Above: Crown students enrolled in the Global Classrooms initiative work together 

In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a scientist uses technology to create a new entity from mismatched materials. Are Victor Frankenstein’s actions ethical? What does it mean to be human, and who is the real monster in the story? And what are the societal implications, and our responsibilities, for emerging technologies like AI?

Through UC Santa Cruz’s Global Classrooms initiative, first-year STEM students at Crown College are excitedly discussing these and other philosophical questions—virtually, and in Spanish—with a group of theater arts students at Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas in Bogotá, Colombia. 

Lecturer Carolina González Riaño (M.A. ’18, theater arts), is teaching the Social and Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies core course.

Since 2020, UCSC students and faculty have been engaging in fascinating virtual exchange collaborations around the world, with partnering institutions in countries like Kenya, Brazil, Cameroon, Spain, Chile, France, and Mexico, all without leaving their home classrooms. Furthermore, unlike the creation in the book that Crown students and their Colombian counterparts are discussing, UCSC’s innovative combination of education and technology is expanding learning and research to the benefit of all.

“Global Classrooms gives students the opportunity to connect with the outside world,” said Carolina González Riaño (M.A. ’18, theater arts), an actor, director, and lecturer whose Social and Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies core course uses Frankenstein as a framework for study and discussion. “I believe that one of the most important things in a globalized world is to be connected and networking, especially for our own understanding of humanity. Now, through UCSC’s Division of Global Engagement and the Teaching & Learning Center, faculty really can find the support they need to create these experiences for themselves and their students. Whatever it is that you want to do, they’re going to give you feedback. They’ve got the answers.”


Connecting, communicating, learning

The Global Classrooms initiative, launched in 2020 by the Division of Global Engagement (GE) and developed in partnership with the Teaching & Learning Center (TLC), offers all UCSC faculty the chance to work with an instructor at an institution abroad and link their existing courses through online technologies. Faculty may choose to work with someone they already have a connection to, or, if they’re interested in the idea of virtual exchange but don’t know where to start, staff in GE and the TLC are ready to help them identify an international partner and to flesh out ideas for a Global Classroom. 

UCSC faculty who participate in the initiative receive travel funding from GE to go meet and work with their faculty partner abroad to develop their ideas for a Global Classroom. The TLC supports faculty participants with in-house training and professional development, technology instruction, ongoing logistical support, and help at every stage as they decide how to develop their courses in collaboration with a partner, and which tools to use to get students engaged. Students work in their respective courses at their home universities, with faculty partners in each country collaborating to create an overlap where their students can connect, communicate, and work together toward shared goals in a virtual classroom.

Crown Global Classroom students (all Crown frosh with an expected graduation year of 2027) from left to right standing: Andrea Gonzalez (proposed business management economics), Reed Allen (proposed computer science game design), Gerry Marmolejo (proposed chemistry), Emmanuel Gomez (proposed business management economics), Analilia Estrada (proposed psychology), Katelyn Lugo (proposed neuroscience), Anahi Sanchez (proposed biology B.S.), and Crystal Hicks Marin (proposed critical race and ethnic studies and film and digital media). Left to right kneeling: Melodi Hernandez (proposed chemistry), Alexis Valdes (proposed computer science B.A.), Briana Montiel (proposed MCD biology), Jimena Jimenez (proposed biology B.S.), and Joyce Garcia (proposed marine biology).

“This is not at all confined to first-year programs,” said Jessie Dubreuil, associate director for learning at the TLC, who typically sees more upper-level seminar-style or project-driven courses participate due to their smaller class size. Dubreuil and her TLC partner Aaron Zachmeier (Cowell ’95, linguistics), associate director for instructional design and development, along with Director of Global Initiatives George Sabo, are discussing ways to make Global Classrooms more accessible to larger class formats, even to large lecture sections with teaching assistants. Right now, they are particularly excited about expanding Global Classrooms to more UCSC college core courses, as they see the benefits to both students and faculty play out in Riaño’s collaborative classroom. 

“In a student’s first-year experience, as they transition to college, so much hinges on building yourself up from what’s possible in your education,” Dubreuil said. “The broader we can make that map for students—the more opportunities and exciting horizons we can offer early on—the better we’ll prepare students to take full advantage of their time with us at UCSC.”

Dubreuil said that many students tell her in their junior or senior year, having found a path to international exchange or some unexpected community-based learning or service abroad, that they never would have imagined that possibility in their first year. 

“What I’d love is for us to help students start imagining these possibilities much earlier, because it will equip them to find and unfold all of the opportunities that are out there on campus,” Dubreuil said. “It makes them feel like those doors are open to them.”


