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Editor’s Note: This study examines context, process, and outcomes from meshing two contrasting cultures with a different primary language via the Internet. It broadens both curiosity and knowledge of students about other cultures, and initiates communication and building of relationships, and important step in living in the information age and a global society.

Exploring Student Experiences of a Global Link: Recommendations for Future Programs

Bomna Ko, Boni, Boswell, Han-Joo Lee


In many universities within and outside of the USA, globalization has become a pervasive idea that has developed into an integral part of the educational agenda in the 21st century.  Pressure on higher education to prepare students for global readiness and citizenship has promoted a shift of internationalization strategies, policies, and activities from a marginal to the “mainstreaming of internationalization” (Hahn, 2004, p. 123) in higher education. Purposes of this study were: a) present the essential steps used to develop “global link” and b) present the experiences of the students who participated in the global link. The global link was incorporated into one graduate distance education course through four stages: a) establishing partnership, b) pre-planning steps for global link, and c) activating global link, and d) assessing student experiences. Student responses were collected through questionnaires and interviews. Students characterized their experiences related to the benefits as themes of Newness of Virtual Mobility, and Beginning of International Awareness.  The challenges of the experiences emerged as the themes Innate Factors and “Technology is great when it works”. This study also provides strategies and suggestions for developing effective global links in higher education.

Key words: Globalization, Internationalization, Global link, Higher education


Development of information technology and virtual mobility have contributed to the emergence of a global era that has required changes in multiple dimensions such as economy, education,  politics, diplomacy, and even life-style (Mok, 2007; Scott, 2000).  In many universities within and outside of the USA, globalization has become a pervasive idea that has developed into an integral part of the educational agenda in the 21st century.  Numerous scholars have stressed that the effects of globalization on higher education have become major topics of discussion (Mok, 2007; Mok & James, 2005; Rouhani & Kishun, 2004), especially topics related to the pressures on universities to increase the global competence of their students.  As described by Mok (2007) globalization has influenced “not only the way university curriculum is designed but also the way university research and management are organized” (p. 434).  The term – globalization - can be interpreted several different ways, depending upon an individual country’s history, tradition, culture, and priorities (Knight, 2004).  Even though there is no universal definition of globalization, most scholars agree that the term has a worldwide nature which reaches beyond the concept of a nation.  For the purposes of the current study, globalization refers to the following general definition:

“the flow of technology, economy, knowledge, people, values, [and] ideas…across borders” (Knight & de Wit, 1997, p. 6).

“Globalization forces have accelerated the pace of internationalization of higher education….” (Mok, 2007, p. 435).  As emphasized by Mok (2007), globalization challenges have influenced universities throughout the world to expand and intensify “internationalization activities” (p. 435).  Although increasingly used to discuss the international initiatives in higher education, internationalization is a term that has been used in a variety of ways over the past three decades (Knight, 2004).  In the late 1980s, internationalization commonly referred to a set of activities at the institutional level.  A well-known scholar in the field, Knight (2004), traced changes in interpretations of the term from a set of activities in higher education to a broader focus that encompasses education as a whole and its role in the 21st century.  The following definition of internationalization serves as the foundation of the current study,

“the process of integrating an international, intercultural, or global dimension into the purpose, functions or delivery of post-secondary education” (Knight, 2004, p. 11).

The inclusion of “international, intercultural, and global” in the definition reflect the increasing breadth of the term.  Knight (2004) stressed that inclusion of the word “global” in the definition provided a sense of a worldwide perspective that is essential to denote the current expansion of the term, internationalization.

In the USA, universities have increasing demands from both national and state levels to promote global awareness.  Pressure to prepare students for global readiness and citizenship has become a part of the central governmental agendas (Kienle, 2005).  At the university system level, these pressures have promoted a “shift of internationalization strategies, policies, and activities from a marginal to a central issue in higher education institutions”, a shift described as the “mainstreaming of internationalization” (Hahn, 2004, p. 123).  The University of North Carolina (UNC) system has been guided by the UNC Tomorrow Commission’s recommendations regarding “global readiness”.  A major recommendation of the Commission was, “UNC (the system) should promote partnerships between its own campuses and international universities and enhance the global awareness of its faculty and students”
( accessed May 20, 2009)

To address the need to enhance global awareness, East Carolina University launched the Global Initiative Program (GIP) in 2003.  The purpose of the GIP was to provide a relatively inexpensive way for students and faculty members to link with international partners (Fisher, 2009).  Initially, ECU’s GIP faculty created two freshmen courses that provided opportunities to interact with students in three other countries.  Within five years these courses developed into an integral part of ECU’s general-education curriculum.  ECU’s model utilizes an array of on-line technology to communicate with students in over 18 countries.  In 2008, ECU’s GIP was awarded Honorable Mention by the Institute of International Education (IIE) and will be one of the eight programs honored for Innovation in International Education at the United Nations in spring 2010.

