IU School of Liberal Arts
Virtual Classroom: Gaza Virtual Study Abroad
As a passionate international educator, one of Ian McIntosh's, (Director of International Partnerships, Office of International Affairs), most transformative experiences was co-creating a videoconference course entitled, Gaza Virtual Study Abroad, with co-instructor Dr. Jamil Alfaleet of Gaza University. In 2012, this course transformed an IUPUI classroom into a virtual study abroad experience and international “peace incubator” by creating a model for friendship and understanding.
“It’s a big world. There’s so much to learn, see and experience. Students and faculty alike have much to gain by adding international perspectives to a course.”
In the course, 16 students from IUPUI and 16 students from Gaza University were placed into virtual groups to explore solutions to four main points of division between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East: settlements, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem (Al Quds). Both Ian and his co-instructor were present at each session to aid in facilitating thoughtful dialogue within the groups. Distinguished guest lecturers and experts on the Middle East were also invited to the course to provide a well-rounded understanding of the complex history of conflict in the region. Additionally, students in both classrooms were paired with a counterpart to conduct weekly, one-on-one conversations either through email, Skype or Facebook. During these one-on-ones, both sets of students were tasked with interviewing their respective partners to learn more about their hopes and dreams for the future.
Although the course dealt with the much larger topics of peace and reconciliation, students from IUPUI were encouraged to familiarize themselves with Palestinian life and culture outside of the classroom through interactions with members of the Palestinian community on campus and in the broader community. Students visited a local mosque where there was a lively discussion on the place of women in Moslem society. They also enjoyed Middle Eastern food on several occasions and learned some basic Arabic language. In order to gain a glimpse into the daily lives of Gazans, IUPUI students were additionally assigned virtual host families from Gaza with whom they exchanged videos and learned from their first-hand accounts the realities of living in a conflict zone.
Benefit to students
The intercultural component of this course allowed IUPUI students to see their own culture in perspective and to appreciate the diversity of the human experience. The reviews emphasized the need for the students to be open-minded, to reconsider previously-held beliefs and to adjust their thinking based on newly-received information. The students also understood the necessity of being able to operate with respect and dignity in a complex world, and to recognize the connectedness of local and global communities.
Benefit to faculty
To host a successful program, the onus is on the project leaders to create a learning environment where there is a willingness by students to step outside of their comfort zones and to interact with and learn from people from quite different cultures and ways of life. There were many challenges, and also many lessons and rewards. The most noteworthy was a chance to see a vision of the future emerge from the Peace Incubator that was quite different to that constrained and defined by the politics of walls, rockets, drones, tunnels and warships, and the futility of endless retaliation and revenge. Ian and Jamil are hopeful that this classroom intervention was significant in the longer-term search for peace and prosperity in the Middle East.
For more information about this effort, please refer to these articles: