This ITEL project deployed interactive, international communications technologies to integrate a core element of the Global Liberal Education project, international dialogue and cooperation, into a first-year writing course. The project tested whether and how participating in online video discussions with Muslim peers from the Middle East would enrich students' learning about communication. The theory behind this project was that experiential learning, especially an experience in which students encounter the challenges of communication and apply course concepts, would deepen their understanding of the role of empathy, perspective, intentionality, and performance in written and spoken interactions. Through the online discussions, students practiced adapting their writing and speaking and developed self-awareness and ethical judgment as writers and global citizens.
The impact of my project is less on other courses I teach than on the Soliya Connect program itself. Based on my report, Soliya has committed to making some changes in the program and asked me to work with them to help design, implement, and test those changes. Because of that, my work will affect other faculty and students, and that's quite satisfying.
Findings from this project suggest that using Soliya gave students new perspectives and insights. Students in this course used scenarios from their Soliya experiences to illustrate ideas about empathy or the importance of moderating one's way of speaking. A number of students identified new insights about communication that they gained through Soliya. Students also analyzed the Soliya discussion strategies, and their comments reveal some important insights about the how personal and somewhat trivial topics (like food or what you did over the weekend) generate a different quality of discussion than more loaded topics, like politics and religion. Many students noted their awareness of themselves as Americans (or in one case, as a European), suggesting that Soliya encouraged them to pay attention to their own perspectives. The project also identified a number of challenges with Soliya, including significant technical difficulties and concerns about whether Soliya Connect's goals and practices integrate effectively with first-year writing courses.
Based on the experience of using Soliya for this course, project investigator Sherry Linkon worked with the staff of Soliya to develop new resources, activities and procedures from the program to develop an experience optimized for cross-cultural writing pedagogy.