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New technology tools allow IUPUI and Slovenian students to come together for a class

IUPUI and Slovenian students come together for class
IUPUI and Slovenian students come together for class View print-quality image


November 8, 2012

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New technology tools have allowed students at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and the University of Primorska in Slovenia to take a twice-a-week class together and discuss what they are learning whenever they want.

“It’s like taking a study abroad class without having to go abroad to study,” said Sotiris Hji-Avgoustis, a professor in the Department of Tourism, Conventions and Event Management.

He is co-teaching the class with Dawn Michele Whitehead, director of curriculum internationalization in the IUPUI Office of International Affairs, Irena Weber, assistant professor at the University of Primorska, and Anton Gosar, dean of the faculty of tourism at the University of Primorska.

 “From our side, the collaboration is an exciting experience," Weber said. "It is not only an exercise in cross-cultural communication but also a fruitful exchange in contemporary teaching and learning experiences.”

The eight-week class is an integrator course for majors in the IU School of  Liberal Arts at IUPUI. The advanced course, which focuses on the development and promotion of tourism in an urban setting, addresses the integration of knowledge across disciplines.

It is held in IUPUI’s Global Crossroads classroom, where videoconferencing technology enables the Slovenian students, who speak and write English, and IUPUI students to see and hear each other and participate in real-time class discussions.

When the class is over, students turn to Course Networking to continue discussions on their own, post photos, make comments and review class assignments.

The CN was developed by Ali Jafari, a professor of Computer and Information Technology in the Purdue School of Engineering and Technology at IUPUI. The  CN is a free, academic social network that connects teachers and students from around the world based on shared interests and class subjects. It combines the social component of popular networks such as Facebook and Twitter with similar functionality of existing learning management systems used at many colleges and universities.

Unlike existing learning systems, though, which typically limit access to members of a single course, the CN creates an active, large-scale learning environment that is completely open to any user, nationally and internationally. It offers the opportunity for learners to collaborate with individuals all over the world—providing a vehicle for increased intercultural learning and cultural competency.

The University of Primorska Faculty of Tourism is located in Indianapolis’ sister city of Piran. In 2006, IUPUI Chancellor Charles R. Bantz, former Associate Vice Chancellor Susan Sutton, and Director of Study Abroad Stephanie Leslie traveled to Slovenia to explore university partnerships. As a result, activity between IUPUI and the University of Primorska has increased to include this joint course.

“Real-time interaction through videoconferencing technology is interesting and intriguing for students,” Whitehead said. “WithThe we now have a tool that meets them where they are in terms of ability to engage and interact. It makes this more exciting, more educational outside of a formal academic environment for the students.”

Few of the IUPUI students have travelled abroad, Hji-Avgoustis said. “This is an opportunity for them to talk to people from a different country.”

Whitehead agreed, saying, “It helps students understand perspectives. To have this opportunity to learn about someplace quite different, but also to actually engage with someone from that environment, see differences, see some similarities, leads to a better understanding and appreciation of their own environment. By leaning about Slovenia, they are learning a lot about Indianapolis and themselves.”

While the technology happens to link IUPUI and a university in Slovenia, it could be used to link with just about any university anywhere—or multiple universities at the same time, Hji-Avgoustis said.

“It is the wave of the future,” he said. “Geographic limitations no longer prevent universities or professors from partnering or collaborating in teaching. It’s like working with someone whose office is next to yours.”