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Making Global Connections: UK Students’ Learning Enriched by Virtual International Encounters

By Lindsey Piercy

LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 10, 2021) — It’s 3 p.m. in Lexington, and class is in session for the 19 students enrolled in the ANT 536: Global Appalachia course taught by Professor Ann Kingsolver.

Meanwhile, it’s 8:30 p.m. across the Atlantic in County Kildare, Ireland, where Chandana Mathur, a professor at Maynooth University, began her own course. A few moments — and a few clicks later — students in Lexington and in Ireland are connected.

Through the innovation of Zoom, a rich exchange ensued around the politics of water.

Kingsolver, a professor in the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, regularly intertwines her own courses with various classrooms across different countries, and she is convinced of the tremendous value for students.

“We learned a lot from talking with each other in a unit on water justice that included India, Appalachia and the Republic of Ireland,” Kingsolver said.

“I knew our students would be extremely interested in having access to a class session co-taught with Professor Kingsolver. It was a very rewarding experience to plan a common set of readings across U.S. and Indian contexts,” Mathur added. “Although the interaction took place using COVID-altered teaching methods, there was remarkably high interest and participation. In the student evaluations, they identified this class to be a major highlight, and one student described it as ‘inspirational.’”

While it may not be surprising that an anthropology course took on an international dimension, virtual global connections are possible across the range of disciplines. For example, students in TA 286: Social Action Theatre, taught by Professor Nancy Jones, connected with Maya Zbib — a renowned theatre artist based in Beirut, Lebanon.

UK students were eager to learn about Zbib’s work as artistic director of the Zoukak Theatre Company, and she graciously shared insights from her accomplished international career. “It was refreshing to talk to the students and answer their questions,” Zbib said.

Though the course satisfies the UK Core U.S. Citizenship requirement, Jones sees citizenship in a global context and was thrilled to connect her students to a successful artist operating in a completely different context. “Because we’re all so comfortable on Zoom, it seemed relatively easy to set up this encounter, which provided students a brief — but very meaningful —opportunity for global learning,” she explained.

Chaney Troutman, a UK student in Jones’ class, described how the experience of meeting Zbib broadened her international perspective. “It inspired me to have confidence to pursue my career path, as well as have confidence in all of my future endeavors — despite the uncertainty and overwhelming challenges in our world,” she said.

“It’s extremely exciting to see colleagues creatively connecting with others outside the U.S. in these virtual ways,” Sue Roberts, associate provost for internationalization, added. “Since travel is so restricted, we’re seeing more innovations aimed at opening our students’ eyes to the wider world.”

Together with the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CELT), UK’s International Center has been supportive of virtual global learning experiences through the Global Connections Project

Additionally, Roberts is working with Kathi Kern, associate provost of Teaching, Learning and Academic Innovation, and colleagues to launch more opportunities for UK faculty to develop effective global connections modules for their courses. As a result, more students will experience virtual global learning.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.