Other ECU formats for internationalization of its curriculum include offering the same range of virtual technology in discipline specific courses.  ECU faculty and partners in other countries in related areas can collaborate through video linking either part or an entire course.  During 2008, ECU’s Department of Exercise and Sport Science (EXSS) faculty in teacher preparation, in conjunction with the ECU Global Initiative Program, began exploring ways to develop a “global classroom link” to be integrated into a graduate level distance education course.  One EXSS faculty member spearheaded the development of a global link to be integrated into a graduate course that focused on “Professional Issues”.  The process of developing this global link and the experiences of the students who participated in the link, are the focus of this paper.  Specifically, the study’s purposes were: a) present the essential steps used to develop this “global link” and b) share the experiences of the students who participated in the global link.

The ECU faculty member was guided by her passion for providing international activities for her students.  She implemented a four stage plan for the development of the global link.  As presented in Figure 1, she implemented the following stages: a) establishing partnership, b) pre-planning steps for global link, and c) activating global link, and d) assessing student experiences.  Since the instructor was born in South Korea, she began establishing the partnership by contacting several faculty members of universities in South Korea.  Contacting Korean faculty began by sending information packets which included inquiries about the level of interest in: a) teaching a graduate course with similar course topics and b) collaborating in development of a global link.  The packet also included web-materials of ECU GIP and a description of the targeted course.  One Korean faculty member agreed to collaborate in development of the global link and to integrate the link into one of his graduate courses, thus, establishing a partnership.

The pre-planning step for the global link required considerable communication between the instructors to discuss, test, and agree on the critical aspects of the link.  For example, it was necessary for the instructors to address: a) appropriate course topics, b) feasible technology tools, and c) workable calendar.  The following two course topics were selected: USA’s Title IX and Teaching in Physical Education.  Technology tools tested by the instructors included MSN, Skype and Centra to find the most convenient technology for both the US and Korean students. 

Centra:( was chosen after several tests between the instructors and their students.  Confirmation of a time schedule and organization of the global link were significant challenges for the instructors, but frequent discussions enabled them to develop a flexible and feasible plan.

Activating the global link was the heart of the experience.  Korean and USA students met twice in small groups and in whole group formats.  During these sessions, students presented and discussed course topics as well as student selected topics.  Each presentation was followed by an open time to ask and answer questions.  Primarily, all global link sessions were led by the students.  Both instructors served as facilitators and addressed issues associated with technology, timing, and language differences.  Text and video communication were available to all sessions.

Assessment of the global link was designed to gain understanding of the students’ experiences in the global link.  The assessment stage offered an opportunity to use a case study approach to explore the following research questions:

What were the benefits of the global link sessions for students who participated?

What were the challenges faced by students during the global link sessions?


A case study design was selected to collect “particularistic, descriptive, and heuristic” (Merriam, 1998, p. 29) information about the insights of students who participated in the global link.  Students were invited to voluntarily participate in the assessment stage.  A total of 20 students including 10 USA students and 10 Korean students participated.  Permission to conduct the study from the university institutional review board (IRB) was obtained and participants consented in writing to participate.

Assessment of the students’ experiences utilized: a) questionnaires prepared in English and translated into Korean and b) group interviews to collect in-depth of data.  After participating in the global link component, participants were asked to complete questionnaires containing open-ended questions designed to elicit their experiences, both the challenges and benefits.  The questionnaires were disseminated and collected via e-mail from all participants.  A semi-structured face-to-face group interview was conducted in the Korean language to clarify questionnaire responses of Korean students and gain a deeper understanding of the data.  The interview was audio-taped and transcribed verbatim.  In addition, all data collected from Korean students (written and spoken in Korean) were translated into English.  The interview transcripts were shared and corroborated with participants for member check via e-mail.  Korean students reviewed the translations and responded with limited and minor requests for corrections which were completed immediately and then returned to the Korean students for final agreement.

The questionnaire and interview data were analyzed using the content analysis in which words, phrases, expressions, or statements that are mentioned most often and that reflect the interest of research question were coded and categorized (Bazeley, 2003; Stemler, 2001). Worthiness of the data was established through peer review and debriefing, negative case analysis, and member checking.  The authors of this study repeated reading the questionnaire data and interview transcripts independently to search for emerging themes and to complete peer review and debrief.  Disconfirming evidence with the data was searched to find negative cases.


