achieve the global learning outcomes to which the academic department is committed.
  • Develop and implement assessment strategies to establish the degree to which students are realizing the global learning outcomes of the department in question.

The global learning strategies developed by departments that participated in this project may be found here.


The Themes of Global Learning

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The themes of global learning are core to our definition and practice of global learning at Northern Arizona University. During the strategic planning process, a total of five themes were developed. They include diversity, environmental sustainability, global engagement, self and society and transcultural and translingual competence. A decision was made to focus only on the first three of these themes and they are defined (in the shortened version) as follows:

Global Engagement

Students will learn how to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the interconnectedness and interdependence of the human experience on a global scale.

Environmental Sustainability

Students will acquire the skills and knowledge base to understand the importance of and options for environmental sustainability in local and global terms. Students will also acquire an understanding of the range of ethical perspectives concerning the uses of natural resources and the impact of these perspectives on creating a sustainable relationship to the natural environment.


Students will learn about and critically reflect upon the nature and consequences of diversity in both the social (e.g. ethnic, religious, cultural) world and the natural environment, and develop an understanding of how this diversity both alters and is altered in a world characterized by increasing global interaction.
A further explication of the themes of global learning may be found in the legislation adopted by the Faculty Senate or in the full report of the Task Force for Global Education, links to which may be found in the left column of this page.

How the GLI Impacts Students

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The Global Learning Initiative aims to equip students with the skills, knowledge and dispositions to understand, negotiate and succeed in a globalized world. By facilitating opportunities for students to have multiple, substantive and intentional encounters with global perspectives throughout their respective academic experiences, both in the curriculum and the co-curriculum, it is the objective of the GLI to help prepare students to be globally competent upon graduation. Students will learn the global dimensions of their respective disciplines in the core courses of their program and related co-curricula activities; they will have opportunities for cross-cultural learning through the study of languages, residency in an international living and learning environment, and/or by participating in education abroad (study, research, internship) experiences; and they will have opportunities to understand how the themes of diversity, global engagement and environmental sustainability interact with respective academic majors.

What the Global Learning Initiative Expects of Faculty

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The Global Learning Initiative was developed in a way that gives faculty practically complete control of transforming the curriculum to assure that students have appropriate global learning experiences. With such a posture, it is expected that faculty will design coursework and other learning experiences guided by the global learning outcomes adopted by their respective academic units. It is also expected that faculty will make strategic use of the Liberal Studies Program and the co-curriculum to further global learning. Finally, it is expected that faculty will regularly assess student learning to determine how effective the academic experiences they facilitate for students are in helping them to achieve the global learning outcomes.

How the Global Learning Initiative Transforms the Curriculum 

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The GLI makes every learning experience, be it a course, a lab, the visit of a distinguished scholar or a fieldwork experience an opportunity for learning about the global context of our lives. We take the position that there is a global narrative to every course and every learning experience, even as we acknowledge that this may be more difficult in some courses/disciplines than in others. For the more challenging disciplines, however, we have encouraged faculty to reach out to other colleagues, both within and outside of their own discipline for ideas and persist at interrogating how best to engage students with global perspectives, even with it may not seem intuitive. Our experience has confirmed that once faculty engage in a focused way with the task of internationalizing the courses they teach, that they discover many innovative strategies, that they would be most adept at implementing these strategies, and that they can be much more effective at this than any university-wide committee formed for this purpose.

 NAU Learning Outcomes

Global Learning Recommendations

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The global learning recommendations were developed by the subcommittee for Global Education which consisted of more than 40 faculty members representing all six colleges at the university. These recommendations and how they must be understood emerged after extensive deliberations among the subcommittee members. They are as follows:

  • That the three elements of NAU’s vision for global education be adopted as the core University Thematic Student Learning Outcomes and that these should be part of the learning experience of all undergraduate students in their undergraduate majors, in the Liberal Studies Program, and in their co-curricular programming. 
  • That departments accept and embrace a role in providing students with substantive and multiple opportunities within their degree program that includes guiding them through advisement to opportunities in the University curriculum (including the minor program, the Liberal Studies Program, Education Abroad, and co-curricular learning experiences) to acquire knowledge and develop competencies associated with global engagement, diversity and environmental sustainability. 
  • That the program review process be used to facilitate the incorporation of student learning outcomes that reflect the University Thematic Student Learning Outcomes into the curricula of departments, other academic units, and the Liberal Studies program. 
  • That in recognition of the transformative nature of education abroad each undergraduate major will explore how best to allow students the chance to exercise the option of taking one semester of Education Abroad without slowing progress toward degree completion. 
  • That the Graduate College engage in a process to determine how best to infuse graduate education with a global learning agenda. 

Faculty Senate Approval for Global Learning Recommendations

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The NAU Faculty Senate adopted the Global Learning Recommendations on January 19, 2010, as the university thematic student learning outcomes. This is significant in the sense that as university thematic student learning outcomes, all academic departments have a responsibility to align their respective curricula to assure that students are able to realize these outcomes. Of course, these may not be the only thematic student learning outcomes that the Faculty Senate may choose to adopt, but they deserve the attention of all academic departments just as well. The entire document that provides detailed information about these recommendations may be found here.