President’s message – Spring 2010

Newsletter spring 2010
President’s message: by Ed Stering

Global competence! Have these two words matured into a hot topic with immediate workplace implications? I want to explore this fresh way of looking at a Student Learning Outcome (SLO) of a world language program. First, I’ll take a personal moment.

The FLANC Council has elected me twice to serve as the president, and it is time to pass the gavel to another member from the FLANC Council. The election is in May. That’s good for all concerned. In the 57 years of FLANC, our mission has been served very well by the generous efforts of all who volunteer, and I suppose we all appreciate each other. Take an example, our FLANC treasurer Chris Wallace did so much in 2009: he hosted FLANC’s workshops on November 13, 2009 at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep, he presented a highly praised workshop on AP Spanish Language best practices, he hosted a wine and cheese reception for all the workshops after presenting his workshop, he won the bidding on a vintage kimono at the silent auction table at the Saturday conference, and he charmed all who attended with refreshments. Chris will continue to serve as our treasurer and as a member on committees that plan our work and events. Take a second example, our Council’s out-reach efforts attracted the generous donation of the Goethe Institute to invite all the AATG and German educators in attendance to the luncheon. Among those who benefitted, hardly anyone came from the same school, so sharing shoptalk was especially informative for everyone at the table. They have been able to take back interesting tidbits of information to pass on to their local colleagues. Everyone may have benefitted directly or indirectly, including the students. I believe that this ripple effect of a conference is crucial, and I admire everyone who endeavors to advance professionalism in our field. Being a talkative part of the grapevine is a wonderful way to serve your colleagues! Personally, I have found that being on the FLANC Council is a wonderful way to give back to our profession. You can see how working on the FLANC Council can be satisfying, as well as momentarily hectic. Well, it is my moment to extend heart-felt thanks to all in FLANC who have worked to advance our shared mission. Un millón de gracias.

Let me get back to SLOs and Global Competency; is GC joining our SLOs? Will it be in our world language program’s mission statement? Our traditional, practical goal in foreign language programs has been to motivate and prepare our students for further study in the program! Ultimately, they can grow to have communicative proficiency in the language and deep knowledge of the culture(s) and the language itself. The frequently repeated “news” that there is high demand for employees who understand the world and live with intercultural sensitivity is well-known; but it sounds a little too good to be true. Are global corporations really searching for job candidates who speak more than one language? A similar question could be posited for NGOs and public sector jobs. Let’s agree to the premise that there are growing opportunities in the private sector for our students who acquire global competency, including proficiency in a world language, so if we are going to teach it, how can we document GC as a take-away for our graduates?

First off, a definition: What is it? Perhaps there is no successful, national wide definition. In an article by Masarah Van Eyck in the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s summer 2009 magazine On Wisconsin, she describes the current status of GC in some UW academic programs. She gives a quote from Gilles Bousquet, dean of University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Division of International Studies, whose successes are renown: “Global competence isn’t going to look the same in engineering, the health sciences, or the humanities–and it’s also going to mean something different to an educator, an executive, or the head of an NGO.” The UW campus task force listed the components or “competencies” that make up a global mindset, hoping that each campus unit would adopt the “definition.” Ms. Van Eyck writes: “Predictably, perhaps, they include the ability to work and communicate effectively in a variety of cultures and languages, and the capacity to grasp the interdependence of nations in a global economy. Somewhat surprisingly, though, many of the core competencies indicate a kind of stance or attitude–the proclivity to engage in solving critical global issues, for example, and a willingness to see the world from a perspective other than one’s own.” She points out that the UW College of Engineering, for example, bestows an international certificate on its graduating students who take at least sixteen credits of courses that focus on the language, history, or geography of another culture. The task force also recommends that campus units require each incoming undergraduate to adopt a “global portfolio” to record the relevant courses and experiences he or she acquires while pursuing a degree. A second part of the portfolio outlines how these activities specifically translate into global abilities that would be attractive to future employers or graduate schools.

What are other people saying about it? (1) Some advocate an academic requirement that covers anthropology, geography, and world languages. Students would get a special diploma regardless of their major; the Oregon Road Map recommends this certification in that state’s institutions of higher learning. Others counter with the query: What do you sacrifice in general education to make room for additional global competence course work? (2) Some point out that global competency is an illusive target that changes shape over time and place and perspective, and, by the way, maybe our shared understanding is so superficial that it is premature to focus on it at the institutional level. (3) Some inform us that the private and public sectors of our national economy want job applicants who are globally competent. Of course, economic globalization and interdependence of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) across the continents would benefit from globally competent new hirers. (4) Some explain that soft diplomacy, or as the current foreign policies of the USA are sometimes called, smart diplomacy, is the national-level recognition of the importance and validity of global competence.

