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by Donald Proffit
National Faculty

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Topic tags: why PBL, how to do PBL, Gold Standard


February 9, 2015
Developing Globally Competent Students Through PBL

by Donald Proffit
National Faculty

A few weeks ago I was in Portland, Maine working at Deering High School, one of Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network (ISSN) member schools. I had just facilitated a workshop on designing globally-themed Project Based Learning (PBL) experiences with a group of ninth grade teachers. I was having supper at a local restaurant and noticed sitting to next me someone I recognized: Elaine Potoker, Professor Emerita at the Loeb-Sullivan School of International Business and Logistics, Maine Maritime Academy. As I am wont to do when on the road alone, I introduced myself to her and her husband in the hope of sparking a conversation.

I mentioned how I was working with teachers to design effective PBL experiences as a way to develop global competence in our students. The ISSN defines global competence as:

The capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.

Global competence, according to ISSN, means that students in the twenty-first century need to be able to:

Understand prevailing world conditions, issues, and trends through an interdisciplinary lens as well, in order to understand the interconnectedness of the issue and its broad themes as well as subtle nuances.

That’s when Elaine jumped in and asked if I knew of Robert Hanvey’s paper, An Attainable Global Perspective (1976), which defines what collectively can be referred to as global perspective. She was surprised, almost delighted, that I knew the name. It so happens that Hanvey’s thinking informed much of our foundational work at the ISSN, especially with respect to the design of the network’s Graduation Performance System (GPS). The GPS is a framework with resources and tools for developing global competency in students and includes four domains:

Investigate the World – Where students have opportunities to ask, explore and respond to globally significant critical questions, problems, issues and phenomena through in-depth inquiry.
Weigh Perspectives – Where students understand that each of us has a unique perspective, and that others have theirs, and that in the discrepancy inherent within and between these diverse views there exists a world of possibilities.
Communicate Ideas – Where students can effectively communicate with diverse audiences in English as well as in at least one other world language, and through a variety of media.
Take Action – Where students see themselves as agents for change whether
advocating for a local issue or designing a new product.

Of these four, the second one — recognizing and weighing perspectives — can sometimes prove the more difficult to grasp, but it is perhaps the most important in gaining understanding of oneself and others. Hanvey refers to it as, “perspective consciousness — the recognition or awareness on the part of the individual that he or she has a view of the world that is not universally shared, that this view of the world has been and continues to be shaped by influences that often escape conscious detection, and that others have views of the world that are profoundly different from one's own.” Think of it as global mindedness.

Teachers can provide an effective vehicle for helping students become globally minded, over time, by designing projects that include the GPS four domains alongside BIE’s Essential Project Design Elements. In the ISSN schools, from each globally-themed project completed, students select relevant products, artifacts and evidence across content areas which are then archived in a portfolio. The submitted work should show evidence of student choice — where students plan and assess their work through peer critique and self reflection; authentic work — tasks and experiences that adults would do in the real world; global significance — intentional PBL experiences that promote the capacity for understanding and acting on significant global issues; and, exhibition to a real-world audience — opportunities to present their work to an audience beyond the classroom. The culminating result of this collected work would, in part, tell us about a student’s global competence. We often use the acronym SAGE (Student Choice, Authentic Work, Global Significance, and Exhibition to a Real-World Audience) to illustrate this approach, which (in three out of four features) overlaps BIE’s Essential Elements.

Elaine and I finished our meals and conversation. She had spent her entire career promoting global competence among her maritime students and colleagues when few others appeared to see the importance of this work. She seemed pleased that this work was now gaining a foothold in at least some of our schools, and that globally-themed PBL experiences held great promise in generating a sense of global citizenship in our students.


  • Hi, Don. Just wondering if you know about any research about the challenges of training teachers to evaluate students’ work according to the GPS framework for the 4 global competencies that you mention? In particular, research from different countries? Also, do you know of any research about how global competencies or even global issues might be perceived differently by teachers and students in different countries? 

    Curiously yours as an educator in Ankara, Turkey,

    robinann44 on March 25, 2015 
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    • Robin,

      Based on your inquiry, I’ve reached out to my colleagues at Asia Society to see if they might have specific research or findings that you are requesting. I’ll let you know.

      Don Proffit on April 24, 2015 
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