Opening a door to the world

At UCSC, each college requires all first-year students to take a core course tailored to the college’s theme. Riaño’s humanities-based course gives students a strong foundation in the liberal arts that will serve them in any field, and the skills they gain in critical thinking, philosophy, and inquiry are advantageous as they progress through ever more specialized upper-division courses. 

Crown College’s theme, for example, is “Science, Technology, and Society.” By adding a bilingual Global Classrooms component to one of its core courses, Crown College has opened a door to the world for participating first-year students. Though bilingualism is not always a requirement for students participating in Global Classrooms (there are many Global Classrooms examples where students communicate together through English), these STEM students came to class already fluent in Spanish, so they can communicate directly with the theater arts students in Colombia and are experiencing the value that their native language and Hispanic culture and heritage bring to their new academic environment.

“There’s a difference between being fluent and being literate in a language,” said Crown College Provost Manel Camps, who grew up in Spain where his native language Catalan had historically been excluded from the school system. “So our idea was to build on the fluency of our Spanish-language heritage students to be able to communicate with students in Colombia, but still use their literacy in English to then work through those ideas in assignments and readings. We can’t assume our students will have the same level of literacy in Spanish. But at the same time, as they engage in these discussions they’re widening their ability to discuss complex issues in Spanish.”

As a Hispanic-serving institution, UCSC seeks to develop programs that intentionally support Hispanic students. Camps believes that bringing Global Classrooms into the core curriculum is a step in the right direction. 

“If you’re a part of a globally dominant culture like that of the U.S.—even if you’re a member of a minority—you may feel that there’s no use in learning anything else. You feel comfortable that you have everything you need to develop professionally and in your personal life, so you don’t really need to understand or connect with other cultures. So I think that this program helps our students embrace their Hispanic cultural heritage as not just anecdotal or historical, but as a cultural competency that opens doors to different perspectives and opportunities,” said Camps.


Gaining superpowers

Riaño observes this sense of pride and accomplishment in her students, as she collaborates with Professor Luisa Vargas in Colombia, who earned her master’s degree in technologies in Mexico. Every two weeks, their UCSC and Colombian students meet virtually and exchange ideas in an hour-and-a-half session. Riaño and Vargas, who did not know each other before their Global Classrooms collaboration, have become good friends and are enthusiastically planning next fall’s section of their course.

“UCSC students are communicating in Spanish with native speakers in another country—it’s a kind of superpower, and it makes them proud,” said Riaño. “And the challenges help them grow. For instance, our Latino students were having trouble speaking Spanish with the Colombian students on an academic level, because, as they said, ‘We never talk with our parents about things like global power, or the science behind manipulating DNA, or transhumanism.’ So this was a welcome challenge. You could really see their brains working to create clear, engaging presentations on scientific topics for native speakers. They worked really hard to improve their Spanish. And in the end, they were really, really happy.”

Riaño said that she is surprising herself and breaking her own boundaries through her work with the Global Classrooms initiative, and right along with her students, she is learning more about herself than she would have imagined. 

“Seeing the transformation of my students, how they are thinking about the world in a different perspective, and how they are balancing the world and appreciating their opportunities to be creative instead of taking them for granted … my students feel artistically inspired by the students in Colombia. And I feel inspired, too,” she said.

George Sabo recalled the transformative effect of his own experience teaching English abroad in Japan and Korea and is thrilled that he has the opportunity to help share and design this kind of unique learning opportunity with others.

“Part of education and part of being a well-rounded individual is that you should be working to broaden your perspective,” said Sabo. “Connecting with real people who have very different lives, cultures, and languages is one of the best ways I know to do that. The act of speaking with people in other contexts and struggling through language barriers to make oneself understood and to reach a common understanding, that’s a very broadening experience.”

Aaron Zachmeier also understands, from personal experience teaching abroad, that some of life’s most valuable learning opportunities arise from the unexpected. 

“Students develop relationships, they negotiate differences, and there are always unexpected mismatches in how things are done.… You never know what it’s going to be. And faculty have the opportunity to spend a lot of time on the design of their course and talk about their courses with other people, which is not always possible for them. Teaching can be isolating—you’re responsible for what happens in your own classroom, and you may not get to communicate with your counterparts that much. So students and faculty get exposed to new ways of doing things. And everybody learns in ways that they can use in all of their courses,” Zachmeier said.


Pedal power to the people
This past October, Crown College students taking the Social and Ethical Implications of Emerging Technologies core course were treated to a visit from a pedaling pioneer.

Jaime Ortiz Mariño is a lead originator of one of the most lasting institutions in Bogotá, Colombia: Ciclovía, in which 120 kilometers of the Colombian capital’s streets are closed to vehicle traffic and overtaken by cyclists and pedestrians every Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Calle 72 and Carrera 7 in Bogotá. At center is bicyclist Fernando Caro Restrepo.

