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AIEA Conference Invites Discourse on Global Competence

Last week AIEA held its annual conference in Washington, D.C., and set a new attendance record with more than 530 attendees. For those current and former AIEA presidents who gathered for a dinner Tuesday evening, it was a time to recall how this organization has grown from quite humble beginnings almost 30 years ago.

A striking feature of this conference was the number of sessions (at least 12!) that explored some aspect of the global/intercultural competence/student learning/assessment theme. One senses that the international education profession is moving from a mainly numbers-driven template (percentage of graduates studying abroad, percentage of international students and scholars on campus, number of international fellowships won) to a student-learning focus. This, of course, shifts the focus from campus resource allocation to some hard thinking on what we mean by “competence” – itself a term that was questioned by AIEA conference goers.

CEA organized a session that highlighted strategies at Portland State University (Gil Latz) and Leeds Metropolitan University (UK) (Elspeth Jones), with commentary by Christa Olson (ACE), aimed at achieving global competence (or global citizenship) among each university's students. Presentations may be viewed here. A vigorous discussion followed raising questions about terminology: aren’t global competence and intercultural competence really two, distinct skill sets? And what about the relative usefulness of qualitative vs. quantitative assessment of this competence? In the lively discussion that followed the panel presentations, an intriguing perspective was introduced by Dr. Susan Herrera of North Carolina State University. Herrera has proposed a distinction between global competence and global consciousness in preparing new professionals in international education.

CEA’s own efforts to imbed Global Competence at its Global Campuses focuses on three distinct opportunities: establishing a foundation course on intercultural communication; assessing the shift in student learning and perspective; and learning more about U.S. institutional goals for student learning abroad so that CEA programs can be genuinely integrated with those efforts.

Clearly we are all in new territory when it comes to understanding and assessing global competence. The coming year will surely be filled with vigorous exchanges on this critical theme. CEA will play its part in refining our thinking and engaging in active experiments to test our understanding of this theme.

Dr. John D. Heyl is the Vice President for Global Education at CEA. Meet Dr. Heyl and other CEA Global Education leaders at the Forum on Education Abroad's annual conference in March in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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