Co-Teaching with Bogotá: One PhD student’s experience with 21st century pedagogy

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

Binghamton University

Learning about Social Media and Helping Local Nonprofits

fb twitSocial media is changing the way organizations operate. Public and nonprofit organizations are no exception. The use of social media presents both opportunities and challenges for public and nonprofit organizations. Students in my PAFF 526 course this fall have a chance to apply the lessons that they are learning in the classroom about how public and nonprofit organizations use social media to a real-life context by working with three nonprofit organizations and making suggestions about how these organizations can improve their Facebook pages.

In PAFF 526: Managing Information and Technology, students gain an understanding of the complexities of managing information in the public and nonprofit sectors and how technology can facilitate this process. They also discuss the challenges of using technology when accountability is paramount. The overall goal of the course is to increase student interest in the role of technology in public and nonprofit administration.

As part of their work for PAFF 526, students will be assigned to work with one of the three following nonprofit agencies: Family & Children’s Society, Action for Older Persons and Broome County Habitat for Humanity. All of these organizations are located in the Southern Tier and provide essential services to the community. Family & Children’s Society delivers a wide array of human services to individuals at all different stages of their lives, such as counseling, home care and afterschool programming. Action for Older Persons focuses on serving older adults and offers education, counseling and advocacy programming. Finally, Broome County Habitat for Humanity builds and renovates housing for low-income individuals and families. Each of these organizations is interesting in improving the way that their organizations use social media, especially Facebook, to better meet their respective missions. This where the PAFF 526 students come in!

Representatives from the nonprofits came to our class on September 30th. They provided background information on their organization, information about their organization’s current use of Facebook, and information about their organization’s goals for social media.  They also discussed what their goals for this project were.  Following the presentations by the agencies, students had an opportunity to ask the representatives questions.

Students are now working on critiquing the Facebook page of the organization to which they are assigned. As part of their critiques, students are assessing whether the primary audiences for their organization’s Facebook page and the primary reasons for using Facebook identified by their organization’s representative correspond with how the organization is actually using Facebook. They also are identifying strengths and weaknesses of how their organization is using Facebook and will be making specific recommendations about how their organization could better use Facebook in the future. Key things students will be considering when making their recommendations include: (1) the strategies their organization could use to increase the number of visitors their Facebook page; (2) the additional constituencies their organization could target and the specific information the organization could share with these constituents on their Facebook page, and (3) the additional goals their organization could try to achieve by using Facebook and the specific information they could add to their Facebook page to achieve these goals. Finally, students are identifying the next steps their organization should take to implement their recommendations. Each student needs to write a two page memo summarizing their critique and recommendations. I will then select the best written memo for each organization and forward it to the organization.

I am hoping that the project will be a win-win situation for everybody involved. It’s one thing to read about social media in a book or talk about it in class. It’s another to be able to assess the opportunities social media offers for public and nonprofit organizations in real life! By completing this project, students will hopefully have an opportunity to apply some of the key concepts we are discussing in class when they are critiquing their assigned organization’s Facebook page. This will help deepen their understanding of the course material. I am also hoping that the project will benefit the nonprofit organizations by giving them concrete ideas to consider in order to get gain more leverage from their use of social media in the future. I am looking forward to watching the project evolve and the students grow from their experiences.

Kristina Lambright
Associate Professor

Department of Public Administration
College of Community and Public Affairs
Binghamton University