Thursday, May 31, 2007

Global Module Partner - Zayed University

I thought this would be a good forum to talk about some of our partners in the growing Global Module network. One of my goals in the next few months is to solidify our working relationship with a core group of international universities. One of the institutions that has been most enthusiastic in its support is Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates.

I'll share a little information about Zayed from their website:

"Zayed University was established in 1998 by the federal government of the United Arab Emirates to educate U.A.E. National women. It has campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai led by a single administration, and offers similar programs on both campuses. Zayed University currently enrolls approximately 3200 National women.

Zayed University is based on an international model of higher education. It is organized academically into five colleges - Arts and Sciences, Business Sciences, Communication and Media Sciences, Education, and Information Technology - and the primary language of instruction is English. The University expects its graduates to be fully bilingual in English and Arabic, proficient in the use of computing technology, and strong in quantitative and research skills. It expects them to achieve significant intellectual and social development. It also expects its graduates to be well-prepared professionals ready to become leaders in government, business, civil society, and family life. The graduates of Zayed University will help shape the future of the United Arab Emirates."

I was fortunate enough to spend a few days at Zayed in April, and I was extraordinarily impressed by the students, faculty and administrators there. The meeting was arranged by Leila DeVriese and she did a great job setting up two full days of meetings. I was able to meet with two different classes and the students were wonderful. They all wore the traditional black abaya (although they also had much nicer cell phones than I'll ever own), but were very worldly and tremendously interested in greater contact with the rest of the world. I threw the floor open for discussion and asked them what topics they would choose for Global Modules and they had really interesting ideas. To me they were a microcosm of the whole experience in the U.A.E. - right on the boundary between the traditional and globalizing worlds. For this reason (one out of many) they are wonderful partners for the Global Module network.

Since then Leila (and her husband Todd, who also taught there) have gone back to the U.S., but I've been in constant contact with folks like Habibul Haque Khondker, Matthew Maclean, James Piecowye, Daphne Selbert, Rebekah Carlson, Lena Jayyusi, Ron Hawker, Yunsun Chung-Shin, Peyman Pejman and Rafael Reyes-Ruiz. We're in the process of planning Global Modules for the upcoming fall semester.

Please let me know if you're interested in getting involved.


Saturday, May 5, 2007


OK, it's not the most exciting topic in the world, but assessment is a key part of any educational program. In addition to qualitative feedback from students, Champlain has been using a simple twelve question assessment questionnaire to provide quantitative data. Both our international and American students were encouraged to answer the questions. The questionnaire is broken into thirds. The first four focus on the Content Experience, the middle four deal with the Group Experience, and the final four relate to the Cultural Experience. The following results are our latest and were gathered during our spring 2007 semester that ended in April. In every question the students overwhelmingly Strongly Agreed or Agreed with the statements. Even though we continue to brainstorm ways to improve the experience, the feedback that we are getting back from students makes us optimistic that we are on the right track.

Global Module Assessment
Spring Semester 2007

1. I feel that I now know more factual information about the topic we covered than I did before participating in this Global Module.
Strongly Agree – 39.4%
Agree – 55.3%
Disagree – 5.3%
2. I am now aware of a greater number of perspectives on the topic we covered than I was before participating in this Global Module.
Strongly Agree – 60.5%
Agree – 39.5%
3. I believe that I will be better able to evaluate media representation of this topic and to contribute more effectively to a classroom or social discussion about this topic because of my participation in this Global Module.
Strongly Agree – 36.8%
Agree – 55.3%
Disagree – 7.9%
4. I will probably try to find out more about the cultures that I encountered during this Global Module.
Strongly Agree – 35.1%
Agree – 54.1%
Disagree – 10.8%
5. The introduction (getting to know you) activities we did enabled me to feel comfortable with my group by the time work on the actual project began.
Strongly Agree – 52.6%
Agree – 36.8%
Disagree – 10.6%
6. The technology provided made it easy to communicate my thoughts and ideas to the other members of my group.
Strongly Agree – 62.2%
Agree – 35.1%
Disagree – 2.7%
7. Group members from both locations actively contributed to our project in a productive manner.
Strongly Agree – 36.8%
Agree – 44.7%
Disagree – 18.5%
8. I believe that I will be a better group member in other classes or on future projects because of my experiences during this Global Module.
Strongly Agree – 37.8%
Agree – 56.8%
Disagree - 5.4%
9. I now feel more comfortable when others don’t agree with my opinions or perspectives.
Strongly Agree – 24.3%
Agree – 59.5%
Disagree – 8.1%
Strongly Disagree – 8.1%
10. I believe that I will be more tolerant when others have trouble accepting or understanding my view on a particular topic.
Strongly Agree – 37.8%
Agree – 59.5%
Disagree – 2.7%
11. I feel more comfortable communicating electronically with people from other countries or cultures than I thought I would have before participating in this Global Module.
Strongly Agree – 42.1%
Agree – 52.6%
Disagree – 5.3%
12. I believe that I will now feel more comfortable communicating face to face with people from other countries or cultures because of my participating in this Global Module.
Strong Agree – 34.2%
Agree – 57.9%
Disagree – 7.9%

Choosing a Topic

In many ways the key to running a successful Global Module is choosing a great topic. You want a topic that is meaningful and that addresses issues that are important to the course - and also to students and their lives. A good topic will inspire debate and will lead to an examination of bigger issues. It should force students to question some of their cultural or regional stereotypes - it should "tweak" them a little. At the same time, it should avoid a contentious argument because that would prove counterproductive. Topics like globalization or the environment or women's rights or terrorism have proven to work very well.

