Global Studies on Urbanization: A Teacher’s Workshop

August 31, 2017

How does urban life affect individuals, families, and communities? What teaching routines and ideas can high school educators across disciplines apply to invite students to see the world differently? How does health shape modern urbanization risks, challenges, and opportunities? 

To explore such questions, Harvard’s Global Studies Outreach Committee, a collaboration of centers and programs across the university, welcomed 40 educators from across the country in early August 2017 to the fifth annual professional development workshop, this year on “Cities and our Urbanizing World.” Connecting invited speakers, innovative thinking routines, and extensive interactive group conversations, the workshop has focused on a range of global issues since its inception, including water and climate (2013), visualizing global mapping (2014), migration (2015), and journalism (2016). All participants may obtain continuing education credit through Framingham State University; 10 of this year’s 40 teachers were selected to develop in-depth projects in dialogue with consortium staff and each another over the next year, as global studies fellows.

“These are my MOST FAVORITE professional development opportunities,” one participant wrote in an anonymous evaluation as the workshop ended. “I want to keep them secret, but they are too good not to share with my colleagues and friends.” Another wrote, “I didn’t realize the great potential in slums.” 

The informal economy—and how it relates to health—was the focus of several invited talks. Speakers who explicitly addressed global health concerns included Alayne Adams, professor of international health at Georgetown University, and Lynn Freedman, a human rights lawyer and professor of population and family health at Columbia University, who reflected in separate presentations on their experiences working with urban households in Bangladesh, including how intersectionality and urban informality shape maternal-newborn health. Other speakers illustrated challenges and opportunities in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, South America, the Arabian Gulf, and South Africa, with a lunchtime panel discussion on local urbanization and governance in the city of Cambridge. Meetings flowed beyond group tables, with teachers clustering around the walls of the CGIS basement level, creating visual maps with colored paper and markers. The workshop also included a visit to the Harvard Art Museum, where teachers viewed and responded to a pre-selected exhibit of urban images curated from the museum’s collection.

The Global Health Education and Learning Incubator’s faculty and staff have been collaborative partners since the first Global Studies workshop, in 2013, co-sponsoring speakers, mentoring post-workshop fellows on projects, and generating and piloting Incubator-based teaching tools relevant to each of the five annual themes. In 2017, the Incubator developed and piloted an original teaching pack of three new case studies, written by Rachel Gordon and Susan Holman: one on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan; one on urban food security in the context of urban gardens; and a third using archaeological images from ancient cities to illustrate urban health risks, inviting students to reflect on their relevance for today. The pack includes a teaching guide, case narratives, objectives, suggested classroom activities and discussion questions, and an annotated bibliography on global health and urbanization. Holman facilitated a workshop on incorporating these materials into their teaching, and workshop participants provided valuable feedback based on their years of expertise as veterans in the classroom. She also introduced participants to the Incubator’s online resource repository, which provides a curated collection of global health and global education resources for educators and learners at every level. 

The Global Studies Outreach Committee (GSOC) at Harvard is a collaboration among regional and internationally focused centers and programs at Harvard that share a commitment to conduct educational outreach throughout New England and beyond. Co-sponsoring centers and programs for the 2017 workshop included the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, the Harvard University Asia Center, the Center for African Studies, and the Global Health Education and Learning Incubator. The Global Studies Outreach pedagogical focus is informed and inspired by the methods and “thinking routines” of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero. GSOC is funded in part by a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the U.S. Department of Education.