A World-Wide Learning Environment (WLE) was a three-year $205,000 initiative that supported the expansion of faculty and undergraduate student participation in international learning experiences. The goal was twofold: to increase the number of such experiences available to undergraduates, and to enhance those experiences by leveraging the university’s leading role in communication technology.
The project encouraged faculty innovation through an internal grant competition, soliciting proposals that (1) focused on undergraduates,
(2) incorporated advanced information and communication technology in support of educational initiatives, and
(3) established sustainable relationships with faculty, institutions, and students abroad.
Over the course of the project, WLE approved a total of nineteen sub-grants. The grant also supported the expansion of videoconferencing capacity throughout the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as grant administration, faculty seminars, and information dissemination.
The Office of the Dean in the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University administered the grant. Associate Dean Molly W. Berger led a steering committee that included Jill Korbin, Associate Dean; Thomas Knab, Chief Information Officer; and Martha Gibbons, Director, Foundation Relations.
Although the management of two separate sets of students proved challenging in terms of overseeing attendance, dealing with separate grading systems and working across a seven-hour time difference, the experience was professionally satisfying and will be repeated in the future.
The steering committee recruited a faculty advisory committee that included members with research interests around the world as well as members with experience in pedagogical innovation. The faculty advisory committee recommended a process for soliciting proposals and wrote the original request for proposals (RFP) that laid out criteria for funding.
A grant review committee was initially drawn from the faculty advisory committee. As faculty members won and implemented their grants, however, they became active in future rounds of reviews.
WLE leadership was committed to helping faculty submit fundable proposals. Applicants were required to attend a lunchtime seminar that introduced the goals of the grant and emphasized the core principles: a focus on the undergraduate experience, use of advanced communication technology, and a structure that insured sustainability. Faculty were specifically asked to explain how their projects would continue once the grant money was expended. The one major restriction was that grant money was not allowed to subsidize student travel.
Members of the steering committee worked closely with faculty as they developed their ideas. Two seminars were held during each Fall and Spring semester, with an additional seminar in the summer. Once the grants were awarded, faculty had at least eighteen months to implement their projects, with extensions when necessary.
The nineteen grants covered a range of experiences, including team-taught courses, teleconferences with visiting experts, and unstructured student activities.
Several of the grants supported the purchase of equipment, and many underwrote travel for either CWRU faculty or faculty from abroad. Face-to-face visits proved to be essential for establishing productive and efficient collaborations. In some cases, these visits generated investments in communication technology by partner universities, leading in turn to high-quality videoconferences and other technology-based activities for students. Often activities funded during the grant period laid the groundwork for subsequent learning opportunities. For example, videotapes of visiting scholars and artists will be used in future courses.
Faculty regularly reported that WLE activities generated a high degree of student engagement, and student comments revealed an appreciation for the enhanced opportunities. Many students who participated in activities featuring peer-to-peer interaction maintained friendships and often went on to study abroad.
Faculty faced a number of challenges because of time differences, network variability, and the need to experiment with different kinds of communication systems. Some courses required a substantial amount of technical support, while others sailed along without problems. International videoconferences often required prior test connections to ensure successful interactions. Once communication was established and the bugs were worked out, however, faculty and students enjoyed the opportunities to work with colleagues and peers from around the world.