This study assessed the experiences of students with emphasis on the benefits and challenges.  Overall, the analysis of the data indicated that the Korean and USA students described similar experiences which emerged as four themes, two major themes corresponding to each research question.  Students characterized their experiences related to the benefits as Newness of Virtual Mobility, and Beginning of International Awareness.  The major themes associated with challenges were Innate Factors and “Technology is great when it works”.

The first major theme associated with the benefits, Newness of Virtual Mobility, included two subthemes: Impact of Live Information and Amazingness.  Despite differences between the students, they repeatedly spoke of the newness of speaking live with international partners and portrayed their experiences as new, amazing, and infused with a feeling of openness.  Combining their descriptions of amazement and openness resulted in the subtheme of “Amazingness”.

The experience of live interactions appeared to impress the students, especially when they compared this experience to reading or texting about the information with others.  Using Centra software and web cams, the students were able to watch each other as they presented their ideas and questions to each other.  Korean student responses which exemplified the impact of live exchange included the following: “I was able to build intimacy by having class with students who are far away.  Also it was lively because there was a lot of sharing of information and I could feel the atmosphere of the class.”  Another Korean student stated, (The) benefit of this link is we can know each country’s live information.”

US students’ reflection on the impact of live interactions were exemplified by the following responses:

When you think of online communication most people think email, but actually being able to see and talk to people in Korea was a big advantage in helping me learn new things.”

“The main benefit would be just the actual experience itself, being able to experience the lives of other people in the other countries across the world, and “I think this experience was beneficial because many students don’t have the opportunity to interact with students from another country and present information to each other. It was a wonderful way to gain firsthand knowledge from a student at the same level.”

The second subtheme of the Newness of Virtual Mobility, was “Amazingness”, an overall expression of a state of amazement and openness made available through technology.  In fact, the technological experience itself was described by many students as a surprising opening of communication, “with students half way around the world”.  Expressions of “amazingness” included the following responses from US students: “…it was cool to say I interacted with Korean students through computer technology at such a far distance.” and  “This whole process was a wonderful experience and considering the distance between the US and Korea, and we were able to communicate and see each other was really neat.”  Korean student responses included the following: It was surprising that I can communicate with new people on the web and can have conversations and discussions with students from other countries at the same time about the same topic” and “It was very interesting to be able to meet students in America through the lecture using video-chat…”.  Frequently, openness was expressed as an exchange of ideas, as described by the following Korean student, “…interesting….good that we were doing it together with people who are on the other side of the Earth and the benefit was being able to interchange our thoughts.”

The second major theme associated with benefits, Beginning of International Awareness, included differences as well as commonalities.  The students’ reflections on the course content often extended to areas of culture.  Differences that related to common content and culture were noted by primarily Korean students, “Through this class I felt that the equality between genders is in urgent need in Korea, and I hope to keep introducing each other’s strong and weak points and through it recognize the importance of Physical Education and accomplish development.  “It’s experience, more than learning the culture. They’re free, different in appearance and body type, and new features or postures and etcetera.”  US students noted awareness of differences exemplified by the following response: “I think this link broadened my knowledge of gender equity beyond the US. It was interesting to hear about gender equity in Korea. It would be interesting to compare what I know now to other countries’ gender equity views.

Commonalities between the countries were expressed primarily by the US students as expressed by the following responses.

It was also beneficial to know that they have some of the same problems we have here. The biggest problem they have is the same that we have in America and that is childhood obesity. I hear about how students in other countries are smarter than in America but I had not heard before that Korean students have a high level of obesity.

The purpose of the global link was to communicate with others outside of your country to broaden your experience and develop dialogue with people of a different culture and belief system. I thought this assignment allowed for the merging of two different cultures of people who share some similarities. The benefits of the global classroom are many. They include being able to participate in cross cultural communication, it allows universities to offer more educational opportunities.

Challenges faced by students during the global link sessions were addressed by the second research question.  Two major themes emerged related to challenges, Innate Factors and “Technology is great when it works”.  The first, Innate Factors, included two subthemes:  language differences and time differences.  In general, student responses associated with Innate Factors reflected the struggles which are inherent when communicating with other students who live, literally, across the world.  Responses concerning the subtheme, language differences, were expressed frequently by students as frustrating as in the following comment from a Korean student, “ …ECU students used shortened words of English that we could not understand”  and … challenging because we are not used to English”.  And, as described by another Korean student, communication differences can be not only frustrating, but also boring. “People who are not very good at English could not understand right away and were not able to ask questions or give answers so it was frustrating and dull.”  Responses of US students included, “I had to slow down my talking so the Korean students could understand what I was saying.  I am sure my accent is also difficult… so this made it hard for the Korean students to understand.”  Although perceived as a barrier, several US students were impressed by the language skills demonstrated by the Korean students as voiced in the following response:

…differences in languages served as a major barrier in completing this project.  During the second link, I finally figured out the best way to attempt to communicate slowly and through the use of small words.  I was very impressed with the ability of Korean students to understand and use the English language.