Ortiz Mariño was invited by Crown College’s Provost Manel Camps, who was introduced to him by Marilyn Shea-Stonum, a pioneer UCSC alumna (Crown ’69, history). After meeting Ortiz Mariño, Provost Camps wanted Crown students to hear about Ciclovía, and about his work on giving the Colombian people a voice more generally.

The Ciclovía is ​​either a permanent bike path or the temporary closing of certain streets to automobiles in an urban space so that it is open to cyclists and pedestrians, a practice sometimes called “open streets.” Ortiz Mariño is one of the original architects of this brilliant initiative, which is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

Back in 1974, Ortiz Mariño’s original vision was to claim urban space on the weekends for an event without religion or politics, an event where anyone could feel welcome. One key element of Ortiz Mariño’s vision was to organize this as a civic event so that its success was everybody’s responsibility and everyone could come together. This approach ensured that the event could be run with minimal resources, just a truck and signage; no budget for outreach or security. The endeavor took courage—it was a risk to attempt this venture in a city that was racked by political unrest and violence at the time.

Ortiz Mariño was inspired by his experience as an architecture student at Case Western Reserve University between 1967 and 1970, where he experienced the power of civic movements. After he came back to his native Colombia, he turned this power against a mindset that was still very much captive to the cultural supremacy of Europe and the United States.

Also at the intersection of Calle 72 and Carrera 9 in Bogotá. At center is Jaime Ortiz Mariño, with participant Juan Luis Vieira (left), and an unknown participant at right.

After witnessing the rise of the automobile as a primary mode of transportation and the flight to suburbia in the U.S., Ortiz Mariño realized the inadequacy of following similar car-centered urban models for Bogotá, a city where cars were a luxury and where people largely relied on buses for transportation.

The Ciclovía was Ortiz Mariño’s way of questioning urban development and pointing to the actual transportation needs of the people. Focusing on the bicycle was also Ortiz Mariño’s way to claim Colombia’s roots, given the key role that bicycles play for peasants and workers in Colombia (which, by the way, is the reason Colombia produces so many world-class cyclists).

By opening the Ciclovía to all genders, Ortiz Mariño also challenged gender stereotypes. When Ortiz Mariño was young, women did not ride bicycles. In fact, when he began dating, he had to pick up girls in his dad’s car, which disconnected him from his love of the pedal. But as he got older, he found himself drawn back to bicycles.

Now women can be seen everywhere on bicycles on Bogotá’s streets. Today, the Ciclovía is a global success held in 16 countries on four continents. Over 400 cities participate, including Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, and Los Angeles. The Ciclovía is transforming the way we think about transportation, urban planning, and the importance of revitalizing cities, and teaches us the value of listening to different perspectives.

And if you live in the Santa Cruz area, soon you will be able to participate in Ciclovía, yourself—Ortiz Mariño is working on bringing it to Watsonville.

—Amèlia Camps-McCaffrey


Enlivening, authentic, transformative moments

Students who have participated in Global Classrooms said the experience has opened up new outlooks, changed their perception of other cultures, and changed how they relate to the world. 

“Hearing other students’ perspectives allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the topics, so the discussions were always useful,” wrote one UCSC student in a course survey. 

“We should have more sessions with the students abroad because I like hearing their points of view on topics in the class,” wrote another.

Faculty have reported feeling genuine enjoyment and inspiration as they collaborate on virtual exchange components for their courses and see their students blossom through Global Classrooms.

“I am astounded at the energy, curiosity, openness, and enthusiasm our faculty bring to this experience,” said Dubreuil, who studied English literature abroad at Oxford. “We could be forgiven in thinking that these busy faculty, with all their research, teaching, and service responsibilities might not be as gleefully engaged in this new and complicated endeavor. And yet what we find is that they’re curious. They’re excited. And they get energy from the new ideas and perspectives of their partners.”

Participating faculty engage in an attitude of “how might we,” which allows the collaborative design group to experiment, to avoid the safe or the known method, and innovate to produce enlivening, authentic, transformative moments, according to Dubreuil. 

“This willingness not to know, not to be entirely sure where the conversation will go—that’s a wonderful aspect of international communication,” Dubreuil said. “We relinquish a little bit of control and in exchange we receive this gift of unexpected openness and connection. We design-think our way through it together, and as a group we give ourselves permission to ask, ‘Well, how might we support the kinds of human connection that lead to the intellectual connection, discovery, and insight that are our highest hope for our students?’

“And we have a lot of fun,” she added. “We laugh a lot. Because it’s delightful to happen upon a shared or a new way of doing the work.”

A call for statements of interest is now open to all UCSC faculty who would like to join the fall 2024 Global Classrooms cohort. The deadline to submit a statement is March 22, 2024. For more information, view the call for statements of interest.

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