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This post was written by visiting scholar Elina Lehtomäki and UNC-W professor Elizabeth Crawford. View Professor Crawford’s first post to read more about her May 2016 exchange to Finland. The visit was funded by a Global Scholar Curriculum Development grant from UNC’s Center for European Studies, funded by the US Department of Education.

Elina Lehtomäki, Ph.D
Professor, Global Education
University of Oulu

Elizabeth O. Crawford, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Elementary Education
The University of North Carolina Wilmington

We are global educators separated only by an ocean who share a common commitment and passion for supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals in our respective university programs, courses, and personal lives. Without question, achieving the Global Goals requires collaboration across borders and across sectors, and as our example demonstrates, the synergy that results from meaningful, long-term intercultural partnerships strengthens and sustains our work as faculty and global citizens, applying critical thinking and constructive approaches to mutual learning. In this blog post, we will highlight the power of connection in higher education: how fostering faculty relationships in diverse contexts can advance global learning locally and internationally.

Photo: In May 2016, Crawford (right) met with Vaajakumpu School (Jyväskylä) faculty (left) and US Fulbright Scholar Patrick Walsh (middle), connections in global education made possible through Lehtomäki. Vaajakumpu School is known for their innovative food redistribution program. [Photo by Elina Lehtomäki].
Initiating Our Partnership

Our collaboration was made possible through a joint 2015-2016 UNCW-UNC Global Scholars grant. After reading about Finland’s education reform efforts with emphasis on phenomenon-based learning, Elizabeth sought to learn about this country’s education policy and practices focused on integrated, global learning, as this approach is similar to her work in global, solution-focused pedagogy. Fortunately, emails to the University of Jyväskylä, to Elina Lehtomäki in particular, were met with warmth and openness to collaborating on shared research and teaching goals in global education. Following a semester of Skype calls and emails, Elizabeth spent a week in Finland meeting with faculty and touring area schools where the Global Goals are integrated across the curriculum. Read about this initial visit in May 2016. Since this time, we have established a strong collaboration in research and teaching despite working with diverse student populations and academic departments, resulting in several in-person meetings and presentations in Finland and the US.

Why Collaborate?

Research suggests that there is a growing interest among students, teachers, school leadership and administration, teacher educators and researchers to contribute, once the connection between own contribution and global influence is shown, and participation is found

meaningful both personally and professionally. There are materials, tools, networks, knowledge platforms and data banks available for integrating global issues and SDGs in all learning and teaching. Yet in many contexts, students’, teachers’ and teacher educators’ knowledge of SDGs is limited and they need information about ways the SDGs can be successfully included in all learning and teaching – which is the only possibility to make the next generations aware and responsible for the planet and its future.

Photo: A poster on the Global Goals displayed at Kilonpuiston Koulu (school) located in suburban Helsinki.

Putting the globally agreed UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the core of teacher education and creating a globally and locally connected learning community has been the focus of our work in teaching and research. It is relevant to ask what (two) educators in (two) different contexts may do, when global and local challenges are enormous. Our justification is that through education and teacher education we reach the next generations, and by collaborating, we find solutions to improve lives. Connecting our local learning communities globally multiplies the impact to a global reach.

The Value of Face-to-Face Collaboration

University collaboration that brings together professionals and provides means for co-creation of new knowledge and sharing of novel ideas is invaluable. Although we have met numerous times online, the value of face-to-face communication cannot be overstated. Thus, we have prioritized opportunities for connecting in person where possible. In June 2017, the UNC Center for European Studies invited Elina to North Carolina as a European scholar, affording an immersive ten-day stay, this time within Elizabeth’s context. This visit from Jyväskylä to Chapel Hill required a number of emails, planning and preparation. Yet the most important issue was our shared interest – sustainable development through global education.

Photo: Crawford and Lehtomäki meeting with Kathleen Lindner at UNC Chapel Hill, June 2017.

Our planning resulted in exciting collaborations, including attending UNC World View’s Universal Education for Girls during the Global Education Leaders Program, meetings with the faculty at the UNC Center for European Studies and at UNCW in Wilmington, and a presentation and discussions at the World Bank Group’s Global Education Practice.

During this visit, we shared with colleagues and partners information about the Finnish education system, including that the primary school curriculum includes global citizenship competences; while in North Carolina there are universities with research and study programs on global education. We recognize also the need for local-global connections at home, at the campus, and for finding engaging ways of connecting our students with peers in diverse contexts, using virtual visits and solutionary approaches online.

In Washington, DC we planned an online course for educators on the SDGs in Elementary Education. By sharing our approaches to online teaching in global education, we identified opportunities for engaging our other international partners across the world, including civil society organizations and university partners in low-income countries.

Photo: Crawford and Lehtomäki serving on a panel discussion at the SDG4 Quality Education seminar hosted by the University of Jyväskylä on October 27, 2017. [Photo credit: Josh Hand]
Building Partnerships for Quality Education

A few months later, Elizabeth returned to Finland in October where she and Elina presented their work at an international participatory seminar organized by the University of Jyväskylä. This seminar introduced the 2017 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report whose theme was Accountability in Education: Meeting Our Commitments1. Here, representatives of key partners reflected on their responsibilities in advancing the SDGs in education. This most recent visit also afforded us to reflect on our collaboration, our teaching, and our shared research interests. We concluded that: we have learnt a lot! Both informally, from each other between formal meetings, and from co-preparing our co-authored presentations. We hope that other faculty will be inspired to take advantage of such opportunities to build international partnerships for quality education and to learn through collaborating.

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