To facilitate the discussion we usually have the students read and discuss a common short text. This introduces the topic and gives the students a common experience and vocabulary. The text should be short - preferably a journal article, a chapter from a book, newspaper articles - and it helps if it is online so that it is easily accessible for our international partners. For the Global Module on Woman as "the Other" we had the students read the introduction to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. For a Global Module on inequality we had the students read an article on the Grameen Bank. A chapter from the book Freakonomics inspired a conversation about the implications of naming. That said, the common text doesn't have to be a text at all. When we discussed ecological impacts we had the students go to a website that calculated how big a person's ecological footprint was. A short film or piece of art would also work.

I'd like to use this blog as an area for exchanging ideas. Are there any suggestions for other possible Global Module topics? Please feel free to post suggestions using the comment feature.



Friday, May 4, 2007

Woman as "the Other"

Over the years Champlain has run many successful Global Modules, with themes such as globalization, images of the self, terrorism, peace activism, ecological impact, and the freakonomics of naming. However, the Global Module that has most consistent resonated with students centers around a topic that we call Woman as "the Other."

We have the students read and discuss the introduction to Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. Simone de Beauvoir spoke of society being structured around the needs of man as "the One," with women left to adapt in their status as "the Other." After the students have come to grips with de Beauvoir's main argument, we then break them up into virtual groups - for instance, if we're pairing with a university in Jordan the groups would be half-Jordanian and half-American. The students then discuss ways in which women are "the Other" in their respective societies, as well as determining similarities and differences between the two cultures. In addition, the groups need to come up with specific proposals for improving the situation for women around the world.

The approach, as with all the Global Modules, is straight forward and simple, but has inspired extraordinary conversation. One female Jordanian student, when talking about the challenges that women face, proposed, “Our society is built on the notion that we’re dependant units: objects that can not exist without being attached to a main CPU.”

A Moroccan woman wrote, "Simone de Beauvoir is totally right in her definition of women as "others" in many societies. In my country Morocco, for instance, women are seen in different way from men. Women do not have the right to laugh or speak loudly. They should come back home at an early time and respect certain rules. In other words, they have to talk, behave, interact in a special way completely different from the male."

When asked to prepare specific suggestions for improving the lives of women a Global Module featuring students from Al Akhawayn University in Morocco and Champlain College in Burlington proposed solutions such as improved education, expanded political participation, and the involvement of NGOs and the United Nations. One group suggested an answer that was closer to home: "I believe that we need to start with women themselves. The most important thing to evaluate is the way they perceive themselves as “women”. A woman who thinks that she is worthless without a man or that the he has a better status or abilities than her in any field will never be equal to him even if given the conditions of this equality. The mentality is the most important, and the most difficult, thing to change. In our society, there are still women who think that their husbands have the right to hit them and who believe that if it happens it is their fault. This is dangerous and sad, and this is what should be changed. Women need to be aware of their rights and of the injustice they live in daily."

One of the things that we always stress in the Global Module program is that it is not intended to be "colonial" - that is, the goal is not to convince our international friends that everything is better in the U.S. All we ever want is dialogue. Often it is the American students who have the most eye-opening experience, both in regards to learning more about the rest of the world but also in coming to terms with their own cultural blinders. One American student, when discussing the wearing of the hijab, commented, "I have to say that, as an American Woman, I have never been more embarrassed by my culture's inability to understand and appreciate the richness of such a diverse and intriguing area of the world. For me, the Hijab is a symbol of not only cultural identity, but an image of pride in one's beliefs and the pure love for faith. I see nothing "wrong" with the idea of covering, and believe that Western cultures need to open their eyes and understand the reasons behind it, rather than being antagonistic and narrow minded."

Often you'll find students, on both sides of the virtual divide, question their own cultures but, in the end, decide that their own tradition is the one with which they feel most comfortable. If anything, their tie to their own tradition is stronger because they have now discussed different world views. In education we call this concept committed relativism - they are gaining an appreciation of the rest of the world, but have committed to their own foundation beliefs. Here a Jordanian student, while discussing the hijab, wrote, "well, though I am an arabic muslim 20 year old, hijab still puzzles me. Is it about being modest? being conservative? and if the case is either, why the hijab in specific? why can't we just dress properly and humbly?? However, I have come to the conclusion that it's not the most important issue in Islam. Islam is a religion of values and morals, and it seems that most people have forgotten that, girls now think that if they wear the hijab only then that's it, many of them do dress extravagantly even more than unveiled girls , because they want to express the point that the hijab is not a sign of poverty. I truly believe that all muslims should study their religion, and their holy quran instead of being blind followers. If you want to do something, then do it for the right reasons." Essentially, she is criticizing her fellow students for wearing the hijab for the "wrong" reasons.

As the Global Module project expands at Champlain, the Woman as "the Other" theme - as well as other gender-related topics - will continue to be a key component.