April 2005, Vol. 6 No. 5
Presenting AUB to the Outside World on
Film and Video
Choral Concert Workshop and Guitar
Festival Held at the Assembly Hall
Civilization Sequence Program Screens Falstaff
Oleanna Play Reading: Power Dynamics and
Book Review: In the Path of Hizbullah by Ahmad Nizar Hamzeh
A Tree Grows in Hanine
New technologies are being used to broaden the educational experience of students and bring disparate people together in many fresh and exciting ways. A new course, Perspectives on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East, which was offered at AUB for the first time last fall, used media and technology in a truly innovative way. The course took a complex subject, about which there is a lot of disagreement, and presented it from many different perspectives, compelling students to confront differing points of view and to articulate their own ideas with peers around the world.
Professor Roman Kulchitsky of the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration (PSPA), who was the team leader for the course, said in his syllabus that one objective was to improve students’ thinking perspectives–to help them acquire “the ability to see the world from different points of view, especially to learn how to take seriously and understand perspectives that they do not share.” Besides the regular three hours per week of class time, students spent two hours each week in a video-conferencing environment, during which they interacted with students at universities around world, including the American University in Cairo, as well as several universities in the United States such as Harvard, Clark, and Tufts.
This endeavor was initiated two years ago, when Solis, a non-profit organization whose mission is to “improve intercultural understanding in the world,” contacted AUB about participating in a project that would bring college students from the United States and the Middle East together in a web-based collaborative learning environment. After a great deal of planning and one pilot project, Professor Kulchitsky, along with faculty from partner institutions, met and chose a common set of readings that the participating students would later discuss with each other online.
Rosangela Silva, director of the Academic Computing Center (ACC), was instrumental in getting the ball rolling on this project and, along with lab administrator Baker Maktabi, provided the necessary technical training and support. She said that one of the main challenges was connectivity for the video-conferencing sessions and scheduling times when students in the United States and in Lebanon could meet, taking into account the time difference and the need to do it at off-peak hours. Solis also helped with some of these logistical issues. Silva says she is hopeful that AUB will continue with projects like these that are intellectually eye-opening for the students and, at the same time, will give them new technical skills.
The course was also different in that it was team-taught by eight people, each presenting topics in their area of expertise. The broad focus was the US foreign policy-making process and how these policies are viewed and received, both from an American and Middle Eastern perspective. Topics included theory on international relations and conflict resolution, taught by Professor Nizar Hamzeh, who also did a section on Iraq, while a section on the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was handled by Professor Hilal Khashan. Other topics included the role of religion from both sides, presented by Professor Ahmad Moussalli.
Another interesting aspect of the course was the participation of people like Rami Khouri, then executive editor of The Daily Star, who did a section on the role and impact of the media. President Waterbury also put on his academic hat and lectured on governance in the Middle East from the US perspective, while the Middle Eastern perspective was presented by Professor Hassan Krayem. In addition to doing several lectures himself, Professor Kulchitsky said his role as team leader was to help students make connections between topics, to create synergy, and “to maintain the integrity of the whole.”
In addition to the online discussions outside class, students used different media and technology for class assignments. One project involved choosing among pictures from a variety of news sources and matching them with music to create an “audiovisual essay.” The course also stressed the importance of working in teams; AUB students did group projects with each other as well as with students from other universities.
Professor Kulchitsky emphasized that the course could not have been presented without the help and support of other groups on and off campus, including Solis, Academic Computing Center, Computer and Networking Services, Jafet Library, and the Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR). Kulchitsky described the course as “in the spirit of CASAR,” which makes sense, because CASAR’s
mission is to increase understanding between Americans and Arabs.