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Spring 2007 Vol. V, No. 3

Technology @ AUB: New Horizons in Education

To Google or to Moodle

Even though AUBwlan (the AUB wireless network) was only established in May 2005, it already provides wireless internet access to more than 2,800 students. AUBwlan enables students to take their computers from the Green Oval to an English class or a chemistry lab and then later log on to social networking interfaces and websites that have become widespread on campus. And almost everyone on campus has heard of Facebook—even those who have not joined it yet.

Maysam Ali (BA ’07)

Facebook, which is an on-line interface where people from around the world can meet and exchange messages, pictures, and other material, has over 600 registered AUB students, including alumni and staff. The AUB community on Facebook is growing every day, and clubs and societies are using it as a means of communication. The 2007 Outdoors team, the Student Representative Committees, AUB athletes, and other societies and groups regularly announce their activities and news on Facebook.

While not all students have their own blogs, most of them are familiar with MySpace (a website for social networking), YouTube (a website where people share videos), and MSN chatting. Omar Chatah, a political studies senior, told MainGate: “I use my cell phone; I use skype [that allows you to use your computer to call any phone number anywhere in the world] primarily to call outside the country, and my ipod for entertainment and data storage.” Chatah created a blog during the war last summer to express his opinions and thoughts. As for YouTube, students seem to be enthusiastic about the new video-sharing interface.

Ramsey Nasser, a computer science major, said, “The stuff you’ll find never ceases to amaze me. Everything from Captain Majid from childhood, to Lebanese political commercials, to S. L. Chi episodes. It’s all there.” (Captain Majid is an animation series that became a part of Lebanese heritage, and S.L. Chi is a 1990s Lebanese political and social comedy show.)

Inside the classroom

The recently renovated classrooms in Nicely Hall offer sufficient Wifi (wireless) coverage so that all students can bring their laptops to class if they want to do so. This is convenient because an increasing number of students use laptops on campus. Political studies senior Nour Malas said, “I use the internet obsessively. . . I rely heavily on my laptop for getting all of my academic work done; it also comes in handy for taking notes in class, and in doing research anytime and anywhere—since wireless internet is available on campus.” Ramsey Nasser uses a tablet PC—a laptop that can act as a notepad—in class to take notes. You can rotate the screen and rest it on the keyboard, allowing the user to write. “The benefits are limitless. Unrestricted page length, automatic saving and sorting of all your notes, search features, importing of slides and PDFs to take notes on, and so on,” said Nasser.

Nasser is currently setting up his own blog: “It will be a repository for all of my programming projects and a place to publish articles on different issues, mainly technology. It’s important for someone like me who would like to work in this industry professionally to have some kind of presence on the web,” Nasser added.

The Facilities and Planning Design Unit (FPDU) Project Manager Hisham Ramadan said that all classrooms in Nicely Hall will eventually be renovated. So far, there are five prototype classrooms and it is already pretty clear that the traditional chalkboard will be eventually phased out completely. In its place in one of the smart classrooms in Nicely Hall is an interactive board, which can be connected to the professor’s laptop. “The projector provides the visuals on the board, and a pen or the person’s finger acts as a mouse or a writing tool,” said Ramadan. This technology, however, is still quite new and has not yet been used by AUB professors.

Technology as means for cultural exchange
Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs Rami Khouri is giving a course entitled Media and Politics, which consists of class discussions on topics related to media perceptions and impact within the context of US-Arab relations, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and such issues as colonialism,

imperialism, and double standards. Web conferencing sessions with AUB students and students from 18 universities in the United States, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Gulf complement class discussions.

Using Soliya’s Connect Program, an initiative that facilitates on-line exchanges between students in the United States and predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East, students communicate through web conferencing and post articles, video footage, and lectures. “It’s a way to allow them to interact personally through honest discussions and joint projects. You get to see how different students in different cultures shape the same material, to learn what they share, and what separates them,” says Khouri.

Last year, when Khouri taught the same course it consisted of a weekly, hour-long video-conferencing session with students from the University of Delaware in the Untied States, in addition to class discussions on the same contemporary topics. Referring to the new technology he is using this year, Khouri said, “It’s much more personal. That is one of the strengths. There is also an element in the class that provides extra means for the students to interact with students of the same age from Norway, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, and the United States. They talk about issues of political and social concern to them in a way that allows them to develop friendships. It supplements what we do in class. The combination is very enriching.”

