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Rodney D. Coates, Interim Director of Black World Studies at Miami University, Oxford, OH
It started out as a simple gesture of reaching out to colleagues across the globe, and 15 years ago it sparked the creation of a new learning experience that today brings the world abroad to Miami students with the use of modern technology.
More than a decade ago, I was teaching an honors course on race, ethnicity and conflict resolution that took advantage of the then-newly developing technology associated with email listservs. I connected with colleagues from universities around the globe to discuss the major conflicts occurring in the world. Cumbersome technology and frequent glitches ultimately forced us to shut down this project. One positive from this course was that we published one of the first e-texts.
Then, three years ago, Miami University’s Liberal Education Council encouraged faculty to develop global-based courses. With greater advancements in technology, I thought, “Why not try this again?” I received a tremendous response from colleagues in Russia, Istanbul, Bangladesh, Milano, Canada, and West Indies, and within the United States from the University of Texas, Florida, and even the Naval Academy. Thus constituted, we began our discussions in earnest on how to create a classroom without walls.
This new course, “Globalization, Social Justice and Human Rights, ” pairs Miami students with students from various countries through Web-based tools. The 400-level course for undergraduate and graduate students was piloted in fall 2010; this fall 260 students (12 at Miami) from all over the globe interacted through a social network site, blogged, uploaded videos and, in the process, learned about each other and world issues. We have a NING site for all the universities and students who are involved in the project (NING is an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks). Within that site, each university has its own set of pages, with students writing and speaking in their own language, but the common site is in English. There is a Facebook-like environment where students can “friend” each other.
The course requires readings that students must complete, case studies, service learning projects and group projects. It’s interesting that as technology expands, students are asking us to incorporate more tools like Dropbox, iCloud, and Googledocs. This makes this project a continuous learning process on both ends. It is amazing watching the students who normally function on one level actually step up several levels. This challenges students intellectually by forcing them to step out of their Miami comfort zone and step into a global environment. The entire process of integrating technology, pedagogy, and faculty partnerships creates this expansive world for our students. One person cannot do this. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.
Personally, however, this process opened my eyes to greater possibilities. It has transformed the way I teach. No lectures per say but conversations, not monologues but layered dialogues. The course is time consuming and there is a steep learning curve mastering the technology, but I am excited by the possibilities. Think about it—barring time-zone issues—we can take these conversations and make them live in real time; we can have shared lectures and presentations across the globe. We have only just begun to explore digital learning.
Students, even with language deficiencies, benefit from this course as they can explore these issues within their own group, or virtually walk out (on our site) and explore them with like-minded students from as close as next door or as far away as across ocean. But, even in the online world, language barriers posed a problem that we were sensitive to. We, as instructors, spent a considerable amount of time finding material in multiple languages. While only a few of our Miami students were proficient in other languages, all of our partner institutions and students were proficient in English. Students from other countries benefit by practicing their English with our students, and some of our students who study another language can likewise practice with them. We still can maintain a rich cross-cultural dialogue.
So, what is it that the students discuss in this course? They converse on issues of social justice and human rights from their varying viewpoints and perspectives. Through their group projects, students have raised funds to provide books and other items to children in need, raised awareness of the suffering of children in Sudan, and worked on service learning projects related to immigration and international adoption issues.
While it seems that the world, over the past decade, has become consumed with all things global, few seem to understand the contradictions, complexities, and nuances associated with globalization and how it significantly impacts our daily lives. Whether our discussions deal with international trade or immigration, international markets or national security, nuclear arms race or global climate changes, we eventually wind up discussing the forces of, factors associated with, and the realities of globalization. Globalization is more than an understanding of development. Globalization does not occur within a vacuum. It happens both among humans and nations. The forces of globalization have significance to how we interact and under what terms that interaction takes place. Any significant conversation, by definition, must also include ones dealing with both social justice and human rights.
For this reason I designed the course, it explores the theories, issues, debates, and pedagogy associated with globalization, social justice, and human rights. It provides students with a unique opportunity to explore these topics within the classroom and, via the Internet and other technologies, in classrooms located around the globe. The student, through collaborative projects with peers around the world, reflects upon how globalization shapes and transforms local communities and national cultures.
While many students shy away from the level of work associated with these courses, others find the challenge the very reason why they come to a place like Miami University. The word has gotten around that this is one of those courses that will stretch, challenge, and allow for intellectual growth unsurpassed. Even after the course has ended, many students still keep in touch with their international partners.
For more information on the author, see redroom.com/member/rodney-d-coates