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Global Problem-Solving Consortium

06 Oct Posted by in International | 5 comments
Global Problem-Solving Consortium

I’ve written before on this, but there are some upcoming developments that I hope will be interesting to some readers, even to the point of participation.

A reminder: Mason launched the Global Problem Solving Consortium in 2012 with partner universities in India, Turkey, Brazil, Kenya, Russia, China, and Korea. We had a really good kickoff meeting, and then, gradually, some initial implementation: This past summer we ran a workshop on global water resources at Mason, for which we had some external funding, with one student from each partner in attendance. Each brought materials and projects from his/her home country, and the result was a really fruitful exchange. Next summer a similar workshop, this one on food security, will be held at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, and I hope for an equally exciting exchange. We have also selected 9 Mason undergraduates as our first cohort of Global Problem-Solving Fellows, who will focus on a specific global problem area in the coming year and help to build community among students in the consortium.

The goal of the whole enterprise is twofold, obviously within a larger framework of encouraging new kinds of faculty and student exchanges among major universities in several key countries. First, we hope to use the consortium to improve student understanding of major global problems. But second we intend to combine this with a realization that problems and solutions are defined somewhat differently in different parts of the world. Truly global approaches to global problems need to recognize and deal with diverse perspectives – and diversity is most vivid when it comes directly from the source, not as mediated by secondary scholarship.

We have also – and here we get to the imminent new project – developed a small MOOC, which we hope will provide opportunities for exactly the kind of international dialogue and exchange of perspectives on which the larger consortium is based. The initial MOOC features contributions from four Mason faculty on four global issues: environmental changes and responses, obesity and nutrition, human rights, and conflict analysis. We’re going to roll out the MOOC for wider student and faculty participation in the second half of October, and we hope that all the consortium partners will participate. This rollout will help us test the value of what’s been done and (we hope) will also encourage students and faculty at all the universities involved (including Mason) to add comments and segments on their own, either to address additional problem areas or talk about how their perspectives coincide with or differ from those presented. Human rights, to take an obvious example, are viewed quite differently in different regions, but this also holds for obesity, or conflict, or perceptions about the environment. Over time, in turn, we envisage a longer MOOC with segments from various participants and various places, or a set of shorter MOOCs focused on specific topics, giving student users a chance to see concretely how common problems take somewhat different shapes depending on the regional vantage points. Other existing MOOCs deal with international topics, but this one – if we succeed – would go a step further in the inclusion of different international viewpoints and even debates in a single course.

We are also moving forward on a more ambitious menu of shared courses among consortium partners, and have some promising ideas about how we can jointly use technology more effectively to this purpose.

Creating an effective, meaningful consortium among institutions spread around the globe and with lots of other things going on is not easy. But we are really trying to move from sincere expressions of interest in principle, to some tangible activities that provide real benefit to real students and faculty. Far more to come, of course, before we can be sure we’re on a constructive path, but I think we have a promising start. Instructions for viewing the MOOC follow, and I welcome suggestions and ideas.

1.  Launch a web browser (Chrome recommended) and enter the following URL:

2.  Click “Self-Enroll in this course.”

3.  If you do not have a CourseSites account, please click “I need a CourseSites account” and then enter information to “Create New Student Account.”

4.  If you have a CourseSites account, just click “I have a CourseSites account.”

5.  Click “Go to Course” and read Terms of Use. Click “Overview and Orientation” in the left side of the page to enter the first part of the course. The Course Tour gives a helpful overview.