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Global Approach To Teaching

Global Approach To TeachingA Tufts professor's innovative program has brought together students from Tufts and two African Universities to explore international issues - without leaving their desks. Kampala, Uganda.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [07.30.02] Before getting involved in Pearl Robinson's course, many students at Makerere University in Uganda had never touched a computer before. The same was true for many students at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. But the Tufts professor's approach to global education has changed that - creating an online international classroom, where hundreds of students on the two continents discuss international issues, learn from each other, and even debate U.S. policy toward Africa with a high ranking member of Bush Administration.

"Curriculum co-development involves people working together across the barriers of distance to improve the quality of educational programs at their home institutions," Robinson - a political science professor at Tufts - wrote in a Christian Science Monitor op-ed describing her program. "It was not until I started this online collaboration that I began to recognize the possibilities of a truly global teaching approach."

At the heart of the innovative class is technology, which connects students at Tufts and the two African universities across the 8,000 miles that physically separates them. But unlike traditional distance learning programs, the information doesn't flow from just one source.

"A basic tenant of [my program] is that knowledge receivers should also be knowledge senders," Robinson wrote in the Monitor. "The primary teacher for the course is on the ground with the students. And through a variety of online exercises, the students participate in the process of creating new knowledge."

Virtual chat rooms, Robinson wrote, have been the most effective tool, allowing real-time discussions on a wide variety of issues covered in the course. Democratic in nature, the chats help students shape their classroom experiences.

"Chat rooms and other computer technologies allow for extended conversations that draw on people's historical, cultural, and regional perspectives," the Tufts professor wrote in her opinion piece.

They also offer truly unique opportunities for the students involved in Robinson's program.

"When a couple of Tanzanian students suggested arranging some virtual chats with high-level policymakers, I embraced their idea," she wrote in the Monitor.

After contacting Jendayi Frazer - President Bush's National Security Council advisor for Africa - Robinson arranged an interactive session to discuss U.S. policy in Africa for students at University of Dar es Salaam and Makerere University.

"The chat was fast-paced. The questions were hard-hitting and often critical of U.S. positions," Robinson wrote in the Monitor. "Frazer was articulate, ready with her facts, and a good listener. Toward the end of the hour, she announced plans for a presidential visit to Africa - probably in February."

Already a success, Robinson hopes her approach will gain a greater foothold as others realize its potential.

"My colleagues and I hope the visibility of a White House virtual chat will inspire a surge of interest in using technology across the university curriculum," she wrote.


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