Classrooms across the nation are using real-time communication technology to break down geographical barriers. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s use of video chatting technology is changing the way intercultural communication is taught in the classroom.
UNL’s intercultural communication class has used technology to communicate with students from universities in Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, Yemen, Spain and Costa Rica about current events, and cultural topics such as religion, family life and dating.
When an earthquake shook Turkey on Sunday, Nebraska professor Charles Braithwaite and his students were worried about their digital classmates and their families. Braithwaite checked in with their partner school in Ezrurum, Turkey, a city in Eastern Turkey. The students were rattled, but OK.
On Tuesday, UNL students video chatted with students in Istanbul, which is more than 1,000 miles away from Ercis and Van, Turkey, where the quake caused the most damage. The Istanbul students — who were also not harmed by the disaster that has a climbing death toll — said they were gearing up to travel east to volunteer in the search and cleanup efforts.
“Most of the time students just hear 30 second sound bites on CNN about what’s happening around the world,” said Braithwaite, who helped launch the Global Classroom course in 2005. “Now they get to talk with students who are there about political issues.”
UNL’s classroom is equip with four large flat screens, high tech cameras and each student gets a microphone. Students in the abroad classrooms can see all of the 15 to 20 Nebraska students at once. Students in Nebraska and abroad give PowerPoint presentations to facilitate communication. UNL students are challenged to learn how to interact with foreign students whose English language skills aren’t fully developed.
“We had to speak slowly and enunciate so they could understand us,” said Kyle Basarich, a 23-year-old former student who spoke to Costa Rican students last spring.
The live video provides depth so well that students sometimes feel like they’re in the same room, Braithwaite said.
“A woman in Pakistan was teaching us how to wear a head scarf,” he said. “When a student didn’t quite do it right, the Pakistani woman reached toward the screen to try and adjust the scarf. For a brief moment, she forgot we were 9000 kilometers away.”
Students try to understand each other’s views on politics and religion. Instead of reading about Russia’s prospective on the Cold War out of a textbook, 21-year-old Samantha Hall has video chatted with students in Russia from her Nebraska classroom.
“With the Russian students, we could look at each other as people even if our countries are haven’t always been on good terms,” the speech language pathology student said. “We often had amicable conversations about deep political issues.”
A university in San Ramón, Costa Rica is the latest school to partner with UNL Global Classroom project that started in 2005. Whenever a new school signs on, Braithwaite and instructional technology coordinator, Bruce Sandhorst, travel to the country to help set up the video technology.
Digital communication is new for the Costa Rica university, which is using a white sheet as a projector screen and the students pass around a single microphone, said Sara Baker, another global classroom instructor at UNL.
Basarich, who graduated in May 2011, said using the technology better prepared him for his job as a mechanical engineer in Chicago. He works for an international company, so he must understand how to effectively communicate with other cultures.
Elizabeth Kinnel, a 21-year-old senior communications major at UNL, said she enjoyed being in a classroom setting with international students a screen away because she never had the chance to study abroad. The global classroom was the best alternative to studying abroad, she said.
“If we didn’t use the video technology, we would have learned the textbook definition of the cultures,” Kinnel said. “It was better to learn things first hand. It gave us a better understanding of where the students were coming from.”
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