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"A moment with ... Rodney Coates"

02/23/2012

Rodney Coates
Rodney Coates' simple gesture of reaching out to his colleagues across the globe 15 years ago sparked the creation of a new learning experience that today brings the world to Miami students with the use of modern technology.

“Globalization, Social Justice and Human Rights” pairs Miami students with students from various countries through Web-based tools. The 400-level course for undergraduate and graduate students was piloted in fall 2010, and this fall 260 students (12 at Miami) from all over the globe interacted through a Facebook-like site, blogged, uploaded videos and, in the process, learned about each other and world issues.

Q: You mentioned you reached out to colleagues 15 years ago, how did that lead to today’s web-based course?
A: About 15 years ago, I was teaching an honors course on race, ethnicity and conflict resolution which took advantage of the ‘then’ newly developing technology associated with email listservs. I connected with colleagues from universities around the globe to discuss the major conflicts occurring in the world. Cumbersome technology, frequent glitches ultimately forced us to shut down this project. We did get one of the first e-texts published as a result of this course. And then, three years ago, Miami’s Liberal Education Council encouraged faculty to develop global-based courses.

With technology more advanced now, I thought, ‘Why not try this again?’ I received a tremendous response from colleagues in Russia, Istanbul, Bangladesh, Milano, Canada, and West Indies, and within the U.S. from the University of Texas, Florida, and even the Naval Academy. Thus constituted, in earnest we began our discussions on how to create a classroom without walls.

Q: How does this “classroom without walls” work?
A: We have a NING site for the all universities and students. Within that site, each university has its own set of pages, with students writing and speaking in their own language, but the common site is in English. There is a Facebook-like environment where students can ‘friend’ each other.

The course requires readings that all students must complete, case studies, service learning projects and group projects. It’s interesting that as technology expands, students are asking us to incorporate more tools like Dropbox, iCloud, and Googledocs. It is absolutely amazing watching the students who normally function on one level actually step up several levels. This challenges students intellectually by forcing them to step out of their Miami comfort zone and step into a global environment.

Q: You say it’s challenging for the student, but what about the challenges facing the educators in creating this course?
A: The whole thing is integrating technology, pedagogy and faculty partnerships to create this expansive world for our students. One person cannot do this. The whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Personally, however, this has opened my eyes to the possibilities. It has transformed the way I teach. No ‘lectures’ per say, but conversations, not monologues, but very layered dialogues. It is very time consuming and there is a steep curve learning the technology, but I am excited by the possibilities. Think about it-barring time zone issues–we can take these conversations and make them live in real time; we can have shared lectures and presentations. We have only just begun to explore digital learning.

Q: You speak about time zone barriers, what about language barriers? How do the students communicate?
A: I was very sensitive to it, and we spent considerable amount of time finding material in multiple languages. While only a few of our Miami students were proficient in other languages, all of our partner institutions and students were proficient in English. Students from other countries benefit by practicing their English with our students, and some of our students who do study another language can practice with them. We still can maintain a rich cross-cultural dialogue.

Q: What are students talking about?
A: They discuss issues of social justice and human rights from their varying viewpoints and perspectives. Through group projects, students have raised funds to provide books and other items to children in need, raised awareness of the suffering children in Sudan and worked on service learning projects related to immigration and international adoption issues.

While many students shy away from the level of work associated with these classes, others find the challenge the very reason why they come to a place like Miami. The word has gotten out, this is one of those courses that will stretch, challenge, and allow for intellectual growth unsurpassed. Even after the course has ended, many students still keep in touch with their international partners.

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