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Cornell University

How do I internationalize my teaching and create meaningful global learning experiences?

Picture of Cornell Students and Haitian Children

As part of the Centre d'Education Inclusif (CEI) project to build an inclusive school in Haiti for children with disabilities, Cornell students visit Les Cayes, Haiti, and talk with students there in fall 2014.

Courtesy of Sigal Arielle Willner (pictured).

We recommend a creative, backwards design approach. Backwards design is a phrase that reminds us to think about where we hope to arrive before we set out on the journey, so that we can plan the trip. Having an itinerary doesn’t mean we close ourselves to the happy discoveries that come from taking wrong turns or following unanticipated paths. Instead, it invites us to be intentional about thinking holistically about student learning and long-term goals and reminds us to reflect on current research about teaching and learning that can really make a difference.Global learning outcomes are complex in that they encompass cognitive, affective and behavioral learning domains, so it’s worth spending some time at the beginning to figure out what matters to you and in your discipline, from a global perspective.Some features of courses with a global focus or of global learning experiences in general include:

  • a focus on intercultural learning and inquiry, developing intercultural competencies, and effective mentoring
  • teaching strategies that support global learning such as a developing practice of critical reflection, working with cultural objects, using ethnographic methods, using maps effectively and critically, developing global literacy skills, and adopting intercultural competence development frameworks, etc.
  • place-based enrichment, “content-in-context” in designing off-campus experiences, as well as paying attention to logistics and practical matters
  • intentional planning and attention to design to maximize learning and use mistakes and failure as learning moments
  • inclusive practices that engage diversity for the benefit of all students’ learning
  • best practices for increasing international student participation and learning


We organize the design process into three or four stages, stopping at key moments to reflect and triangulate—even though we call the process “backwards,” in practice, your thinking will move back and forth along your expected timeline to inform your plan, you’ll draw from your own experiences as a learner, and from your expertise in your discipline and field. This approach can be applied to any program or plan.

What do I want my students to be able to do, know, or value as a result of taking an internationally-focused course or participating in a global learning experience?

Outcomes, or expressions of how you hope students will have changed after the learning experience, and assessments—gathering evidence of how they have changed—go together. The root of the word assessment, from Latin, is to sit beside. This provides us with an image of guided mentorship and learning that is at the heart of developing learning outcomes and meaningful assessments.

Articulating learning outcomes makes concrete what is often implied. It lets all students know from the beginning what is expected of them and what they are likely to learn if they complete the course or program successfully.

Writing global learning outcomes is a creative process that draws from:

  • your own personal and professional experience of what matters, 
  • content knowledge, and
  • other skills, behaviors, or attitudes that are important in relation to your project, your goals, and your discipline.

Two questions can help guide you:

  • How will my students be different after this learning experience?
  • How will I know my students have changed? In other words, what evidence will students provide to show they have changed?

Planning in advance gives you an opportunity to think deeply about what you want students to leave knowing, doing, and thinking. Why does your program matter? What are students getting that is internationally-focused that might be different from other learning experiences? 

The learning outcomes you develop for your ICC project will likely be a mix of discipline, major, and program-specific learning outcomes and globally-focused learning outcomes, which explicitly address learning related to global topics or themes, including intercultural knowledge and competence. You may focus on a single learning outcome, or more typically, several. Writing learning outcomes does not negate the fact that not all learning can be measured and quantified, that learners learn differently and at different paces, and that learning in the emotional and behavioral domains is just as important as gaining content knowledge.

The pdf attachments to the right include, “Steps for Writing Learning Outcomes,” a user-friendly tip-sheet for developing learning outcomes, and examples of global learning and intercultural knowledge and competence outcomes in the form of rubrics developed by AAC&U. Global learning outcomes often address multiple learning domains, including cognitive, affective, and interpersonal. 

Melina Draper, Teaching Support Specialist for Internationalizing the Curriculum, is available for consults or to answer questions. She can assist you to develop learning outcomes in a way that honors your vision and intent. Contact info: 607-255-9797.

How will I know my students have learned? How do I assess global learning?

A challenge in assessing global learning outcomes comes from the holistic nature of the learning. Global learning includes communicative, interactive, relational, and experiential elements. Global learning outcomes, such as behaving appropriately and effectively in a variety of cultural contexts; using knowledge of complex systems to develop and advocate for informed, appropriate action to solve complex problems in the world; transcending stereotypes; initiating and maintaining meaningful interactions with people from varied cultures and with different worldviews with respect and willingness to learn; suspending judgement; tolerating ambiguity; shifting perspectives, etc., can be difficult to assess. Real-world interactions and performance and subsequent critical reflection are crucial tools to rely on for assessment, where the process of learning matters as much as the “outcome,” and where mistakes and failures are integral to the learning process.

Turning to the usual assessment tools and methods for measuring and gauging student learning is helpful. However, there may be some particular challenges depending on your desired learning outcomes. The desired learning fromglobal experiences is often developmentaland incremental. Furthermore, the learning may continue long after the duration of the global learning experience. How do you measure changes in behavior or attitude?

It might be helpful to think about what kinds of student activity would or will provide direct, clear, and compelling evidence of learning. At the same time, the work that students do should matter. When student work is authentic, it mimics or is the same kind of work that is undertaken by professional practitioners and is important and valuable to people or to the field. Authentic assessments, those that ask students to perform a real task, as similar as possible to those performed by practitioners in a discipline, or that are at once anchored in course content, essential questions,and enduring understandings, are an important element of successful global learning.

Image from Peter Ajay’s sketchbook of a Marine Iguana.

Chris Diaz's drawing and observations of a marine iguana, on Baltra Island in the Galapagos

Examples of direct evidence of what students are learning might include:

  • Capstone projects (consider co-designing the projects with students)
  • Portfolios or e-portfolios of student work (these value process, revision, and reflection)
  • “Think-alouds,” team debriefing or other reflection activities(journaling, drawing, conversations with mentors)
  • Knowledge maps
  • Feedback from and ratings of student skills by field experienced supervisors
  • Presentations or other real applications of knowledge in the field Rubricscan provide a clear guide of expectations for students and instructors.

Whatever assessment tools you choose to use, be sure to work with the outcomes you have developed and to think about the stepping stones to achieving the outcomes—the assignments, activities, lessons, lectures, and experiences that students will need to be successful.


Association of American Colleges and Universities. 2014. Global Learning VALUE rubric. VALUE: Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education.

Deardorff, D. (2015). Demystifying outcomes assessment for international educators. A practical approach. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus. p. 33-37.

Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning outcomes: A common sense guide. (2nd ed.) San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Where to go Next

What are some special considerations for designing short-term
off-campus learning experiences?

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