Nour Malas, who is enrolled in this course, said, “The course is a great way to connect students around the world, in a structured and constructive conversation.” According to Malas, it does not require much knowledge or technical skill, but rather “clarity of thought and speech and patience with technology, which is frequently problematic.”

First step in the journey of a thousand miles:Technology as a knowledge creation tool
Professor Roman Kulchitsky from the Political Studies and Public Administration Department said that technology should be used in innovative ways to make teaching more effective. “I use [digital] technology to do things I can’t do with paper technology.” Kulchitsky aims through his efforts to go beyond knowledge “management” to “knowledge creation.”

Kulchitsky, whose classes include a large IT component, uses hypertext as a teaching tool in graduate and undergraduate courses that explore the impact of new technologies on public policy and administration. He explained that information in hypertext can be read in a flexible way, which allows readers to capture more ideas in a combined process of reading and writing. “It introduces a whole new way of thinking and reading: new ideas arise; text acquires a new meaning; the reader can identify contradictions and links,” Kulchitsky said. IT is in contrast to the traditional book structure, which is fixed.

The major problem with the new technology is that it is costly, and it requires much time and effort. Kulchitsky said that the communication network’s cost is high, as connecting with other universities is very difficult; the speed of the internet connection in Lebanon is not always adequate; and PSPA faculty do not have easy access to labs in the faculty. “Teaching [here] is based on a mindset which was created through the use of paper technology. That’s a problem and a challenge.” In addition, the professors have to learn the technology and deal with a tremendous amount of red tape.

The cost is not only high in terms of accessibility, but also in terms of incentive for the professors. “Unless you have a research angle, it won’t be very beneficial for academics [at AUB]. There’s not enough incentive for scholars [at AUB to use technologies in innovative ways]. The first time AUB students were introduced to video-conferencing in class was when Kulchitsky gave a course in fall 2005 entitled Multiple Perspectives on US Foreign Policy in the Middle East. Kulchitsky led a team of AUB professors, including President John Waterbury, in a series of lectures on different topics related to the Middle East. He said that it required a tremendous amount of time and effort to make the class work and because of this and a lack of resources, the class was not offered again.

“At AUB, if there’s a will there’s a way,” said Kulchitsky, and he highlighted the instrumental role that Computing and Networking Services, the Academic Computing Center, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saoud Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR), and Jafet Library played in making the video-conferencing class a success.

Students discuss American Zionism and sexuality in the Middle East on-line
CASAR Professor Marcy Newman said she uses Moodle’s discussion forum to encourage dialogue among students. “Students have a lot to say, especially on hot topics like sexual identity in the Middle East and American Zionism, so they use the discussion forums on-line.”

Although Newman used blogs when she taught at universities in the United States, at AUB she prefers to use Moodle because it provides a safe environment that is not found on the internet. “The classroom is a safe space no matter what the students believe. If they express their opinions publicly [on a blog], it would make them vulnerable, so a closed space like Moodle is better.”

Tamara Keblaoui, a business junior who is taking the class said, “The technology-centered nature of our class has made the class more appealing and fun. Newman constantly updates the page with articles, maps, art, and sometimes even music relevant to class content. Students can also contribute, so we’re not just interacting through writing.”

Keblaoui’s colleagues Yasmine Nsouli and Nadine Kotob agree that discussions on-line are intense—heated and interesting. “Students feel very strongly about the course material, and I think that’s why I love Moodle this semester,” Kotob told MainGate.

Judging by the way that on-line networking and communication is booming, it is pretty clear that student use of technology is only going to grow on campus and lead to increased contact between AUB students and students abroad. For both students and professors on campus, chatting and web conferencing provide an accessible medium through which they can create new forums of interaction, advertise on-campus activities, and expand course offerings. By encouraging a global perspective, these new technological tools enrich minds and increase tolerance as users exchange thoughts and viewpoints with students from around the world.

More Online

adopted from Wikipedia

Blog
A user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order.

Facebook www.facebook.com
A social networking website that has become particularly popular among college and university students.

YouTube www.youtube.com
A popular free video sharing website which lets users upload, view, and share video clips.

AUBwlan
The wireless local area network installed at AUB

Moodle www.moodle.com
An open-source software e-learning platform that is used by an increasing number of professors at AUB instead of the proprietary WebCT.

MySpace www.myspace.com
A social networking website that offers an interactive, user-submitted network of friends, personal profiles, blogs, groups, photos, music, and videos.

Skype www.skype.com
A peer-to-peer internet telephony network. Its many features include free voice and video conferencing and the ability to use peer-to-peer (decentralized) technology to overcome common firewall and NAT (network address translation) problems.