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Calling Quito: Teaching Globalization in a Global Classroom

How has videoconferencing changed students in the United States and Ecuador?

February 24, 2005

How has videoconferencing changed students in the United States and Ecuador?

We are sitting in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and they're sitting in Cumbayá, Ecuador, just outside of Quito.

While we are discussing the inequalities of globalization, over 150,000 people are protesting in the plaza in front of the Presidential Palace in Quito.

Their signs read "Basta con la dictadura!" (Enough with the dictatorship!), in response to President Lucio Gutierrez's reappointment of the Supreme Court of Ecuador.
On this very same day, Rodrigo de Rato — the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — is also visiting Quito to discuss further adjustments to this dollarized Andean economy.
As Mr. de Rato enters the Ministry of Finance, he is confronted with placards and protests against the IMF, organized by Acción Ecológica and their allies among global environmental NGOs.

This scenario is one that is common all over the lesser-developed world — but not usually played out so vividly in the globalization classroom.
However, at Coastal Carolina University and La Universidad San Francisco de Quito, images like this and conversations about such daily events are commonplace.

They take place through a videoconference link between the two universities that fosters a semester-long class on globalization.

Many scholars argue that globalization is a process which transcends national and state boundaries through economics, politics, ideas, cultures and norms. While as citizens we know that we are all part of this process in some way, it is very difficult to relate this sentiment to students.
After all, theories and case studies are rather distant representations of the true impact which globalization has in our daily lives.

In order to create the environment of "embedded globalization," both Coastal Carolina and La U. San Francisco have made a commitment to link our experiences with globalization and create a dialogue about the theory through practice, observation — and real-time images.

The connection is facilitated through a videoconference system in a classroom at the Myrtle Beach campus of Coastal Carolina and a similar system at the Cumbayá campus of La U. San Francisco.
While previous global connections have been costly for institutions, this connection is free – provided by an internet protocol (IP) connection.

Similar to a phone number, each school can dial the other's IP address and connect real time with new-television quality images.
Through this free connection, students and professors can not only share ideas and conversation, they can also use the Internet, show movies or television clips, or even take a portable camera outside to show current events or happenings — such as protests or a view of the campus.
Thus, the videoconference classroom creates a global portal for students who are otherwise limited to their provincial campuses.

Boundaries not only of states are ruptured, but also those of preconceived notions, information, knowledge, culture and ideas.
Very significantly for the students, global friendships are nurtured through a simple technological tool. Of course, despite all the technology, such connections do not develop without personal relationships on both sides of the connection.

As a former professor of International Relations at La U. San Francisco, it was a very familiar place to make a global connection.

Furthermore, La U. San Francisco is a bilingual university, with students who are comfortable with classes in both English and Spanish.
This allows Coastal students the opportunity to converse in English about the materials — but also to practice their Spanish.

Finally, the culture of both institutions is very similar. We are both on a semester schedule with similar course offerings and primarily focus on an undergraduate, liberal arts education.
Therefore, dense networks, cultural underpinnings and common identities between our institutions, administrators, instructors and students were present initially — and have grown over the past two years of the program.

In the past, interactions among students had taken place via intermittent Internet connections, chat lines and discussion board postings, brief videoconference meetings — or telephone conferences.

Now, the process of truly globalizing the classroom has been accelerated through our bi-weekly videoconference connection.
In addition, students are in contact with one another and the professor through a class website (based in WebCT) in which students can use secure chat lines and discussion board postings that simulate common conversations outside of the classroom.
Much of the conversation is guided by the instructor, who determines the topic of discussion.

But as the semester progresses and student relationships develop, the chat lines and discussion board take on a life of their own — very similar to a virtual out-of-class student social life.
Last Spring 2004, students pursued their own debate over the war in Iraq and its justification. The globalized classroom also adds a new dimension to reading textbooks.

For example, students read Robert Keohane's book entitled Power and Governance in a Partially Globalized World in the spring semester of 2004.

They were fascinated by his theories, especially since we had just conducted a simulation on the Cancun round of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
After prodding from the students, I organized a telephone interview with Professor Keohane via our videoconference link.

Over 80 students in Ecuador and over 40 students in South Carolina — plus professors from both universities — participated in the conversation about globalization and its impacts.
On that day, not only did ideas and information flow, but images of both sites and sounds from Dr. Keohane enveloped our deepened understanding of the process itself.

The result of that conversation was a second conference held between our two sites, organized by two professors from Ecuador about the topic of "Globalization and Security."

This time, the conference was held in Spanish and concerned the issue of Andean security and the role of the United States in drug eradication programs in Ecuador and Colombia (including Plan Colombia).
Each of the four participating professors from both sites spoke for approximately ten minutes, followed by questions from the audience of over 50 students and professors in Ecuador.

On the Myrtle Beach side, translators were available for those listening who could not speak Spanish. Students at Coastal were astounded by the role of the United States in the military base in Manta, Ecuador.
One student commented that he had not considered, "the impact of the U.S. on policies of state sovereignty within Ecuador."

This exchange demonstrates that the flows of globalization and its penetration are not a one-way street. In fact, this conference was organized and initiated by the Ecuadorian campus, faculty and students.

The globalized classroom, however, is not without its own pressures and dynamics. For example, when students do not agree on an issue, they often find themselves identifying with their own campus peers as a matter of solidarity.
The pull of the local versus the global is evident in not only student behavior, but also group activities.

During our WTO simulation, the Ecuadorian students championed the less-developed nations, while the U.S. students tended to side with the G-7 countries.
When asked to switch roles, neither group was happy to relinquish their comfort levels of identification.

At the same time, after the simulation, I allowed students to have some time for discussion and a break.

During that break, they shared music and video clips with one another — and made summer vacation plans to possibly see one another in their travels.
Thus, while the pull of local fragmentation was present, the unification of global forces was also inherent in this complex process that is a classroom.
It would be a lie to write that both Coastal Carolina University and La U. San Francisco have identical technological resources.

First, Coastal received a South Carolina Education Lottery Technology grant, which has funded the equipment for this exchange, while San Francisco has had to invest in the equipment without such aid.
Second, Coastal Carolina University has the luxury of a videoconference classroom in each of its buildings on campus, whereas La U. San Francisco has a portable system, which is based in one university-wide conference room.

Third, Coastal has a dedicated line of bandwidth for its videoconference connections, while San Francisco must alter the band width of the entire university system in order to support the videoconference connection during our class period.

Clearly, no cyberspace discussion can replace the benefits and the feeling of going on exchange to another place for students and faculty.
Nevertheless, global videoconferencing is one tool to enhance the everyday classroom — particularly for students of global and international studies.

The technology for such interaction is advanced enough today that communication is easy and the facilitation of the classroom is primarily conducted through automatic cameras and microphones.
Thus, the start-up costs for instructors and students are relatively low and the technology can be handled quite easily after a few sessions of practice.

Moreover, a portable system — which is the most basic system recommended for such interaction — is not as high cost as one might think. The initial investment comes to only about $6,000.

This system can be used not only for classroom exchange, but other institutional needs (such as conferences and meetings).
It can also be leased to private businesses in the area for a profit. Here, too, global market forces are an incentive for the equipment.

As a result, some of my U.S. students who did not previously consider global travel have sought semester abroad programs to South America.
To be sure, not all the feedback from students has been positive. A few students noted interruptions of connection or a dislike for technology.
But not one of them commented that they did not enjoy or benefit from the global link and exchange.
Global videoconference embeds both the instructor and the student in the process of globalization, highlighting all of our roles as global citizens in an ever-changing world landscape.