“Cartwright, where we are?”

This phase was the greeting offered me daily by my lead project investigator, Boris, when I worked as a project manager in research in the early ‘90’s. I’d smirk, glance at him over the top of my glasses & reply. “We are at the offices of TERC, on Massachusetts Ave., in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA…put out the cigarette, you can’t smoke in offices here.” Boris would drop his cigarette into the coffee mug I pushed toward him & reply. “No, no, no, (he’d wave his hand while shaking his head no). Where are we with our research? Are we in hypothesis, methodology, data gathering, data analysis, final conclusions? Where are we?” I’d push my glasses back up my nose & respond with whatever phase we were in & he’d erupt “Ah, analysis (for example), please gather (a list of staffers) & (a list of materials) in the conference room in 45 minutes. We’ll…”and we’d be off for another wild ride in research for another 10+ hours. 

The project was called GlobalLab & our funder’s goal, the National Science Foundation (NSF), was that we inspire young learners to go into scientific research. 

Our hook was environmental science; each school was to choose a plot of land near their school and we would send them curricular materials to study that plot monthly (soil quality, water quality, biodiversity, etc.) Our objective was to get the students to compare their pond in Mississippi with one in Moscow and Malaysia as an example. 

We had 57 sites in 17 countries and a base team of 10 who came from 5 different countries and  7 different academic disciplines. A team meeting was like a mini UN conference. The interwebs were very new (think DOS, with squarish blue-green lettering blinking at you on black screens), and the web pages were very primitive but we pushed the envelope and even ended up getting an award from the NSF which was presented to us by then US Vice President Gore as the best school science curriculum for the year.

I offer this story as it was the foundation for what has become my intercultural competence assessment practice. 

GlobalLabs was 3 years into its initial 5 year funding cycle when I stepped in as project manager. We had some brilliant monthly curriculum pieces. As an example, we got a call from NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) asking how we were able to measure the ozone around the globe with $35 of Radio Shack components better than they could with their multi-million dollar satellites. 

The secret was collaboration. 

We got kids around the world to stay-up or get up early and take a simultaneous measurements. We succeeded because we paid no attention to political boundaries … but NASA did! 

The linkage to of all of these elements was not leading to research. We found that the majority of our site teacher/facilitators had a Bachelors degree in teaching science and had never completed a scientific research project, nor been taught to do such in their programs of study. Also, the students were afraid of collaborating across sites and especially countries. 

They were genuinely curious, but just didn’t know how to make those connections. So we initiated a 2-pronged plan of improvement. 

  1. Friend making; helping the kids connect in ways meaningful to a 16 year old. 
  2. Research instruction, in-service training and support for the instructors. 

In year 5 (our national award year), 39 of our 57 sites proposed research projects, 28 of them completed their research projects, and 21 of them were collaborative multi-site projects. This was a huge improvement and the direct result of researching our learning outcomes and adjusting our practices to improve those same outcomes.

This Spring (2021) Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, will come out with a special issue on Assessment as Pedagogy. In it, you will find many fine examples of scholars and practitioners using intercultural assessment data as a means to improve learning outcomes. Of particular interest to our readers are 3 articles by Kozai Group partners and associates:

  1. Joyce Osland, PhD, on the work she did in developing Global Leadership at the GLLabs at San Jose State University over several years.
  2. Iris Berdrow, PhD (Bentley University), Christopher Hightower, PhD (Texas Christian University), & myself, EdD (Portland State University on how we’ve used intercultural assessment data at the campus-wide, program-wide, and classroom levels to make improved learning outcomes.
  3. Myself, Michael Stevens, PhD. (Weber State University), & Katharina Schnieder, (Germany) on how we used intercultural assessment data in a glocal short-term program over 3 years to make improved learning outcomes.

In each of these articles you will find a similar format of research that I learned all those years ago with Boris & GlobalLabs. We start a teaching and learning project with good intentions and quality curriculum; and we use our assessment data to recalibrate our interventions. 

These challenges appear in so many facets of our global leadership and intercultural development practice and whenever I feel stymied I close my eyes, I hear Boris ask me “Cartwright, where we are?”… & I’m back on track.