Assessing global learning

February 10, 2017

Click here to view full Summer 2016 GES Report

In collaboration with our partner institutions, we are excited to share the results from the third iteration of the Global Engagement Survey (GES). The GES uniquely brings institutions and organizations into a common dataset in an effort to better understand the impact of specific program factors on broadly shared global learning goals. As a community of practice, globalsl is able support efforts to look across programs and consider possible differences stemming from variations in student population, institutional cultures, and specific programming choices and opportunities.

In order to better inform program planning for globalsl partners and the field of global learning, we plan to:

  • Expand the GES during the 2017-2018 academic year
  • Create additional opportunities to customize the GES for partners, and
  • More explicitly cultivate peer-to-peer learning opportunities among GES participants.

If you are interested in joining us in this effort, please visit our membership page or contact Nora Pillard Reynolds (

Executive Summary

Click here to view full Summer 2016 GES Report

The Global Engagement Survey (GES) is a multi-institutional assessment tool that employs quantitative and qualitative methods to better understand relationships among program variables and student learning, specifically in respect to global learning goals identified by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U, 2014). The GES is composed of seven scales to assess:  intercultural competence, civic engagement, and critical reflection (chapter with the conceptual framing of the GES).

Further articulation of the scales appears in the full report. Actual scales appear in the report appendix. The data consisted of: (1) participant background information, (2) program factors, and (3) responses to closed and open-ended questions. For the analyses that follow, only the sample of matched cases (n=107) was utilized to examine significant differences between the pre- and post-test surveys.

Findings: Quantitative Analysis

Participants: The participants were majority female (62%), born in the United States (68%), grew up in a suburban area (53%), and had not participated in volunteer service before (59%).  The highest percentage of participants reported their race/ ethnicity as White (35%); however, the participants were more diverse than past years (with 15% Asian/ Pacific Islander, 18% other/ multiracial, and 10% Latino).

Demographic data and program factors: The analysis illustrates bivariate associations between learning outcomes and select demographic and program variables. As bivariate analyses, these associations do not control for any third variables that may mediate or moderate these relationships. Nonetheless, we report on these associations hoping to raise questions about potential programming options. As the GES population grows moving forward, we will include multivariate analyses in our analyses.

The following demographic categories were correlated with significant differences on participants’ scores on at least one of the scales in the post-survey (n=107): gender, country of birth, prior volunteer experience, mother’s education level, and father’s education level (See report for further discussion).

The following program factors were correlated with significant effect on at least one of the scales in the post-survey: program leader relationship with the host community, program location, presence of program leader on the site with the students, program time horizon, and components of community engagement (service-learning or non-service-learning) (See report for further discussion).

Scales: For the total data set (n=107), there was significant change from pre- to post-survey for the following scales:

  • Intercultural competence – communication
  • Intercultural competence – self-awareness
  • Civic engagement – efficacy
  • Civic engagement – conscious consumption

Findings: Qualitative Analysis

While there were similar patterns across the whole data set, there were also quantitative and qualitative differences between institutions.

  • One institution’s students considered structural and systemic factors in their comments relating to cultural differences to a greater extent than was true for students from other campuses.
  • At one institution, students included comments on politics and religion in their diversity comments to a much greater extent than was the case for other institutions or the total data set.
  • Participants from one institution shared increased feelings of cynicism regarding political participation in a manner that was not paralleled on other campuses.
  • When asked about adapting communication and behavior in different cultural settings, the participants from one institution described not only their program experiences, but also many examples about transitioning to the cultural context of their university.

In addition, the current political context in the U.S. surfaced throughout comments much more during this iteration of the GES than in the past.

Intercultural competence

When asked about discomfort discussing diversity, participant comments described: (1) a fear of offending someone, (2) acknowledgement of their limited or lack of knowledge or experiences, and (3) awareness about the social identifiers of the group with whom they were interacting. Across the total data set, the majority of respondents focused on the group composition and social identifiers of the group members when describing their discomfort discussing diversity. Students responded in ways that suggested the challenge with intercultural communication often resided with the other person, without considering their own role in the communication equation.

Students’ responses described difference attributed to either: (1) individual background/ personality traits or (2) structural factors. Most commonly, students recognized less structural and historical context. Their responses tended to attribute cultural differences to individual background experiences or personality traits, arguably displaying an incomplete view of structural factors and global context. At some institutions, students were more likely to name and discuss structural, historical, and cultural determinants of difference.

Civic engagement

When asked about ethical decisions when spending money, participants across institutions described their efforts as: (1) charitable, (2) weighing needs vs. wants, or (3) connecting individual decisions to larger systems or structures. Across institutions, the pre-survey responses focused more heavily on charity and needs vs. wants; however, the post-survey responses reflected a shift to ideas about how individual spending decisions connect to larger systems or structures.

Many respondents reported increased civic engagement interests after the program experience, particularly increased likelihood of voting or in some cases no change because they already were civically involved. The majority of students in the total data set and at every individual institution reported increased likelihood to follow current events and vote after their summer experience.  One interesting pattern that emerged across institutions was increased awareness about the role of the U.S. in the world and the link between current events/ voting and how the U.S. affects other countries.

When asked about how the program influenced their personal sense of their ability to make a difference, locally or globally, the majority of participants expressed an increased motivation or sense of possibility. One institution in particular seemed to expose students to contexts and coursework that highlighted the inadequacies of the political system for addressing problems, which appeared to spark increasing cynicism or apathy among participants.  A number of students expressed an increased awareness about the complexity inherent in making a change. Among participants who reflected on their increased awareness of the complexity of change, they focused on who drives change and connecting global and local issues and efforts.

Critical reflection

Across institutions, the pre-survey responses described their process of learning about themselves as a cultural being as heavily influenced by their coursework. However, in the post-surveys, the majority of students described their immersion experiences or opportunities for direct interaction outside of the university as the factors contributing the most to their learning process.

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