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Blog 245

Blog 245

Using Case Studies to Teach Refugee Status Determination (RSD) and Public Values and Ethics Through Globally Networked Learning (GNL)[1]

By James C. Simeon

It is uncontested that modern digital communications technology has permeated and transformed higher education. This is most evident by the number of online and hybrid courses that are offered at universities today.[2] Much of this has been spurred on by the COVID pandemic; but, nevertheless, the growing presence of eLearning, in its many permutations, is, undoubtedly, here to stay. Nearly all university students, especially, in the high-income Global North, have easy access to mobile phones, tablets, lap top computers, with ready access to the Internet. It is now cost effective to be able to teach and learn online from anywhere on the planet. This makes Globally Networked Learning (GNL), or what is also called Globally Shared Learning (GSL) or Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL), a practical option for both students and faculty alike, as well as their universities. GNL can be defined simply as bringing together faculty and students from different countries online to do research and to learn together and from each other. Moreover, what will continue to be valued, and even more so over time will be the ability to be able to work effectively, efficiently, and collaboratively with people from different countries. Cultural sensitivity and inter-cultural communications skills and abilities will be highly valued by employers and those who have developed and refined these skill sets will have an important competitive advantage in the job market. Indeed, the era of the “global classroom” has been with us for some time now, but never in such high demand.[3]

Forced Displacement: A Troubling Major Global Issue

A major global issue and concern at present is the seemingly ever escalating number of persons who are forcibly displaced in the world today. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Global Appeal 2023 states that they will have to provide for a record number of 117.2 million forcibly displaced and stateless people in the world and that it will need some $10.211 billion to do so.[4] This does not include the Palestinian refugees who are the responsibility of another UN agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).[5] There are some 5.9 million Palestinian refugees that are in 58 camps located in Jordan (10), Lebanon (12), Syria (9), West Bank (19), and Gaza Strip (8).[6] In fact, the number of forcibly displaced persons has doubled over the last decade.[7] There is no question that forced displacement is one of the world’s major issues and concerns. Seeking durable solutions to address the plight of the growing numbers of forcibly displaced is one of the major global issues.[8]

At the risk of being trite, one obvious point to be made is that “global issues” ought to be taught and learned through the method of “Global Learning.” This has been operationalized as Globally Networked Learning (GNL) at York University, through York International.[9] Over the last three years, I have been collaborating with a number of colleagues at other universities in different countries in the Western Hemisphere to deliver instructional modules through GNL in my courses on the International Refugee Protection Regime I: Critical Issues and the International Refugee Protection Regime II: Research Seminar.[10] The other university partners in my GNL course collaborations are the Tecnologico de Monterrey in Mexico, the Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador, and Northwestern University in the United States of America. This has been a most constructive and beneficial collaboration for all involved and, in particular, our students.

Online Learning in the “Global Classroom”

The GNL instructional modules have taken several different configurations and permutations over the seven instructional sessions that we have delivered to our students. However, they have followed a pedagogically consistent approach that is based on sound international educational practice. We begin by creating a common instructional session website that all our students can access. Students are assigned to mixed international teams to work on their common course assignments. The GNL instructional sessions have the following pedagogical and practical format and structure.

Familiarization – Icebreaker Exercise – Students team members introduce themselves to each other asynchronously in an effort to build trust.

Interaction – Conference – Students have a lecture on the topic at hand with a question-and-answer session. Students then meet synchronously with their respective mixed international team members.

Monitoring – Assignments – There are two team assignments: A Padlet exercise; and a Case Study analysis and the production of a video on the topic under study. Student team members must work collaboratively on a problem-solving case study.

Reflexion – Reflection – Discussion of the videos produced by all the mixed international teams. There is an opportunity for students to self-evaluate their work and that of their peers.[11]

Students thoroughly enjoy these instructional module sessions and are motivated to learn and to complete their group assignments. The degree of student engagement in the GNL sessions is quite interesting. We have discovered that students thoroughly enjoying meeting and interacting with students from other countries.[12] The degree of interaction amongst the students from the different countries is quite impressive.

Utilizing the Case Study Method

The case studies that we have used thus far cover the following issues and related concerns.

  • Refugee claims based on gender-related persecution and, in this instance, partner or spousal abuse.
  • Refugee claims based on sexual orientation.
  • Refugee claims that are based on a fear of forced recruitment in one of the notorious street gangs in the Northern Triangle in Central America, MS-13.

The assigned case studies are brief at no more than a page with several questions that the students are challenged to answer in analyzing the case study and preparing their video that should be no longer than three minutes. The students produce the most amazing videos that are often as good as anything that can be produced by seasoned marketing professionals.

Part of the exercise is to have the students watch each other’s team video to select the best videos in the following categories: (1) the best-case study analysis and resolution; (2) the most creative video; (3) the video with the highest production value; (4) the most impactful video. Consequently, the students themselves evaluate their own videos and decide which team’s video is the winner in each of the four categories. The last class is spent reviewing the winning videos and discussing their outstanding features and areas where they could be improved. This final evaluation is crucial in furthering student skill sets in self and peer assessment while at the same time promoting deep learning.

The case studies on refugee status determination (RSD) are, in fact, drawn from cases decided by the Federal Court of Canada.[13] The case studies teach students how applications for refugee protection are processed and decided by State Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.[14] The 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees is also relevant for the students in Latin America.[15] It furthers their understanding of administrative law and how an adjudicator decides claims for refugee protection. The case study method provides them with an opportunity to consider a claim for refugee protection and decide whether it should be accepted or rejected. In doing so, they learn how to weight the evidence before them and decide what they consider to be credible and trustworthy, consider the documentation on the human rights circumstances within the countries of alleged persecution, and then apply the legal test to determine whether the claimant would have more than a mere possibility of being persecuted should they be returned to their country of nationality or former habitual residence, if they are stateless. In the process of doing so, students are also learning something about international refugee law and practice and how the international protection regime works within their own countries and those of their team members in other countries.

