GILD program provides students with international experiences amid pandemic

The Tufts Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching is pictured on April 8, 2019. Christine Lee / The Tufts Daily Archives

The Global Integrated Learning & Design program, an initiative that helps faculty design courses or projects with international and cross-cultural components, has provided students with the opportunity to have virtual study abroad experiences. 

Tufts faculty can work with the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching to design and develop a GILD course or project and can also work with Tufts Global Education to connect with global contacts, according to Christine Hollenhorst, program administrator in the Office of the Provost. The Provost’s office can also help fund the courses, she said. 

Nina Gerassi-Navarro, director of Latin American studies, and Colin Orians, director of environmental studies, taught a GILD course in fall 2020 called Sustaining Your Drink, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring the sustainability of coffee, yerba mate and wine.

Gerassi-Navarro described the importance of the interdisciplinary aspect of this course during a Zoom session introducing the course. 

“We realized that through our conversations that … culture and science don’t always get put together and that if you’re going to look at sustainability in a really serious, effective, scientific way, the best you can do is to also integrate the cultural, social element involved,” Gerassi-Navarro said. 

Orians elaborated on the course structure.

“The goal here is to create a very student-centered course, not one where you have the talking head experts and the note taker, but one where the students are coming together and learning through shared experience,” Orians said. “We’ve actually [incorporated] mechanisms like a virtual cafe where the students will come together outside of the interactions with the faculty, to actually talk about things … we want them to have an opportunity to really get to know each other, and maybe they’ll form some lasting relationships because we’ve structured it that way.” 

Tufts students worked with students from Argentina, Costa Rica and Chile to create a final project in the format of StoryMaps, an interactive way of presenting information through multimedia storytelling. 

Gerassi-Navarro noted how having students work on StoryMaps together helped to build closer connections between students.

“Our Tufts students didn’t know how to make a StoryMap, neither did the ones in Argentina, Chile or Costa Rica, so they’re working at it together,” Gerassi-Navarro said during a mid-semester meeting to discuss the progress of the course. “They have different perspectives but they have a common goal … and [the project] has made them deal and overcome their linguistic barriers and cultural differences.” 

Another GILD course called Contemporary Issues in U.S. Russian Relations, taught by Chris Miller, assistant professor of international history at the Fletcher School, along with a collaborator at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), has students enrolled from both Tufts and MGIMO. Students analyze and debate proposed solutions to issues in U.S.-Russian relations in the course. 

The course was first taught in fall 2017 and was already well adapted to being taught online by the time of the pandemic because it had always been in a virtual format.

“One of the benefits of teaching via Zoom with our colleagues before the pandemic was that we were ready for COVID,” Miller wrote in an email to the Daily. “We were able to conduct the course throughout the pandemic with hardly any changes.”

Prior to the pandemic, the course included a conference in Moscow and an exchange program so Tufts and MGIMO students could spend a semester at each other’s institutions. 

Hollenhorst believes the GILD program could give students insight into working beyond the structure of a course. 

“In a way, a GILD experience can be more like a professional experience, where you might be collaborating with a team in another country on a project,” Hollenhorst wrote in an email to the Daily. “You might work closely with them, maybe even on a daily basis, and really get to know them, even though you might never meet in person.”

GILD is currently in the early stages of developing more classes with faculty members in several departments, Hollenhorst said, and she believes that GILD can continue to be a beneficial aspect of Tufts’ curricula in the future.

“We hope that GILD is something that will continue across the university even when international travel and traditional study abroad programs resume,” Hollenhorst said. “We see this as a way to enhance learning that is already happening at Tufts.”