Think Globally, Map Locally
During 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic became the world’s largest experiment in remote learning. Teaching strategies and delivery methods went into survival mode at many educational institutions, particularly those that were forced to cut budgets and increase teaching loads. By the end of the year, everyone had become familiar with the realities of synchronous and asynchronous learning.
Remote learning presented an even greater challenge for courses that included a community engagement component, such as the Toursim Management course I teach at Pace University’s Lubin School of Business. But when faced with a crisis like the pandemic, educators must pivot to new ways of delivering a robust educational experience, write Annie Peshkam and Gianpiero Petriglieri in a recent article in Harvard Business Review. That’s exactly what I set out to do.
Participatory Citizenship Skills
First, some background. Pace University—which has locations in New York City and Westchester County, New York—maintains a Center for Community Action and Outreach. The center houses Project Pericles, a national nonprofit organization that encourages colleges and universities to make social responsibility and participatory citizenship a core element of their educational curriculum. Through these core requirements, students learn about issues impacting society and develop skills to address these issues.
In my Tourism Management course, which is part of the core participatory citizenship requirement, I run an annual project with Green Map System (GMS), a New York City nonprofit. GMS partners with other nonprofits, municipal governments, tourism agencies, universities, special interest groups, and individuals to create thousands of maps highlighting nature sites, cultural and societal landmarks, and green living resources in cities around the world.
The goal of the project was to encourage students to examine the city through a fresh lens of sustainability and to increase their civic awareness of New York City.
The maps feature icons and tools that indicate where users can find specific services and organizations. For instance, sustainable living icons indicate the presence of windmills, bike paths, and recycling centers; nature icons show the locations of flora, fauna, and outdoor activities; and culture and society symbols mark the locations of public works, eco-information sites, and activist organizations.
In past years, students in my class worked with GMS to identify sustainable tourism locations in the New York City metropolitan area. After forming three-person teams, students explored the five boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. Using the GMS icons as a guide, students selected six sustainable locations on their own; traveled to those locations; wrote brief stories about the cultural, social, and environmental sustainability of each location; and took photos demonstrating those features.
Finally, the student teams made presentations about their locations to share with their classmates. Each semester, we provided the student information to GMS to add to other NYC Sustainable Tourism Green Maps.
The goal of the project was to encourage students to examine the city through a fresh lens of sustainability. As they explored and learned outside of their neighborhood comfort zone, they increased their civic awareness of New York City.
But I had to rethink my course when the pandemic disrupted the fall 2020 and spring 2021 semesters. While some students were still in the New York area, others had returned home to places such as Australia, Pakistan, the Bahamas, India, France, Singapore, China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Burma. How could I involve them in volunteer citizenship participation when they would be joining the class from 21 different countries—and often learning asynchronously?
I ultimately settled on the concept of an international map that traced how communities were coping with COVID. GMS had already augmented its existing icons with a series of new COVID Recovery icons as a way to spotlight organizations that were managing the pandemic and supporting recovery. The symbols were divided into three categories. Those related to Public Health indicated locations of hospitals, community gardens, food banks, hand-washing stations, and other services. Those in the Recuperate category denoted sites like protected habitats, open park spaces, and cooling spots. (See image below.) Icons in the Regenerate group indicated the locations of mutual aid organizations, public restrooms, and WiFi hotspots.
A sample of icons in Green Map Systems’ “Recuperate” category, developed as part of its COVID-19 recovery project.
Capitalizing on the fact that my students were truly global, I tasked them with identifying Public Health, Recuperate, and Regenerate locations near their current places of residence. Over the course of the fall and spring semesters, 80 students created the Pace University International COVID Pandemic Recovery Map. (Google Chrome and Firefox browsers are best for showing the full features and links in the map.)
Working individually in their own countries, students were required to identify three locations that offered resources for battling or recovering from COVID. Safely following COVID guidelines, students visited each physical location to take three photos of different aspects of the sites. They also gathered details such as street addresses, phone numbers, and website URLs for each location. Then they wrote 100- to 150-word “stories” about why each spot was important and what COVID-19 resources were available there.
Once they had assembled their information, students submitted their work to Amanda Copeland and Swetha Nutalapati, both MBA students in the class, and Andrew Coggins, a clinical professor at Pace. The three of them organized and entered the data locations into Google Maps. The end result was a global map spotlighting 239 locations in more than 20 communities where services are available to help citizens deal with the pandemic.
The project demonstrates how a university can partner with a nonprofit organization to enhance learning and allow students to contribute to the global community.
The map was finalized on May 15. Shortly after that, the school began to promote the map through global media platforms so people all over the world can learn about destinations that will help them recuperate, regenerate, and contribute to public health during COVID-19 recovery.
Global But Local
Students have offered enthusiastic feedback on the project. Said one, “I learned facts about my local community that I never knew by going out and doing this research.” Said another, “I was impressed to see the global effort, and I enjoyed doing the work and reading about the other locations that my classmates reported on.”
I am equally enthusiastic. I believe the project truly demonstrates how a university can partner with a nonprofit organization to enhance learning and allow students to contribute to the global community. I also believe this project shows that even when faculty are teaching remote and asynchronous courses, they can embrace the adage, “Think global, work local.”
The pandemic showed us that the field of education needs a more comprehensive plan for virtual learning. But it also showed us that, with interconnected technology, professors can teach and students can learn at any time and from any location.
Remote learning can be just as rich as in-class learning. When students are scattered across the globe, educators must look for opportunities to turn that distance into an advantage. They can enhance their assignments by allowing students to use local enterprises as the basis for case studies, competitive analyses, and research. This flexibility will allow students to become more global, well-informed citizens of the world.