Learning About Public Sector Values and Ethics Through RSD

In addition, students are also learning about public service values and ethics. For instance, in Canada refugee status determination is conducted by the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. It is Canada’s largest administrative tribunal and as a quasi-judicial tribunal it is independent from the Canadian Government that can not interfere with its independence and, more specifically, its decision making on claims for refugee protection.[16] They can be appealed, of course, to the courts but not to any other government officials, elected or appointed. The Canadian Government’s Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector enunciates five key values:

Respect for Democracy

Respect for People




All of these are important in refugee status determination in Canada. But, perhaps, integrity is especially important and relevant because it stands for the proposition that,

Integrity is the cornerstone of good governance and democracy. By upholding the highest ethical standards, public servants conserve and enhance public confidence in the honesty, fairness, and impartiality of the federal public sector.[18]

Respect for people is also, of course, no less important, and relevant. These seminal values and ethics are at the core of any judicial decision-making process and system, and these are very much part and parcel the RSD process in Canada and what comes across implicitly, if not explicitly, in our GNL course modules for our students.

Concluding Thoughts and Reflections

It is inevitable that GNL teaching collaborations will grow in popularity among students and faculty alike, given what is possible through modern digital technology in realizing the “global classroom.” This is, especially, true for courses that lend themselves to international or global issues and concerns.

Students are highly motivated to participate in our GNL sessions. They enjoy the social interaction and working with students in other countries. Their individual and collective learning experiences appear to be more memorable and enjoyable. The student engagement dividend with GNL is undoubtedly one of its principal features and benefits.

The case study method provides students with the opportunity to apply what they acquired and learned about refugees, and other forced migrants, to a factual situation to decide whether they ought to be determined to be a Convention refugee or a person in need of protection, according to Canadian law. They come to understand and to appreciate what it is like to decide whether someone ought to be a Convention refugee or a person in need of protection. The case studies give students an opportunity to get a sense of what it is like to apply refugee law to a claim for refugee protection and in the process learn about public sector values and ethics.

Dividing students into international mixed teams and having them compete for the best video in different categories adds interest and is an additional competitive incentive for students to do their best on their case study assignment. This also enhances the interactive learning experience for students and makes it more memorable and interesting.

All refugee status adjudicators are independent decision makers, who must adhere to the highest ethical standards and public sector values, as found in the Canadian Government’s Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector. The case study method is an effective way to involve students with the means to acquire and to develop administrative law decision-making skill sets while learning about one of the most significant global issues of our time.

About the Author

Dr. James C. Simeon is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA), Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, and a former Head of McLaughlin College, Director of the SPPA, and a former Acting Director and Deputy Director at the Centre for Refugee Studies (CRS), at York University, Toronto, Canada.

[1] This is a version of the conference paper that was presented at the 11th Annual Conference of the Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA) that was held at York University, June 21st-23rd, 2023, Keele Campus, Second Student Centre.

[2] Reliable statistics on the number of online courses available at universities is hard to come by at the moment. But recent reports indicate that nearly all universities provide online courses and that pre-pandemic about 29 percent of university students were enrolled in online courses. See Olivia Bush, “Distance and E-Learning Statistics in Canada,” Made in CA, April 7, 2023,,offered%20by%20universities%20in%20Canada.. (accessed June 20, 2023). See also Rhea Kelly, “Nearly half of students want hybrid classes, While the majority of the faculty prefer face-to-face,” Campus Technology, July 14, 2022, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[3] Debbie Truong, “Overwhelming Demand for Online Classes Reshapes,” Los Angeles Times, Governing: The Future of States and Localities, October 18, 2022, (accessed June 21, 2023); Nadine Diaz-Infante, Michael Lazar, Samvitha Ram, Austin Rey, “Demand for Online Education is Growing. Are Providers Read?,” McKinsey & Company, July 20, 2022, (accessed June 21, 2023); “An Increasing Demand for Online Learning,” Achieve Virtual Blog, 2023, (accessed June 21, 2023)

[4] UNHCR, Global Focus, Global Appeal 2023, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[5] UNRWA, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[6] UNRWA in Action, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[7] UNHCR, Global Focus, Global Appeal 2023, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[8] United Nations, Global Issues, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[9] “Get Involved with Globally Networked Learning,” York University, York International, (accessed June 25, 2023)

[10] “GNL – Enhanced Projects,” Globally Networked Learning, York University, York International, (accessed June 25, 2023)

[11] COLLab, Collaborative Online International Learning, COIL, (accessed June 20, 2023)

[12] Jackson Best, “20 Student Engagement Strategies for a Captivating Classroom,” 3P Learning, June 18, 2020, (accessed June 25, 2023). It is fair to say that most of these strategies are found in our GNL course modules.

[13] Federal Court - Cour Federale, (accessed June 25, 2023)

[14] Convention and Protocol Related to the Status of Refugees, 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, UNHCR, (accessed June 25, 2023)

[15] Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, 22 November 1984, (accessed June 25, 2023)

[16] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, (accessed June 21, 2023)

[17] Government of Canada, Values and Ethics Code for the Public Sector, (accessed June 21, 2023)

[18] Ibid., See “Statement of Values.” [Emphasis Added]