From Mailbox to Inbox: Realizing the Classroom without Borders: Integrating Communication Technology in the Ethnic Conflicts Learning Community

Colette Mazzucelli, Meital Tzobotaro, and Angela Deane

“To-day, however, those things which occupy us in the field of education are the interests of humanity at large, and of civilization, and before such great forces we can recognize only one country – the entire world.” – Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method (1912)

For educators, events in the Middle East today may be a call to the imagination, for us to see and see again in the learning experience, with a view to grassroots initiatives that emphasize our common humanity. We live fully in the present to see the future in the hope that we may continue to learn from the past.

The ethnic conflicts course in the Master of Science in Global Affairs (MSGA) Program at the Center for Global Affairs, New York University, taught by Professor Colette Mazzucelli, has been infused over time with the applications new technologies bring to global outreach. Every learning community introduces the dynamism and personality of its members to create a memorable and personal learning experience. For an educator during this era in history, there are unprecedented possibilities to re-conceptualize the way a particular course is taught. There are also new communities to construct pedagogically using our imagination as a guide to action.

One of our goals in this course is to be pro-active in our understanding of the events taking place on the ground in countries across the Middle East as the Arab Spring continues and in our world today as globalization, and fragmentation, intensify.

Graduate students in the Center for Global Affairs bring their energy and enthusiasm, their ideas and creativity in the uses of new media, as well as their passion and commitment to new ways of thinking about community.

Together we increasingly utilize the inbox and the text message to make the learning community a vital presence as we reach beyond the Woolworth Building into the world during the early years of this century. Ours is also a time of exploration and invention on the journey that begins with a single step to chart the still unimagined country.

Not long ago education was confined to the four walls of an average classroom; professors had to utilize the physical space given to them in order to share information and engage with their students. The widespread use of communication technology, however, has significantly changed the way we learn and has opened the door to new possibilities. Though still relatively new, the wealth of possibilities technology provides is vast; instructors and students can now access new and innovative tools as a means to expand beyond classroom borders, engaging colleagues and students worldwide.

Professor Mazzucelli’s Summer 2011 Ethnic Conflicts Learning Community at the Center for Global Affairs (CGA) is an example of this new approach to education – her efforts to integrate technology in various forms into our classroom provided us with opportunities to engage our peers, both within the community itself and far beyond its walls. This methodology, referred to herein as a physio-cyber environment, is defined as a learning environment where both the physical classroom and information technology (including the Internet) are used in combination to transfer information and create knowledge.

This summer, our community thrived in the physio-cyber environment by integrating technologies such as Skype, Blackboard, Facebook, and e-mail to communicate information, and through the physical use of laptops, projectors, webcams, and iPhones in each module. Skype in particular was a key component of the modules; when students were unable to attend class physically, they were able to join via Skype video. Skype was also used regularly to bring in various speakers outside of New York, such as high-level diplomats like Mr. Robert Avetisyan, the Permanent Representative of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic to the United States, and Spencer Lord, author of The Brain Mechanic. Additionally, if members were unable to participate via Skype, Professor Mazzucelli requested a Skype recording the modules with a MacBook laptop; these audio tracks were then posted on Blackboard.

Beyond scheduled classroom time, the community also engaged in discussions through our designated Facebook group. This forum gave members of the learning community an opportunity to exchange links to articles, videos, maps, and other relevant information. It also provided a forum for outside experts to engage with the class and share information with the members.

Another major component of this learning community was preparation for UN model crisis scenario, which, similar to previous years, addressed the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Although each of Professor Mazzucelli’s classes has a scenario component, this was the first time the iPhone4 was introduced to record the UN Security Council session. The iPhone was used as a tool, not only for Professor Mazzucelli to grade the exercise, but as documentation for future learning communities. Actual negotiations, deliberations and presentations were recorded, which will likely be useful to members participating in the exercise moving forward.

Finally, this semester’s course also provided a crosscutting approach that integrated other CGA electives. Meital Tzobotaro, who assumed the role of a non-governmental organization (NGO) during the crisis scenario, attended Mediation Skills for Global Affairs during the semester, which provided her the opportunity to apply specific skills from this course to the exercise. Thanks to her work in Mediation Skills, Meital was better able to understand the positions and interests of each party in the scenario, used reflections and methods to generate movement in negotiations, and acted as a neutral party, which assisted in the process.

Professor Mazzucelli’s integration of technology into each learning community provides members with a unique opportunity to engage with actors far beyond the walls of NYU and CGA. Each module brought with it a new perspective and the ability to interact with diplomats, activists, authors, and scholars who, given their locations across the globe, would not have otherwise been able to participate and share their experiences and expertise. Additionally, members’ participation primarily through Blackboard and Facebook made for a much more engaged community overall – the dialogue expanded and intensified as the semester continued, and members felt as though we were truly a part of a network beyond the classroom. As technology continues to advance, it is likely that more and more classrooms and communities will avail themselves of these unique learning opportunities. For members of this community, the integration of these tools was a welcome entrée into increasingly borderless education possibilities.

