Beth Gray is an Executive Assistant in my office. I asked her to provide a guest article for my blog. Beth is also a regular contributor to the APUS Sustainability Blog.
A couple of weeks ago, I read an interesting article on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s Wired Campus blog. The Wired Campus blog frequently has interesting information on how technology is being used in classrooms. In his April 15th posting, Ben Wieder details how one group of students at Lehigh University used technology to connect with a very unlikely group, Libyan rebels.
Here’s how it came to be: Issa Hakim, a Libyan engineering graduate student at Lehigh put his studies on hold when violence erupted in his home country to return there and fight alongside the rebels attempting to overthrow Qaddafi. Hakim’s advisor, John P. Coulter, explains to Wieder that he (and others at the university) were and continue to be very concerned for Hakim but have been able to maintain contact with him since he’s been overseas. Hakim and Coulter saw a unique learning opportunity for Coulter’s other students and set about establishing a meeting for those students and members of the Libyan rebels.
Using Skype and a PowerPoint presentation, Coulter’s students were able to interact with Libyan rebels. Naturally, the rebels asserted their justification for revolution and sat in front of a banner reading, “Libyan revolution highly appreciates the coalition intervention,” signaling their gratitude for the international community’s response to the violence in their country. The students had the opportunity to ask direct questions of the rebels and for their part, the rebels expressed their interest in conveying their story to those they feel can help their cause – American students who may eventually become leaders of the nation.
Several comments have been posted to the article – some positive, some not so positive. Some commentators have noted that the meeting was nothing more than a propaganda opportunity for the rebels and, in response, others have accused the “propaganda theorists” of being “Qaddafi loyalists.” Regardless of one’s political opinion, there can be no questioning the potential value of such interactions. Through the use of technology, the students who participated in the meeting were given the opportunity to hear first-hand from a group that otherwise may remain quite mysterious for the average American. And, if we are to expect our future leaders to be open-minded, forward-thinking individuals, what better way of preparing them than providing information from the source and then allowing them to discern what is of value and what may have been simple propaganda?
I would like to applaud Issa Hakim and John Coulter for their innovative use of technology in the classroom. While these students may have been inundated by media coverage of the events unfolding in Libya, they had the benefit of asking their specific questions of the participants themselves thanks to the technology. Their opinions may not have been altered by what they heard from that group, but the noteworthy event is that they had the opportunity to hear from them firsthand.