The second subtheme of Innate Factors was time differences.  The significant time difference between the countries imposed difficulties on both Korean and US students in terms of work and family responsibilities.  As described by one of the Korean students, “there were some restrictions in time because it was night-to-day and day-to-night, but the time difference could not be overcome.”  As explained by one of the US students, “I had to either get up early or get on the computer (… I have to get ready for school in the morning) or stay up later (getting kids to bed and finishing off my other course work)…it was a challenge for me.”

The last major theme concerning challenges can be summarized in the phrase, “Technology is great when it works.”  Although the instructors required practice times in which the technology was tested, technical difficulties were experienced by many of the students.  The following student responses represent the heart of the challenges related to technical difficulties.  This challenge was expressed by the US students in the following responses:

I personally didn’t have any issues using Centra and I feel like I understood how to use Centra pretty well, but I did notice several problems that made it hard to communicate with others….Centra never sent me an invite to the class chat session one time, so I was unable to attend that chat because of that reason.

Many people’s microphones and cameras would not work during the link. I think this made it difficult and unfair for people to have the opportunity to interact and ask verbal questions…  Trying to get these features to work took a lot more time than it should have.

Summary and Discussion

The purposes of this study were to present steps for development of a global link and to explore students’ experiences during the global link.  Four themes emerged from the students’ responses.  The first major theme, Newness of Virtual Mobility, indicated an excitement or state of “amazingness” in the process of meeting and speaking with international partners live.  The students also expressed the theme of Beginning of International Awareness which included acknowledgement of commonalities and differences in the other country’s academic system, culture, and professional issues.  However, several challenges were identified.  These included Innate Factors specifically, language and time differences.  Though English is a second language for Korean students, all students in the global link were requested to communicate in English.  At various times, it was difficult for both Korean and USA students to communicate because of language difference.  It is important to note that many students quickly adapted the schedules to cope with the time differences and their speech by using text-chat tools to provide both spoken and written messages to their international partners.  Another on-going challenge faced by students during the global link involved difficulties presented by technology.  Although offering the avenue to experience a state of “amazingness” of interacting with students in another country, technology was also a powerful source of frustration.  Hence, the theme, “Technology is great when it works”, may be more accurately stated as, “Technology is great…. only when it works”.  These findings indicated that technology was a key mechanism for virtual mobility, but also a potentially problematic and frustrating component of the global link.

To highlight the findings of this study, we review several approaches and rationales that drive internationalization in higher education in relation to the global link.  Dewey and Duff (2009) introduced four categories of international activities in higher education; faculty research and teaching, curriculum, study abroad programs, and other areas of activity.  The global link with an international partner in a graduate distance education course is an example of teaching strategy that promotes international dimension in higher education.  This link aimed to help students understand professional issues not only in USA and also in another country to promote global awareness.  The instructor of the course designed and planned the global link based on establishing a partnership with one Korean instructor but implementation lacked institutional level of support.  Nevertheless, the global link was implemented through the instructor’s initiative, and this attempt contributed to the institution’s internationalization effort.  For example, Knight (2004) recognized general approaches to internationalization at the institutional level including activity, outcomes, rationales, process, at home, and abroad (cross-border).  Integrating international dimension into teaching is one aspect of the process approaches to internationalization in higher education, which is defined as “a process where an international dimension is integrated into teaching, learning, and service functions of the institution” (Knight, 2004, p. 20).  In addition, one of features of the global link was to provide virtual mobility for students to connect with other countries in distance education.  This aspect of the global link is aligned with the delivery of cross-border approach to internationalization effort that “accentuates the linkage with other countries and focuses on the mobility of education across borders” (Knight, 2004, p. 21) through a variety of delivery modes including distance and e-learning.  Thus, development of this global link demonstrates the power of one faculty member’s effort to extend the range and volume of approaches to internationalization at institutional level.

