Sheryl Kimes, professor of services operations management and the
2014-15 Menschel Distinguished
Using teleconferencing and mobile technology, Cornell is entering the era of virtual international engagement, and Sherri Kim’s, a professor of services operations management in the School of Hotel Administration (SHA), wants to speed up the process.
As the 2014-15 Menschel Distinguished Teaching Fellow, Sherri is working on creating a model for incorporating virtual international experiences that could be replicated in courses across campus. Her project has evaluated globally networked learning projects from other universities and those already underway at Cornell.
Last year, President David Skorton established the goal that, by 2020, 50 percent of Cornell’s undergraduates will be studying or having other meaningful educational experiences abroad. As of 2012, only 27 percent of Cornell undergraduates were doing so.
“Like most universities, we want our students to have an international study experience,” Sherri said. “But a lot of our students can’t afford that or they can’t leave because of a family obligation. How can you put something like that together where our students are interacting with students from other parts of the world?”
Her solution is to use technology to create connections across the globe in a variety of courses. These collaborations would most likely involve the universities in Cuba, Chile, China, and elsewhere with which Cornell already has a memorandum of understanding.
Sherri’s work as a Menschel Fellow dovetails with a new initiative at Cornell to internationalize the undergraduate curriculum. This spring, the Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs launched a program that awarded $350,000 to 26 faculty projects incorporating an international component in teaching, learning, and research. The projects range from a visit to a theater school in Moscow to a virtual experience learning about sustainable land management in East Africa.
“What Sherri is doing is just so important right now, and it’s timely,” said Theresa Pettit, director of Cornell’s Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE), which sponsors the Menschel Fellows. “There’s a focus on this right now.”
Sherri is the fourth Menschel Fellow appointed by the CTE since the initiative began in 2010. The fellowships are named for Ronay Menschel ’64 and her husband, Richard, who made a $4-million gift to establish the program. The fellowships are intended to enhance undergraduate education by enabling a recipient to create an innovative project that will have a lasting impact on teaching at Cornell.
Sherri was selected as this year’s Menschel Fellow because of her outstanding reputation for teaching, her record of scholarship, and her passion for education, said Theresa. According to one SHA colleague, she is so enthusiastic about teaching that she regularly holds brainstorming sessions to discuss teaching techniques—on Friday afternoons.
“She is the most amazingly energetic person,” Theresa said. “Whenever she walks into the CTE, she always has five or ten ideas to share with me.”
Providing virtual international experience in the classroom is not new to Sherri. For six years, she taught a course at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore with half the students sitting in a classroom in Statler Hall. Despite the 12-hour time difference, the two halves of the class were able to work in virtual teams through the use of video technology.
“How do you work on a virtual team? That’s a huge thing,” Sherri said. “When I talk to my friends who are working in banking and hospitality, that’s kind of how their lives are—they have to work on a virtual team. For the students, that’s going to be an invaluable skill in the future.”
With advances in technology, Sherri said, courses can now be offered simultaneously at more than two dozen different locations. She believes that any international virtual learning experience should offer a synchronous component in addition to project work that students can accomplish at their own pace.
“I think it’s important to have some interactive classroom teaching,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be all interactive. There are other ways of gaining knowledge, but there should be some ability to see each other and talk with each other.”
Sherri noted that a virtual international experience exposes students to diverse cultures, giving them an understanding of time differences and offering a glimpse of how business operates in the twenty-first century.
“It’s pretty unusual for a company to have one little office in one little city. Even if it’s not international, you’re going to have to communicate with people from other parts of the world and other parts of the country.”
Sherri spent the fall 2014 semester surveying models of college teaching that incorporate virtual international experiences. One program she looked at was the SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning, which received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to provide globally networked learning experiences in the humanities through collaborations with schools around the world. “They’ve been doing a lot of very interesting things at SUNY schools to create an international experience for students who might not be able to afford to go abroad,” she said.
At Cornell, a handful of faculty members have adopted online international learning experiences, but the efforts so far have not been coordinated across campus. This fall, Sherri plans to create a model for virtual learning and collaboration that will help any faculty member incorporate an online global component into a course.
“If you’ve never done anything like that before, it’s a little daunting and it could take away from what people are doing in the classroom,” she said. “If there were a couple of approaches we could create as models, then faculty could say, ‘Yes, I’ll try this out.’ ”
Once Sherri creates those prototypes, the CTE will offer workshops allowing her to share them with interested faculty members and graduate students. “With the new internationalizing Cornell curriculum grants that were distributed this spring, more and more faculty are going to be thinking about this type of thing,” Theresa said. “Sherri’s work will probably be very helpful for them either for just informational purposes or for course design. Our students need to have these types of global experiences, and we have to make them meaningful.”