Faculty I talk with in the States as well as here in India are generally very receptive of the idea of having students collaborate with other students around the world. But one huge stumbling block is Time Zone Madness. When the country they want to work with is eight, ten, even fifteen hours different.
Exchanges of student produced videos is a great way to get around this. Not long, involved videos that take days to produce, but more spontaneous brief videos that can be produced easily in the class, or at home in a few thoughtful minutes. I think of it as an engaging way to enhance and complement ordinary Facebook text posts.
In our current two courses between students at the Central University of Tibetan Studies in Sarnath India, and the U of Washington Bothell, and the U of North Carolina Asheville, students are twelve and a half hours, and nine and a half hours apart, respectively. So they started off with posting brief questions to each other on a closed Facebook page, inviting Facebook written responses, and producing short videos to share introductory background info, like "one thing you may not know about Tibetan culture is...."
Instructors can also use videos to do self- introductions to both sets of students, and help launch the course. You will see examples of all three below. I find it is a great way to immediately personalize the experience, even if you are half a day into the future, or the past!
Another first: presenting to an international audience at 3am in the morning...try that without coffee sometime! But, as part of the presentation panel (I was being Skyped in from India to the U of Washington Bothell's Second Annual International conference) I learned of a very cool new "app" called Readfold. It was very timely because I wanted to send a very lengthy story of my adventures here in India to my family, with photos and video clips, and email seemed like such a clumsy way to do it. As the presenter noted, this is a great tool for students to share more in-depth multi-media stories they produce for courses. So, here is my blogpost, but embedded in Readfold, called, "Stretching Time in India". See if it gives you ideas on how you can use it in your global collaboration course and let me know how it works for you!
Stretching Time in India
So many things are different when you enter another culture within a culture, like here living with Buddhists in Hindu-dominated India. You inevitably make tons of mistakes. In fact, my nickname "Bano" was acquired on my first trip to Nicaragua many years ago in which I had a hard time figuring out the difference between a bathroom and a laundry room, but that's a different story.
This week I accidently locked a house-cleaner into our guest room for a good 30 minutes and they had to somehow find me wandering the university campus to let him out (which they somehow did). A cultural misunderstanding over how locks are handled. But that also is another story.
What I want to write about this morning is Sarah Palin, one of America's former candidates for Vice President, a candidate that is easy fodder for comedy shows like Saturday Night Live. Today, a valued and smart friend of mine was appalled by a news article she had just come across, headlined, "Sarah Palin; Native Americans should go back to Nativia". and posted it on Face book.
Now this idea is crazy but given what Sarah Palin has said in the past, it IS quite believable, and, truth be told, I WANTED to believe it was true. It would reinforce my preconceived notions about her. But something told me I should withhold judgment just a tad more than I was comfortable with, and fact-check it, which I did at a more reliable source for internet rumors, Snoops. And there, sadly, I saw it was blatantly false. Never said. Viral rumor.
Yesterday I was talking with Tenzin Kunsel, head administrator in the Tibetan university’s office of the Vice Chancellor, who was telling me of the importance of educating students about 'discernment." He gave an example of how Muslims were reportedly killed recently in a riot by Buddhists in Myanmar, and a photo was attached with it of Buddhist monks in Tibet burying dozens of people killed in a natural disaster, placing them in mass graves, inferring this was proof of the Buddhist massacre of Muslims in Myanmar. A totally false claim, but the photo and article went viral and as a result, Buddhist started getting targeted around the world and beat up and killed over it.
I find this ability to withhold judgment for slightly longer than we are comfortable with, to check out alternative realities before going with our preconceived assumptions, is one of the most important skills to nourish in today's world. As we work across cultures, it is so darn hard dealing with the unknown that we want and feel an urgent need to have things "make sense" quickly to reduce our anxiety over uncertainty. But it only leads to further problems.
Sometimes it’s trapping someone in a room due to a cultural misunderstanding about locking doors. Sometimes it leads to something much worse.
“What is the difference between a banjo and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle?”, Susan, the lead singer of our country band asked the Seattle crowd at a recent gig. “You can tune a Harley.”
Well, I am here to report that my trusted banjo just flew for 22 hours, Seattle to India at 33,000 feet and when I pulled it out here in India to play, it was in PERFECT tuning!
I was so happy that when Nyima Tsering, my new friend who will be co-teaching a course with me here at the Central University of Tibetan Studies, cajoled me to play that evening at a celebration performed by teachers-in-training here, I readily obliged.
I taught them the chorus from “Down the Road”, a true country classic and all 200 of them sang it with great gusto and delight!
Other than saying Hi (Tashi Delek) and Thank You (Thuk je che), I don't have a lot of Tibetan down yet, but the universal language of music had us talking flawlessly for those three minutes while I was on stage.
Just when you think you are on to something, you find out you’re not.
I thought I was on to something 13 years ago when a very bright twenty-two year old educator showed some first graders I was working with how they could talk, sing and dance with first graders in Vanuatu, Indonesia using Skype. Since that time, I have worked with faculty and students in dozens of countries to connect with each other to not just talk and dance, but to problem-solve and take action together on social issues. I recently received a Fulbright- Nehru Fellowship to come to India for nine months and teach, using these international collaborative strategies and coach faculty at the Central University of Tibetan Studies (CUTS), as well as with other universities in South-central Asia. Pretty heady stuff.
So a few days ago I boarded my plane, with twenty-one hours of flight time to kill, and decide to pull out an article my long-time friend, Andrea, sent me in the mail just before I left. I have known her and her husband Alan for decades and they are wise beyond their years, which is no easy task, given that they are both pushing ninety.
The article is about the rebirth of the first university in the world, Nalanda that began in the 6th century here in India, not far from CUTS. In fact, the university in which I am to now teach and advise faculty is rooted in this very same Nalanda University, both built around Buddhist philosophy. Nalanda University was guided at its core by the importance of international collaborative learning, and drew students from around the world; Korea, China, etc.
It’s true that the university got destroyed by Turkish invaders back in the 13th century, but it has now been rebuilt in this very rural, very poor original community, carrying on that same international education.
Ok, so, they have a few centuries head start on me in this international collaboration field, but did they have Skype? .
I hope someday I will be wise beyond my years too. But today, I feel I have a lot of catching up to do.
Greg Tuke teaches and travels internationally, working with university faculty in India, Indonesia and the MIddle East, sharing strategies for implementing international collaborations within course work. This blog chronicles key experiences and insights about those experiences. All opinions expressed are mine, and represent no other institutional affiliation.