Connecting with the world

9:39:27 AM CDT - Thursday, April 08, 2004

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

JPEG Image (250x188)
Courtesy photo by Glyn Rimmington

A women's studies class taught by Debbie
Gordon holds a videoconference with an
English language class at a Palestinian
university. Since the fall semester, Gordon
has used videoconferencing in her classes,
which incorporate a global learning
component. About 20 WSU classes use
technology to interact with students and
faculty in countries around the world.

In trying to get her students to understand issues of the Middle East, faculty member Debbie Gordon is going beyond bringing in guest speakers.

She's making direct connections between her students and those living in the midst of a longstanding conflict.

It's 1 in the morning and seven students from Gordon's Women and the Middle East class are asking a Palestinian instructor what life is like for her and students in Israeli-occupied territory.

From a conference room at Birzeit University in Ramallah, West Bank, Lina Miari answers their questions that mainly focus on checkpoints and the obstacles Palestinians face in getting an education or traveling.

Gordon's students, seated at tables arranged in a U-shape in a Lindquist Hall conference room at WSU, are able not only to hear Miari's answers, they can see her, and she them, in a two-way videoconference.

Gordon's class is one of about 20 at WSU that incorporates what's known as global learning into its curriculum. WSU's global learning initiative, led by Boeing Professor of Global Learning Glyn Rimmington, encourages using technology to help WSU students learn global perspectives by actually interacting with others across the world.

At WSU, videoconferencing and discussion boards are used to connect with students and faculty at other universities. About 80 percent of the interactions are done through what's called reflective journaling on the Internet-based Blackboard program, Rimmington says. Students can have running dialogues through the journaling.

The goal is to create a "global graduate," someone who's had enough exposure to global experiences that they can become adept at understanding other cultures later in their careers, Rimmington says.
Women's studies senior Adriane Brown says she finds global learning "very appealing. It's important no matter what you are going into, a business major or whatever. Globalization is such a reality that you need to understand people of other cultures."

Rimmington calls Gordon's class "the best example of where there needs to be a process of unlearning and learning" concepts of another culture, particularly since it involves the controversial Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Gordon, who also used videoconferencing with a Palestinian university in her fall Gender, Race and Knowledge class, says her classes have had to unlearn a lot of stereotypes and "literal falsehoods" about Arab women.

Students can learn, too, the views of non-Americans through the videoconferences and Blackboard discussions.

During the early morning videoconference, for example, one student asked Miari whether the U.S. invasion of Iraq was having an impact there. Miari's perspective was obvious in her answer, when she called it an "occupation." The point wasn't lost on the student, who leaned over to another to note her description.

Getting students to understand those other perspectives is important, Rimmington says. When he describes the impact global learning can have, he likes to refer to the children's book "Fish is Fish" by Leo Lionni. The story is about a fish and a tadpole who grows into a frog and comes back to regale the fish with stories about what he's seen outside the pond. The fish, whose perspective of life is limited to his pond, imagines a cow as having a fish's body with udders and legs.

One of the campus' early proponents of global learning, Gordon initially used international calls with officials from the Palestinian National Authority in her classes. Last fall, she incorporated the videoconferencing for the first time. She plans two more videoconferences in her current class, with students at Birzeit University and Al-Quds Open University.

To incorporate global learning, Gordon draws on a network of colleagues she met while on sabbatical in Ramallah in 1998-99. In January, she traveled there again to make the arrangements for her current videoconferencing.

While other professors are videoconferencing with universities in Ireland, Australia, Turkey, Canada, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and the like, Gordon has faced unique challenges in connecting with Palestinian universities.

"Israel doesn't allow (Palestinians) to have broadband width," which would allow for faster, better transmissions, Gordon explains.

That's one of the reasons Gordon's past two videoconferences have been held in the wee hours of the morning. With an eight-hour difference between here and the occupied territory, the videoconference needs to happen when the phone lines have less traffic.

While WSU students are benefiting from global learning, the students on the other end of the connections are learning something, too. Gordon's fall class, for example, connected with a class of students learning English at Al-Quds Open University. The videoconference gave the Palestinian students the opportunity to practice their English skills.

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