International relations curriculum is not 'chalk and blackboard' anymore
Academics are still unsure how much technology and social media should be integrated into the international relations curriculum, but it's already transforming the classroom.
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Davis and Mr. Friedel were pleasantly surprised in the end, however. Davis says the class handed in the best research papers she's seen at Georgetown University. And Friedel's article on Egypt's National Democratic Party, the party of former leader Hosni Mubarak, got 5,000 views in just one day during the country's revolution. "Typically the only person we hope reads it is the professor," he says. "[With Wikipedia,] you're really creating something in the public space."Skip to next paragraph
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Adrieh Abou Shehadeh, another of Davis's students, says that the project taught her a lot about explaining complex topics in a way the public could understand – something she might not have otherwise learned until after graduation.
"Being in academia gets a little esoteric sometimes," she says. "It's nice to be engaged with something outside academia."
Videoconferences bring in world
The ability to videoconference has also changed the academic experience in tangible ways. Today students can complete a master's program from another country, crunch numbers with an expert several states away, and talk with activists in the thick of a revolution.
Almost half of the students enrolled in the Global Master of Arts Program at the Fletcher School live outside the United States, and none of them attend classes on the Medford, Mass., campus. But they still study with full-time Fletcher professors who are some of the top names in their field, says Genevieve Abraham, GMAP's assistant director of admissions and marketing.
The program is designed for mid- and senior-level professionals who want "the Fletcher perspective" but also want to continue working. The students meet their professors in person just three times during the one-year program. The rest of the time they view lectures via online streaming or on DVD and use online discussion boards to talk with classmates and professors.
Some say they prefer the discussion boards over typical classroom discussions because "everyone has a chance to get their word in," Ms. Abraham says "You get a lot more dialogue going."
Hillard Pouncy, a lecturer at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, says that videoconferencing has been a boon because it expands professors' options.
For one of his courses, Mr. Pouncy wanted his students to calculate the economic cost of lives lost to violence. He brought in someone from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta via videoconference to walk the students through the calculations.
The exercise was successful because it was a social exercise, not because it was a videoconference, Pouncy says. Since the CDC worker couldn't have come to Pouncy's class, without the technology, the exercise could not have happened.
Skyping a revolutionary
Videoconferencing can also bring a degree of immediacy and place to a classroom a world away from where events are unfolding.
For Friedel, the Georgetown student who wrote on Wikipedia about Egypt's National Democratic Party, a highlight was a classroom Skype call last spring. In the midst of Egypt's revolution, Friedel's professor cued up someone working for Mohammed ElBaradei, a former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and potential presidential candidate in Egypt's upcoming elections. For a few minutes, the students were in Cairo.