The following are excerpts from members and participants of the Ethnic Conflicts Learning Community:

“The use of Skype technology in a classroom setting does exactly what technology is designed to do: create a borderless society where knowledge and ideas can be spread throughout diversified learning communities. Skype in the Ethnic Conflicts learning community makes each session more real, more hands on, and more personable. These communications with scholars, experts, diplomats, and those in the field do more than just give our cohort a lesson; instead we participate in an experience.” – Anita Issagholyan

“The opportunities we had as a community truly to engage with one another as well as with actors directly involved in the issues we were discussing each week made this course unique. There will likely not be another time where I will be able to interact with the Special Representative of Nagorno-Karabakh or the Deputy Representative to the UN for Azerbaijan, and, given the location of many of our speakers all over the world, Skype was the only avenue to do this. I also appreciated that, as the semester moved through the summer, members became more engaged through Facebook – we learned from each other and about our individual interests’ as people who not only spoke in class, but also posted articles, videos and events to our group. The integration of technology in this class fostered critical dialogue and provided everyone an opportunity to engage outside the classroom.” – Angela Deane

“For me, this was my first complete immersion into all different facets of technology use in the classroom. While it was rather foreign to me at the beginning as to why Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and Skype would be useful in the classroom, I look back now and think, “How can a classroom run without these tools?” Typewriters have been replaced by computers and Internet has all but eliminated libraries. Satellite service has eliminated any delay in postal mail. These changes have created an environment where news is a 24/7 phenomenon. In order for students, especially in a Global Affairs program, to keep up with and fully benefit from such changes in the way the world works, the classroom must not just be a three-hour per week, isolated affair. Technology allowed us to be immersed in the “learning community” 24-7; allowed us to interact on a real-time basis; allowed us to be a part of what was going on around us everyday.” – Asena May

“This past year I had the privilege to be a member of the Ethnic Conflicts Learning Community. The use of technology in my learning environment created a classroom without borders. I was exposed to and conversed with those who are knowledgeable about the topic at hand and, yet, could not be physically in attendance. This was mostly accomplished via Skype technology. I appreciated that those who were sharing their experiences with our learning community had indispensable first-hand experience and/or in-depth knowledge about the topic, which added to the degree of information I retained from each session.

As a presenter, I found it very useful to have technology at my disposal. It allowed me to integrate visual aids, video footage, and literature for a more comprehensive approach to the topic discussed. I find it useful to have exposure to different ways of taking in information to account for the diversity of learning styles within a group. There were many points that I alone could not convey verbally with as much impact as the visual images and video footage I shared. The overall empathy, I believe, was increased in those who took part in the Iran module session because of this integrated approach, which the inclusion of technology offered me. In my presentation, there was information that I felt was better understood if heard directly from individuals who adopt a group identity. I strongly believe that identity should be self-imposed rather than being imposed externally. I felt more comfortable integrating the testimony or commentary of representative individuals into my presentation, which technology allows us to do with ease.

I strongly support the integration of technology in my learning environment because as a student and as a presenter technology positively adds to the quality of my experience.“ – Saghar (Sara) Birjandian

“The technology we used in the Ethnic Conflicts learning community, such as Skype, helped to conceptualize conflicts a world away and bring to the classroom first-person accounts – an important responsibility for any educator and student of global affairs. It was extremely helpful as a supplement to our readings. I would recommend to other CGA classes the use of such technologies.” – Jennifer Prystupa

“During my semester in the ethnic conflicts class, technology was used in a number of creative and helpful ways. First, Skype was used to speak remotely to experts and colleagues of Professor Mazzucelli’s who were unable to join us in the classroom. This allowed the class to have information from sources that shed light on the highly nuanced and complicated nature of ethnic conflicts. The second use was PowerPoint. This was utilized by speakers and students. The PowerPoint presentations used graphics, maps, and statistics that helped analyze the conflicts with great clarity. The class also had a Facebook group where relevant news stories were posted along with comments from students and Professor Mazzucelli. The use of technology for this class greatly enhanced the experience of the class and helped add a new dimension.” – Emma Macnair Diaz

Author Biographical Profiles

Colette Mazzucelli (MALD, Fletcher School (Tufts); EdM, Teachers College (Columbia); PhD, Georgetown) has taught on graduate faculty, Center for Global Affairs at New York University, where she is Adjunct Associate Professor of Global Affairs, since 2005. Dr. Mazzucelli is also Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at Hofstra University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences where she designs courses for the Distance Learning Program. Professor Mazzucelli teaches courses in comparative politics, international relations, Europe in the 21st Century, ethnic conflicts as well as From the Mughals to Modernity: India’s Democracy and Its Discontents. She is particularly interested in the integration of mobile phone learning in the global affairs curriculum. Presently, she is a WFI Fellow at Citizens for Global Solutions. In addition, she participates as a member of the Board of Directors, Center for War/Peace Studies and of the UN Chronicle Advisory Group at the United Nations. Her 2009-10 syllabi are featured in a Faculty Spotlight online in Foreign Affairs Classroom webpages. Dr. Mazzucelli’s biography appears in Marquis Who’s Who in the World 2011 and Marquis Who’s Who in America 2011. In 2010, she was profiled in the Council on Foreign Relations Educators Bulletin.

Meital Tzobotaro is currently a Master of Science in Global Affairs candidate at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. Her primary areas of interest and expertise are international relations, international development, aid and global public health with a focus on sub-Sahara Africa. Meital is a returned Peace Corps Volunteer who served as a Community Health Coordinator in Tanzania, where she worked with local non-governmental organizations, community based organizations, and the district government on HIV/AIDS prevention and community public health activities. She also served as a consultant for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Tanzania as a Public Health consultant. Meital hold a BA in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College.

Angela Deane is a Master’s Candidate at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Her concentration is international law and justice, with a primary focus on genocide, mass atrocities and crimes against humanity issues. Angie was the Development Director with the Genocide Intervention Network in Washington, D.C., an advocacy organization working to implement structural change in the way governments prevent and respond to genocide and mass atrocities. She also worked as a Development Director for non-profit organizations in South Bend, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois, and served as an AmeriCorps Volunteers in Seattle, Washington. She is a member of the United Nations Association, the World Policy Institute, and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and has traveled extensively throughout Africa and Asia. Angie graduated from Miami University, double-majoring in French and Public Relations.

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