Munk One, Munk School

Munk One & global classrooms

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it easier than ever to connect with partners abroad, thanks to remote delivery of education. The Munk One program used this as an opportunity to pilot global classroom projects with partner universities. Munk One students formed hybrid teams with peers in Mexico and Argentina to develop common research projects, for which students received credit at their respective university.

In MUN101H1F: Global Innovation I with Professor Joseph Wong, U of T students collaborated with peers at the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education in Mexico. In groups, students investigated critical questions that could help them better understand different responses to COVID-19 . The student teams examined inequality, Indigenous rights, and whether informal workers should be considered essential during periods of lockdown.

In MUN105Y1: Global Problem Solving with Professor Teresa Kramarz, students worked to gain a better understanding of how COVID-19 has impacted progress toward the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Blended student teams from Argentina and Canada conducted comparative case studies on COVID-19 impacts and responses from city governments in La Plata and Toronto.  With their peers from the Universidad Catolica de La Plata (UCALP) in Argentina, Munk Ones compared COVID-19 testing schemes, online education, public transit and other municipal policies in response to the pandemic.

Reflecting on these collaborations, both students and instructors valued the authenticity of international connections made. International context was not merely an academic consideration, but played an immersive role in learning. Current Munk One student Zaiboon Azhar found herself “incredibly surprised by how much we seemed to have in common simply as youth living through a strange time.”

“The experience taught me the limitations of a textbook,” she said, and “how there are very human aspects to a pandemic that cannot be communicated through statistics and quotes.”

The project also presented some unique challenges. Current Munk One student Ana Meletti shared “Our biggest challenge was with information accessibility: while policy information from the Canadian government and U of T were quite accessible, the same didn’t apply to Argentina.” She said her group experienced “some trouble finding ‘equivalent’ policies in Argentina due to limited publication of government measures, which our colleagues from UCALP referred to as ‘public information issues.’ Beyond these project-based challenges, both spoke of the relative ease of collaboration since all the students were already using remote learning for their courses this year.

In developing a global classroom module, Professor Wong said that it is “made easier by having a partner that shares our ‘why’ for doing a global classroom,” and from there to be flexible on the details, because we’re all “adjusting on the fly.” For Professor Kramarz, this pedagogical approach significantly enriches the domestic classroom. “It helps students question each other’s assumptions through direct interactions with those who may be living through the same pandemic but not through the same situations,” she said.

Global classrooms are an opportunity to integrate internationalization into the curriculum at a time when conventional travel or exchanges are otherwise impossible. Courses taught in tandem can become “an integral part of all of our teaching”, said Professor Wong. This is true beyond social sciences and humanities, “into STEM fields as well”, where lab culture and bench operations can vary by location, and collaboration can therefore broaden students’ education. Using the tools and opportunities of education in COVID-19, cross-cultural connections can still be delivered, albeit in new and interesting ways.