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SIS Students Step into Virtual Classroom

By Adrienne Frank

“Good morning,” chorused the three AU undergrads, as they settled into their chairs before the webcam in Hurst Hall’s Social Science Research Lab.

“Good evening,” responded their colleagues, situated in a similar classroom, half a world away.

Clearly, this wasn’t going to be your average student presentation.

For six weeks, student volunteers Kaia Range, Christal Louison, and Sara Passaro have worked with two students from the Modern College of Business and Science in Muscat, Oman, on a joint paper about the religious and cultural differences between the United States and the Middle Eastern nation. Once a week, with help from graduate student Katherine Davies and Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) staff, the students chatted via video conferencing about everything from clothing and food to education and entertainment.

The project is part of SIS professor Bram Groen’s cross-cultural communications class and during the Dec. 3 video conference, each group presented their findings.

“Now that technology has become so sophisticated, I want students to seize the opportunity to meet and share life experiences with people from all over the world,” said Groen.

“When they get out into the working world, the first thing they’re going to be asked to do is work on a virtual team,” he continued. “We’re preparing students for that.”

In order to get around the tricky, nine-hour time difference, the AU students used a variety of technologies, including e-mail, blogs, YouTube, Skype, and Facebook, to communicate with their Omani classmates, Khalid Al Bulushi and Zuwena Al Toqi.

“The time difference was hard to adjust to, but luckily it came around finals time,” laughed Passaro. “So, when [they] sent an e-mail at 3:30 a.m., I was still awake to read it!”

Groen hopes to expand the project next semester.

“My hope is to have an entire classroom equipped with this technology, so that students at AU can work with students from Oman, Bahrain, Japan, and other countries,” he said.

Assen Assenov, CTE Social Science Research Lab manager, who assisted with the project, said professors across campus are tapping video conferencing.

Next semester, SOC’s Sarah Menke-Fish’s students will coproduce mini-documentaries with students from Mexico’s Tecnologico de Monterrey. Other faculty often use video conferencing to host guest speakers, and admissions staff rely on it to chat with prospective students in other countries.

“Technology is opening so many doors,” concluded Assenov.