Session 451~ Theory and Practice in International Online Classroom Collaboration: An Electronic Roundtable

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Review by Abigail Sheg (@ag_scheg)

Presiding
Zsuzsanna Palmer, Old Dominion University, VA
Panelists
Sarah Guth, State University of New York Global Center
Alexander Hartwiger, Framingham State University
Zsuzsanna Palmer, Old Dominion University

This panel provided explanation and insight into international collaborative classes across disciplines. The organization of this electronic roundtable was as follows: the speakers gave introductory talks about their international collaborative classrooms and initiatives. Then, each speaker went to a large television surrounding the perimeter of the room and groups of participants rotated to televisions interacting more closely with the speaker about their project and collaboration in general.

Zsuzsanna Palmer, Old Dominion University, VA (Link to project: Cosmoproject.wordpress.com)
Zsuzsanna’s presentation comes from a need to prepare students for their working environment, with the understanding that “global communication has changed from intercultural to transcultural.” Her initial presentation discussed the need for education in international communication as many languages are used in conjunction with English around the world; she also discussed the process of creating multimedia projects in the workforce that may span countries or continents. Therefore, her argument was in the necessity of preparing students to focus on the communication process, not looking at communication as a means to an end.

Zsuzsanna argued for a “Cosmopolitan Theoretical Framework” for her project, describing her students not as people in a classroom, but as “students of the world.” She encourages her students to concentrate on what is shared, to explore curiosity, and not to get focus on differences. The classroom experience that Zsuzsanna described in this panel was a shared blog space with her university students from Michigan University and another university in Hungary. Students were asked to create a blog space about themselves, discussing identity and language in order to have students recognize that their identities were made from different perspectives culturally. She created her own blog as a home page and an example where she provided links to all other students’ blogs. Students were required to post to their own blogs regularly, as well as respond to the blogs of students from a different university.

Alexander Hartwiger, Framingham State University, “Cultural Differences and Human Rights”

The classroom that Alexander discussed was an examination of cultural differences and human rights between the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) and the American University of Beruit (where Andrew was at the time of this project). In his introduction, Alexander explained some of the cultural differences between the participating institutions, including notable class differences between the groups of students. The overall concept of this collaboration, which was with Alexander’s dissertation director, was to “consolidate the conversation about identity between disciplines,” and to use content to expose students to cross-cultural learning.
In his introduction, Alexander described three streams of learning that happened simultaneously in the course. There was cross-cultural interaction which occurred synchronously through Blackboard, Skype, and interactions on social media. This cross-cultural interaction was the opportunity for students to get to know each other. The second stream was for students to learn about human rights such as power dynamics and elements of the universal-v- local paradox. The third stream was affective; the emotional charge for students to think through and voice reactions to the text or media.

Alexander also described the learning outcomes in his presentation. The outcomes he discussed included increased self-reflexivity (i.e. the students had a better understanding of how their live and perspective influence their views on texts and what they read or see), more intentional learners and teachers, an acceptance of alternate modes of knowledge production, and an ability for students to read from more than just their positionality (i.e. they could better imagine the perspectives of students from the partner institution). He also described the challenges to this assignment as three-fold: pedagogical, technological, and institutional.

Sarah Guth, State University of New York Global Center

Sarah discussed the level of sustainability of international projects, stressing an importance on the level of institutional support. Representing a different perspective in this process, Sarah argued that once an individual with interest in international collaboration leaves an institution, the program or course typically falls apart unless you have institutional and administrative interest in the project. Rather than an individual perspective, Sarah discussed SUNY’s COIL , Collaborate Online International Learning, which brings together students and teachers from different locations and lingua-cultural backgrounds.
The goal of this program is to focus on the students language skills and to have students better understand their cultures. When asked to describe their culture, Sarah recalls, students have responses like “I don’t think I have a culture.” Experiential and collaborative language learning, such as with the COIL program allows students to develop “competency in using English in authentic communicative contexts,” “develop online communicative competence and digital literacy,” “and opportunities to build diverse personal relationships.” COIL courses are flexible classes in any discipline that can be collaborative for any length of time; this is an internet-based intercultural exchange between students with different cultures or backgrounds organized in institutional contexts.

Bio: Dr. Abigail Scheg is an Assistant Professor of English at Elizabeth City State University in North Carolina and researches in the area of online pedagogy, composition, social media, and popular culture. Her first book, Reforming Teacher Education with Online Pedagogy Development was recently published with IGI Global.

About Author(s)

Laura Gonzales is a PhD student at Michigan State University, where she studies and teaches digital rhetoric and professional writing. Her research focuses on highlighting the benefits of linguistic diversity in professional and academic spaces.

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