Chronicle of Higher Education
Section: INTERNATIONALVolume 54, Issue 10, Page A35
By Karin Fischer
To Connect With Foreign Students, Champlain College Taps Into Technology
Some colleges are bringing foreign students into their classrooms through video and computer hookups. One professor's experience at Champlain College, in Vermont, shows how a little ingenuity and a lot of persistence can go a long way.
In 2003, Gary Evans Scudder Jr., a professor of history, thought it would be a great idea to connect his senior class on world issues with foreign students at a campus in Dubai then owned by Champlain. He cajoled the college's information-technology staff members to set up a secure online discussion forum, and the global-modules program was born.
The concept is simple: For four weeks during a semester, students at Champlain and a partner institution overseas tackle shared readings, then discuss the material online. The focus is usually thematic, so as not to limit the discussion to specific courses.
After that first success with Dubai, Mr. Scudder scouted out other interested universities, sometimes by simply sending out blanket e-mail messages to key departments. Champlain students have discussed peace activism with Austrians, women's issues with Moroccans, and Aristotle's concept of friendship with students at a college in Israel.
Mr. Scudder says the conversations have opened students' eyes to new ways of seeing the world. For example, one discussion centered on a controversial cartoon of Muhammad published in a Danish newspaper, with Jordanian students explaining why they found the depiction offensive. "I could have talked about that in class every day, and it wouldn't have had the same impact," says Mr. Scudder.
His work has also had a broader impact at Champlain. The college has adopted a new core curriculum that integrates his global modules program. Beginning next spring with the freshman class, all students will take one course a year that includes a module. This fall Mr. Scudder, who recently won a campuswide teaching award, has been given time off from his classroom duties to travel the globe recruiting new partners.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Champlain College, as part of its twin goals of embedding the Global Modules approach in our new core curriculum and the college becoming a true facilitator and promoter of a global network for student dialogue, has given me the semester off and the resources to expand our network of partner institutions. Even though it seems like I just stepped off a plane, I will be turning around in a week and embarking on the longest trip of the semester. In the space of four weeks I will be visiting the University of Jordan and Princess Sumaya University in Jordan, Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, Kenyatta Univesity and Moi University in Kenya, and Uganda Christian University and the Islamic University in Uganda to run workshops and meet with interested faculty members, administrators and students. Part of this reflects our vision of having a wide variety of voices represented in our Global Modules discussions. Even more, however, it expresses our desire to have a very strong presence in Africa and the Middle East, two areas that are all too often ignored or vilified in the international press. While we have a growing network in these two parts of the world, we are always looking for new partners. If anyone has any suggestions or contacts we would love to hear from you.
The process of finding new GM partners is an odd one. There is a lot of thought that goes into picking out countries and universities, but some of it is just a process of adapting on the fly. A few days before taking off on the last trip I almost cancelled the Hungarian leg of the trip because I didn't think it made sense as I was balancing out the cost of the trip and my initial perceptions of the reaction I was getting from a couple Hungarian universities. I actually contacted my travel agent about just flying back early, but in the space of a couple hours I heard what it would cost to change the flight, and found a more affordable hotel, and received a couple very hopeful emails. As it turns out the Hungarian leg of the journey ended up being remarkably productive and Hungary may end up being a foundation of the expanding network. I've already talked about one of the universities, Corvinus.
