The Key to Global Learning in Universities? Global Access to Local Knowledge.

A Portal at Harvard Divinity School

A Portal at Harvard Divinity School

On university campuses around the world, calls for global literacy are more urgent than ever. Three decades of accelerating globalization have made intercultural competency a central draw  for universities. Prospective students are increasingly conscious that their careers will depend on their ability to navigate culturally complex situations.

Young people now look to universities for a new kind of learning experience – one where they can step out break out of the bubble of campus life and interact with people unlike themselves. They want to hear diverse perspectives from around the world first-hand.

Universities have heard that message loud and clear. Over a decade ago, the Association of American Colleges & Universities recommended that “students should have sustained opportunities to learn about: the human imagination, expression, and the products of many cultures; and the interrelations within and among global and cross-cultural communities.”

Now, according to NAFSA: the Association of International Educators, nearly 9 in 10 chief academic officers point to knowledge of world cultures as a top learning priority.

But not all students are reaping the benefits of these global initiatives. Study abroad programs, for example, are expensive, temporary, and limited to less than half of students. NAFSA notes that “those opportunities, no matter how much they expand students’ horizons, occupy only a portion of their college career and often reach only a minority.”

The answer is to globalize the learning experience at home.

A number of major universities are now connecting their campuses to the world with Portals  – a global network of immersive environments in which you can talk with people around the world, live and full-body, as if in the same room. A project of Shared_Studios, Portals are staffed by a global network of facilitators who bring the expertise and diverse perspectives of their local community into dialogue with students. Every Portal connects with every other, which means professors and students can access local knowledge in sites from Mexico to Rwanda.

Faculty at Harvard Divinity School used Portals to engage students in interfaith dialogue with communities experiencing displacement in Jordan and Iraq. At Cornell University, professors facilitated an international seminar about black speculative thought with students in Honduras. From Cornell’s music department, educators coordinated a jam session between students and musicians at the Afghan National Institute of Music in Kabul. Because every Portal can connect with every other, students at these universities could step into the Portal to talk, dance, and collaborate with citizens at any of 40 sites around the world.

Boston College, MIT, Texas State University, University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Vanderbilt University, the University of Maryland, Yale University, and Johns Hopkins University are among the US universities to have used Portals as part of global engagement efforts. By hosting a Portal, universities like these introduce global voices onto their campus so that their students are never disconnected from global learning. Rather than disconnected communities, these campuses become hosts for diverse, international perspectives. They become genuinely global, and genuinely intercultural.