One difficulty with defining GC is common to all knowledge: the more one knows, the more one realizes how little he or she knows. Ms. Van Eyck reported about an interview with a director of the Senegal study abroad program at UW; his name is Jim Delehanty. He has been to Senegal about twelve times. He spent time in the Peace Corps and conducted research for his doctorate in Niger. He’s lived in Kenya and Kyrgyzstan. Besides English, he speaks French and Hausa well, and knows enough Wolof “to make people smile.” Nevertheless, he doesn’t believe himself to be globally competent. “It’s a nice concept, [but] I’m just not sure it exists in practice,” he said. UW assistant dean of the Division of International Studies Marianne Bird Bear claims that “developing global competency is a lifelong process.” Well, we all probably accept that our schools are fostering the belief that everyone should be a “lifelong learner.”

We could probably find some more narrowly defined Student Learning Outcome of global competence at other institutions. But, the expansive definition at UW that could guide our students towards global competence may be the best path to pursue. My personal belief is that each student who maintains a portfolio of their course work that impacts the list of global competencies should get a certificate of recognition if minimum standards are met. I don’t see a B.A. in global competence as a stand alone major. Quite the contrary, the current certificate initiatives at many institutions can enhance any degree in any major. Debate and standardization vectors can tug and push on one another, but the certificate requirements shouldn’t be too hard to agree on. The portfolio project would guide each student to reflect on his or her course of study in an important perspective.

We say global competence is valuable when you apply for a job, then we pull back and recognize that the big guns get very rich just being greedy! If global competence serves greed, is it global? No, it’s a competitive battle! Is it competent? What about the Great Recession? Maybe we now recognize that the financial system is rather rigid and rigged in favor of power. Shouldn’t the financial system be meant to be a way for a culture to meet its needs and improve its lot without doing harm to others? Usually the folks who take control and arrest the service of the general population for their personal gain are deemed banditos. Jeez, malditos banditos. But, lip service to GC can be deceptive. Many key players, in business and in the Department of Defense, do seek globally competent job applicants. So, we can probably safely set aside the sector driven foremost by greed in our discussion. Whether we focus on acquiring personal wealth or not is a personal matter. And as citizens of the USA we would not presume to judge folks in other emerging economies and countries based on their efforts to accumulate financial security. The lexicon of wealth should be understood in the context of its locale.

Now, with our schema activated, let’s consider this: Is there a basis for optimism. Does a rising tide of global competence raise all boats? Or, is life on this planet essentially a zero-sum game? We can agree that cross-cultural and multi-lingual communication will be at the center of all global management by definition. If we don’t change what happens in our schools soon and promote some vision of global competence, then certainly our future will be negatively impacted. Emerging economies are on a path to surpass the USA unless we adjust and improve. We also agree that the world is shrinking. Maybe a shrinking world is no longer the metaphor for improved communication and more rapid transportation. The Internet has a dramatic effect. Today, some folks are closer to friends on the Internet than they are to their neighbors. But, definitely, the world is becoming more and more interdependent. Folks need to recognize the need to understand “global competence.” Maybe the definition will allude us in the details, but we can grow to understand global diversity and develop multiple perspectives, and we can grow to understand that international understanding is complex and knowledge-based. Curriculum for the path to global competence does not absolutely required new courses. Educators will be able to point out the value of their syllabus in the development of global competence in order to lead students to deeper awareness. That’s why I support the portfolio requirement for students to get a global competence certificate when they graduate. The flexibility of the certificate requirements despite the limitations of course work could be clear and useful for all concerned. So, I am optimistic that GC will join our SLOs.

Do students want to earn a certificate in GC? Well, if they see it as a document that improves their career prospects, then they’ll want it. If they see it as another obstacle between them and their degree, then it will get lots of opposition. I personally believe a certificate for GC is an easy sell. As our states engage in the creation of a road map for world language advancement, the same process can advance global competence recognition in our curricula.

I encourage FLANC members to look into this hot topic and its ramifications for our course syllabi. It should be more than a foreign language department initiative; it can be part of every department’s Student Learning Outcomes.

Best of luck with all the changes in this 21st century, and best wishes for a stronger and more prosperous world language program at your institutions. It has been a pleasure to serve as FLANC President these four years. I look forward to continuing as an active volunteer in FLANC. Join me in service to our colleagues. ¡Arriba FLANC, arriba flanquistas!