All doctoral students in the PhD program in Community and Public Affairs must spend a semester co-teaching a course with a faculty member in CCPA as a requisite for earning their degree. My experience has been pretty atypical so far, but that is part of the joy of being pioneers in an interdisciplinary doctoral program. I am also a full-time professional staff member in the Office of International Programs where I serve as a study abroad coordinator managing a portfolio of study abroad programs and assist in establishing and fostering international partnerships.
Here are the basics, this spring 2015 semester I am co-teaching a course at Binghamton University, PAFF 520. It is entitled 21st Century Governance and is a required course for the Master of Public Administration degree. The instructor of record is Professor Nadia Rubaii of the Department of Public Administration.
Then things get interesting, Professor Rubaii decided to link up with a former classmate of mine and alumnus of our MPA program, Sebastián Líppez De Castro and his course Tecnologías y Procesos Gubernamentales at La Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Sebastián is the director of the political science major in the Department of Political Science and International Relations. This course meets in both Binghamton and Bogota on Monday mornings and it is completely integrated from the same syllabus to synchronous class meetings to group projects with participants from both universities on the same team (more on this below).
This co-teaching as an outgrowth of a shared research interest discussed between myself and Nadia to begin researching the potential for this course, building a syllabus and course content with our associate in Bogota. We have been working on bringing these ideas to fruition since the early start of the fall 2014 semester. The goal of the course involves the interrelation of three broad 21st century themes: technology, globalization, and diversity. The course taught in Bogota and the course taught in Binghamton are not necessarily the same, but relate to one another through these three themes. From a research perspective, in addition to identifying the similarities and differences demonstrated through course engagement and creative problem solving, a course like this can provide an opportunity for myself as an emerging scholar to create an educational environment where teaching intercultural effectiveness can be viewed as it unfolds in real time.
The course experience itself is truly integrative. Students in both Bogota and Binghamton are using the same syllabus, and all students have access to learn from each instructor as co-instructors. Students at each school have time to meet with their specific instructors regarding campus specific issues at the start of class, and then the classes and instructors come together to provide content and engage students in both locations, with a focus on solving problems through their cultural specific lenses. One of the ways that this is an enriching experience for me as an emerging scholar is that I am able to see the frustrations and questions from the students regarding the breadth of information that they are being exposed to, leading to intellectual growth and an enhanced transnational lens. We as public administrators in the United States approach issues differently than those of other countries, and exposure to this type of critical thinking and problem solving will produce problem solvers who can analyze and create policy for this rapidly interconnected world we live in.
One of the key goals of this course, which will last far longer than a semester, is that the students are learning to manage interpersonal relationships in the development of a collaborative project with people who live in another country. This develops skills of collaborative leadership that will serve them long after they graduate from Binghamton University and La Javeriana. As a somewhat intended consequence of this course students are being tested with regards to how they handle collaborative efforts with people who may not have the same command of the languages of one another or who grew up with different legal structures and frameworks or who may see the world we live in as fundamentally different. The true beauty of international partnerships is that we learn through our differences how similar we are as human beings.
There have been challenges and opportunities throughout the seven weeks that this course has met, and I am taking it all in along the way. One of these challenges is associated with learning new technology and deciding on the best way to deliver content, along with negotiating bandwidth issues that maintain both the audio and the video elements of the lecture. From a technological perspective, new enhancements in the dissemination of information in a collaborative environment is what has made this course a possibility. Cisco WebEx, an interface recommended by the Center for Teaching and Learning, enables us to meet in a virtual meeting room that becomes the classroom environment. Students can videoconference into the WebEx technology, and once everyone is in virtual meeting room, all of the students can access the lecturer and any PowerPoints that might be being used. We make a slight variation and just have the professors conference into this virtual meeting room with cameras on the students and classroom itself. This recreates, virtually, a single classroom environment. We are one of the first groups of people on the campus to have access to a license, which has been a wonderful opportunity for us as teachers and professionals. It has also helped us gain competencies that will inevitably assist our work as scholars in CCPA and International Affairs. Expansion of its use will make opportunities for increased collaboration an option for any program that would benefit from learning from a transnational and multicultural perspective.
We utilize open source technology for posting course information so that both campuses have equal access to the readings. All of the materials must be able to be accessed by students from both campuses so that there is equal opportunity for both classes to experience the course materials, preferably in both Spanish and English. In addition, the CLT helped us with a list of open source technologies for the students to use for their transnational group work. Another goal of this course/project is to work with the students on their digital fluency. As with any new technology there are some bumps along the way, but I am a firm believer in growth through trial.
As the semester rolls ahead, we will be constantly reflecting on this experience and learning from our students about the direction of these types of international collaborations in the future. Nadia, Sebastian, and I will be presenting at the CLAC (Cultures and Languages Across the Curriculum) conference at Denison University this April on our experiences integrating this collaborative online international learning experience with a perspective of cultures and languages on course content. We look forward to looking at the various outcomes of this experience as we move forward in enhancing international partnerships. This has also not only been an amazing teaching opportunity, but will also produce sound and practical research. Most importantly, the essence of this collaborative life experience is the one that no metric can truly measure.
Stephen Louis Capobianco, BA ’11, MPA ’12
Study Abroad Coordinator
Office of International Programs
PhD Student, Community and Public Affairs
College of Community and Public Affairs