The other Hungarian university is Pazmany Peter Catholic University. You take a pleasant forty-five minute train ride out of Budapest to the village of Piliscsaba. Finding the right train station can be a bit iffy in Hungary because at some of the stations signage is at a minimum. Instead of a series of signs that run parallel to the tracks, you often only have one sign that is facing towards the front of the train (so it benefits you to sit up in the front of the train). I kept getting out of the train at each stop to see if I could spot the sign. Luckily, the stop for the university, Pazmaneum, was very well marked and had a quaint little station, which you walked through and right into the university itself. The university has a very intimate feel, about the size of Champlain itself, with a very strong liberal arts tradition. I had a series of great meetings with Marton Beke from the international program, Gyorgy Domokos, the Vice-Dean for Foreign Affairs, Kathleen Dubs from the English department, and Karoly Kopasz, a student who works with Marton Beke. Kathleen Dubs had some wonderful ideas for Global Module themes, including using portions of Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings for a Global Module focused on perceptions of "the other." This really made me happy because literature is a wonderful fit for the Global Module approach. Karoly Kopasz was tremendously excited about the project and was checking out the new GM website while we were having the meeting. He couldn't wait for me to get back to the states to get the official OK so that he could get other students at the university to post on the general discussion forum.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
The first university that I visited in Budapest was Corvinus University. It has a long and storied and fascinating history. For a long time, under Soviet rule, it was renamed Karl Marx University and there is still a statue of Marx in the main part of the building. The building itself is very historic. It is located right on the Danube, on the Pest side, and it used to be the old customs house. There used to be a train track that ran right through the middle of the building (where Marx is sitting now). After the fall of the Soviet Union it was named Corvinus in honor of a scholarly Hungarian king of the fifteenth century (a golden age in Hungarian history).
Corvinus is very excited about the Global Modules project, especially in the economics, business and history departments. We should have at least a couple GMs up and running with them in the Concepts of Community classes this coming spring semester. I think they are so excited about the project because of Hungary's own struggle to join the EU and to fashion a more lasting connection with the rest of the world. In one of the many meetings I had with faculty members and administrators, I also had the chance to sit down with some doctoral students in economics, and I think they were the most excited of anyone. They were suggesting GM themes during the meeting and started emailing me more ideas before I had made it back to my hotel.
The University of Alcala is located in Alcala de Henares, which is around thirty minutes outside of Madrid by train. The university itself is beautiful and has a history that stretches back centuries. Oddly, it was all but dead for much of the 20th century and was brought back to life mainly by the efforts of the people of Alcala de Henares who refused to give up on their dream of breathing new life into the school. Thank goodness they did. While some of the buildings are surprisingly modern, others have the same look, on the outside anyway, that they did in the 15th century. In some places the architects have melded brand new buildings onto older structures, but even they have allowed the older buildings to dominate. Most of their buildings, even the ones five hundred years old, are wireless or soon will be – the challenge of which our own IT folks could understand. The university has something around eighteen-thousand students, but has the feel of a more intimate college.The campus is full of beautiful old courtyards, often hidden behind five hundred year old facades. One administrative building has a façade dating back to the time of Charles V. Once you go through the gate you enter the first of three linked courtyards, each one progressively older. In one of the courtyards there is an idyllic tree-covered corner that is simply referred to as the Philosopher’s Garden.
In a series of meetings that stretched over two days I met a number of faculty and administrators, including the Dean of Humanities, the Assistant Dean of Economics, the Director of International Relations, and the Chair of the Modern Languages department. All of this was organized by Carmen Flys Junquera who is a very big supporter of the GM program. Her parents are Spanish but she was raised in the states. She moved to Spain in the 1970’s and has been here ever since - her own experiences with two different cultures probably explains her fascination with the GM program. If she as good an ambassador for the GMs as she is for the university we’ll have no trouble succeeding here. Alcala is interested in embedding the Global Modules in several courses as an experiment for the upcoming spring semester, but they are already talking about signing a memorandum of understanding and expanding to more classes next year – maybe even taking the same approach that Champlain is doing and actually embed them in key courses. They also have an interesting bonus credit program where students can get one, two or three credits for taking on unique assignments, and Alcala is talking about using this approach for a one-credit course that would just be the Global Module itself. This might actually be a possible approach that Champlain could use as it explores ways to bring the GMs into the extracurricular realm. Carmen thinks that immigration would be a great GM topic because the Spanish (like a lot of European countries, and the US for that matter) are dealing with their own immigration issues.