Strategic Directions | Feature

Enrollment: Earth — Global Strategies in Higher Education

A Q&A with Marist College Senior Academic Technology Officer Josh Baron

What does "globalization" mean in higher education? For years, online courses and technologies have extended the reach of education worldwide. Institutions have long maintained international departments, and many colleges and universities now foster growing enrollments of international students on their local campuses. Increasingly, we find institutions operating programs or opening branch campuses in other countries. Given the myriad strategies that fall somewhere in this general summary, it's difficult to nail down a pat definition of "globalization" in higher education. But today we live in a global society, and whether your institution has simply added an international component to a campus here in the states or is operating degree-granting programs on foreign soil, it's going global.

Discussions one might find in the general press about the notion of "globalization" commonly focus on economic mechanisms, though they may also bring out social, political, or cultural attributes. But put the term in a higher education setting and you'll see values you won't necessarily find in other markets. Here, we examine globalization in the higher education context.

Mary Grush: What does "globalization" mean in higher education? And for the purposes of our discussion, is this different from "internationalization"?

Josh Baron: I think the terms globalization and internationalization actually go hand in hand in higher education, as in practice they seem to be used variously from institution to institution. Often schools want to internationalize their curriculum so that it represents different cultures and incorporates points of view from all over the world. At Marist College, we've focused rather intensively on this for two decades. Institutions may concentrate on recruiting foreign students to come to their U.S.-based campus as a way of internationalizing the campus community. Here at Marist, in Poughkeepsie, New York, we have a recruitment program in India, which brings 20-30 students in computer science here each year, and we have a similar program in China. From a business perspective, some institutions wish to compete globally and open branch campuses in other parts of the world. Marist is part of this growing trend and has a fully accredited branch campus in Florence, Italy through a partnership we have with Lorenzo de' Medici (LdM).

Globalization in higher education represents a whole spectrum of changes that are happening, relevant to the fact that we are living in an increasingly global society. It's interesting, too, to note the differences between globalization in higher education and other industries. While our institutions do compete with one another in this context, we also collaborate with each other in pretty significant ways that you wouldn't really find in the corporate world. So whether you're calling it internationalization or globalization, it's a bit of a unique thing in higher education.

Grush: How do students benefit when their institution is poised for globalization? And how might the institution offer a globalized learning experience for students?

Baron: It's hard to imagine a future in which our graduates would not be working globally and interacting with different cultures all over the world. So from that perspective, it's very important to expose our students to what other parts of the world are like so they may learn to collaborate and work productively in a global society.

To give a brief example, Marist has students located in study abroad sites around the world — Hong Kong, Paris, parts of Africa, and elsewhere. Through our student-centered podcasting initiative, these students generate, share, and compare observations as part of their online courses, based on their experiences with the cultures in which they are immersed. This is a great example of how we have taken a traditional online course and "globalized" it by incorporating the learning experiences of our students abroad.

Grush: Is the research experience becoming globalized?

Baron: A number of projects are trying to provide better connections for researchers globally. Academic networking and cloud-based technologies can give researchers a new platform both to collaborate and to connect with one another on a global scale.

Originally, people thought that the learning management system would address this need, but we've found that learning management systems are too closed, by design, to support global research collaborations and provide relevant connections to colleagues worldwide.

Today, Marist is involved, along with Cambridge University, the ESUP Portail open source community — and others — in the Open Academic Environment (OAE) project, through the Apereo foundation (Apereo.org). The goal of the project is to develop and pilot a truly global academic collaboration platform. Initial pilots began this past September.

A related effort is VIVO, an open source semantic Web application and standard for researcher academic profiles. It facilitates global academic networking, using analytics.

Grush: What are some of the other IT-supported strategies and technologies that either can promote, or may have to change in order to promote, globalization? Are we now in the best position in history (technologically) for institutions to leverage technology to create true change in global education?

Baron: We may be getting there. To help answer this I'll circle back a little bit to the OAE, which has adopted a cloud-ready technology stack that includes the NoSQL Apache Cassandra solution that, as far as I know, has never been deployed in higher education. Fundamentally it's the same technology employed by Twitter or Netflix, that allows you to create collaboration environments in the cloud and scale them to a level that was never imagined previously — literally to millions of people. Maybe even to the "Enrollment: Earth" you were mentioning earlier, Mary! But it's important to have that kind of capability and capacity in higher education for a lot of reasons. For example, if you want to have every single researcher and every institution in higher education around the world to be collaborating with each other in a common environment, you need something that can scale up dramatically. It's only been in the last 10 years that this type of technology has been used in production in other markets, and only in the past two years or so that we have seen higher education start to experiment with it.

Another area that's going to be important is open technologies. For example, the work that Creative Commons has done, or global consortia around open content… A number of open initiatives have started to push out of the national scale and into the global arena. If we were to create institutional or national silos, even of open content, that's not going to be very efficient. So globalization of open content is going to be crucial.

Further, internationalization in software development — a strategy that addresses the translation of program and technology elements into other spoken/written languages and contexts — is another aspect of globalization that organizations need to address as the technology is expected to perform on a world stage. This may seem to be a somewhat technical point, but it's just one of the many real issues to be addressed and one of the reasons why we need leadership in both strategic and functional areas by global organizations like Apereo.

Grush: Globalization has been talked about in higher education for a long time. What's especially relevant now?

Baron: I've traveled internationally pretty extensively. And I have to say that one thing that always amazes me is that across the board, without exception, every place I've been, higher education seems to be facing the same major challenges: quality issues, cost issues, and access issues. We often refer to this as the "iron triangle" because when you positively impact on one of the three challenges, you often negatively impact on one of the others. Given the globalization of communication technology, the ability for us to connect and collaborate globally, and given our culture in higher education of cooperation and collaboration, it seems like there is a huge imperative right now for higher education to work globally in order to overcome these challenges, to break the iron triangle.

It's particularly important that higher education collaborates globally around technologies that are critical to our missions. And, this speaks to the strategic importance of higher education open source communities and organizations also leading the work on a global scale.

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