Knight (2004) presented institutional-level of rationales that generally guide internationalization in higher education; international branding and profile, income generation, student and staff development, strategic alliances, and knowledge production.  The global link occurred in a course of distance education program with limited relation to institutional-level of support.  This fact directly highlights student development rationale with greater consequence as this study found because other rationales are more related to institutional level of activities and efforts.  The student development rationale emphasizes the need of internationalization for enhancement of “international and intercultural understanding and skills for students” (Knight, 2004, p. 26).  It is necessary for students to understand global issues, international/intercultural relationships, and technologies to live in a culturally diverse environment and respond to wisely the changing world. As a part of findings of this study, students were aware of commonalities and differences in academic system, culture, and issues faced in their professional area through the global link.  In addition, utilizing technology to connect with international partners may provide students with opportunities to better understand and improve skills in communication technologies based on their expression associated with awareness of feasibility and inconvenience of technologies in this study.  Though the global link results in a limited influence on internationalization, it is clear that students’ learning and experiences through the link are consequence that devotes to the rationale for internationalization.

Implications for Future Programs

Faculty interested in future global projects, may wish to examine the following strategies and suggestions for developing and incorporating a global link into a course in higher education. These suggestions are organized under the headings of the four stages presented in Figure 1: a) establishing partnership, b) pre-planning for global link,
c) activating global link, and d) assessing student experiences.

Stage 1: Establishing Partnership
Passion for global link

It is critical for both instructors to have a strong passion for developing the global link project.  How much the instructor emphasizes the global link project impacts (but not limited to) the weight of the evaluation in the course.  The instructors’ level of passion for engaging in the global link can inspire students to value the experience of connecting with students in another country.

Figure 1. Procedure of preparation and implementation of global link.

Stage 2: Pre-Planning Step for Global Link
Communication between instructors is critical for success of global link

Sufficient communication between instructors is required to adequately plan and organize the link. Students can prepare for the global link only when the instructors announce the schedule in advance.  If limited communication exists between instructors, students can waste their time by waiting on-line but failing to connect with their international partners.  Accessibility for communication between the both instructors is essential for adequate planning.

Development of a common calendar

Agreement about scheduling is crucial for success.  Countries use different academic calendars and holidays which can present major challenges.  When students involved in the global link experienced significant time differences in this study. They were required to alter their daily plans dramatically.

Adequate level of student information

Instructors need to reach agreement about the amount of information that they are willing to share with their own students before the link regard to procedures and schedules.  If the students have different information and/or understanding about the link, this results in confusion and lack of interest in participation in the link.


The proportion of the global link in the course evaluation should be same or similar in both countries.  Discrepancy in the proportion of the global link results in differences in the level of students’ efforts and participation in the global link.

Confirmation of Technology

Technology training or pre-sessions for the technology tool are necessary to minimize technology problems during the global link.  Technology tools should be selected that are convenient and feasible for students in both counties.  Regardless of familiarity or newness of the tools, technology sessions are required to check individual items (e.g., mic, web-cam) and use of software programs.

Stage 3: Activating Global Link
Increase of quality and quantity of the global link

This is a critical issue that needs to be addressed more fully in future global links.  Many of the students in this study reported the need for increased individual interactions with international partners and more of class-based global links.  One of students in this study commented that “I feel that if we could have had a chat about their personal life in Korea, we would have been more comfortable asking questions about what our paper was about.”  Instructors can arrange partnering or small grouping for personal connections with international partners before formal class-based global links.  Individualized interactions and more of global links will allow students to not only gain in-depth of understanding of another country (e.g., education system and culture) and global issues but also build individual relationships with their international partners.

Stage 4: Assessing Student Experiences
Plan for pre-post assessment

Instructors need to clearly articulate the goals of the link and plan for pre-post assessment of students learning and experiences in advance.  In general, assessment in the current study focuses on students’ learning outcomes related to the global links (e.g., global awareness and issues related to the course content, etc) and their reflections on their experiences.  Utilizing the assessment results for refining the global link is essential for incorporating meaningful improvements.


The results of this study indicated that individual faculty members who have a passion to increase global awareness can successfully expand international opportunities for students. Therefore, this study demonstrated the impact of down-up strategy on meeting the internationalization in higher education.  The present study also emphasized that significant amounts of time for planning and implementation are required for developing meaningful international connections.  As the pressures increase for higher education to intensify and expand international activities, there is a need to increase system-wide strategies and policies to support individual faculty initiatives.



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About the Authors

Bomna Ko, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor at East Carolina University, Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Her research interests are to explore how teachers learn to teach in physical education and enhance internationalization in higher education.


Boni Boswell Associate Professor at East Carolina University, Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Her research interests are children with disabilities and dance.


Han-Joo Lee, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Physical Education at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. His research interests include effective teaching and coaching.


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