The objectives of the Soliya Connect Program telecollaboration project are for participants to develop a deeper understanding of the perspectives of others around the world on important socio-political issues, and also to develop critical thinking, intercultural communication and media literacy skills. Each iteration of the project connects over 200 students from over 30 different universities in the US, Europe and the predominantly Arab and/or Muslim worlds, who are placed into small groups of 8-10 students and guided through a 9-week, English language dialogue program by pairs of trained facilitators.
The project was not developed for learning English, but rather for students of Political Science, Conflict Resolution, Media Studies in 2003. As it has expanded, groups of students have participated as part of their English language courses. This is a form of ‘ outsourced’ telecollaboration project whereby universities can enroll students for the Connect Program which is managed by the NGO Soliya.
Dominant form of language production:
It would be impossible for a university educator to replicate this project since the management of so many different groups requires an organization behind it. It is possible however for interested English language educators to contact Soliya and find out about registering students. (Universities are usually charged a fee for participating)
How long did the project last?
How was the project organized?
The project is organized around weekly video-conference discussions. These are moderated by 2 facilitators on issues relating to the relationship between ‘ the West’ and the predominantly Arab and Muslim world (culture, politics, religion, daily life…).
|Ice-breaker: Getting to know your partners
|Two truths and a lie
Each session starts with an ice-breaking activity, then for each week different topics are discussed. For some weeks students have reading assignments to prepare, with comprehension questions.
Course blog for learner diaries (only for students in Padova): Every week students are required to write up their reflections on that week’ s session.
Video project: Students are provided with 3-6 hours of footage and background reading material and are required to prepare a short 3-5 minute video following specifications provided. The videos are then shared via the Soliya platform and/or YouTube and discussed during one of the weekly sessions.For examples of student-produced videos, see online resources on the right. Final reflective paper: At the end of the 9 weeks, students have to write a short essay reflecting on the exchange experience and what they feel they have learned
How were the students assessed?
At the University of Padova, where the Soliya Connect Program is adopted in the Faculty of Political Science as an alternative to the traditional English language course for second-level degree students, in addition to the weekly video-conferencing discussions, there were 4 seminars to discuss the project and a final interview. The project is the sole focus of this course and counts for 6ECTS. Students are evaluated on: video project, final reflective paper which can be based on their weekly diaries (see Padova-Soliya blog ) and an oral interview.They are assessed for: Foreign language fluency Linguistic correctness (grammar, vocabulary etc.) Aspects of Intercultural communicative competence
What worked well?
What did students think of the project?
Students are very enthusiastic about the program, and most continue to have contact with Soliya and /or their group members. A few students have even gone on to meet some of their group members, such as Arianna who has gone to do an internship in Cairo. Some students have also started to study Arabic as their interest in the Middle EAst and North Africa has grown.
" Well, it was tough&hellip but we can&rsquo t always agree with others&hellip and even by disagreeing, we manage to see how much we can learn from others points of view."
A student reflection paper
According to the &ldquo butterfly effect&rdquo theory, if a single butterfly flaps its wings, this innocent movement may cause a hurricane&rsquo s formation even weeks later in the opposite part of the world. This might be hard to believe, especially in a world in which everyday we come across such a tremendous amount of news that somehow become nothing more than a background noise in our lives. We can be very sentimental about a romantic comedy, cry for nonsense and yet not even be able to react indignantly when we hear of terrosistic attacks and innocents&rsquo massacres.
Soliya Connect Program is an online cross-cultural education program integrated into curriculum that provides students with a unique opportunity to establish a deeper understanding for the perspectives of others around the world on important socio-political issues and why they feel the way they do. In other words, Soliya is a powerful means of breaking the soap balls in which we live and experiencing for yourself how it is like to be a Muslim, to hate Israel, to live in Pakistan and so on. Personally, I&rsquo ve never had the pleasure to discuss with an American or a Muslim about issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the power of the media, our own interests and culture. I live in a small town in Italy, a Country full of contradictions and narrow-minded people. By way of example, here Chinese people are often labelled as &ldquo the ones who steal our jobs&rdquo and Muslims as &ldquo dangerous fundamentalists&rdquo . Indeed, I believe in small towns like the one I live in, the differences between &ldquo us&rdquo and &ldquo the others&rdquo are much more evident rather than in big cities.
Thanks to Soliya the vague picture I had of theMuslims has now an identity and a voice: her name is Yara and she comes from Jordan. And, more importantly, we became friends.
During a Soliya session our group has been asked to split into two smaller groups one had to adopt an American point of view, the other a Muslim perspective. The aim was to discuss about a big theme which creates conflicts between these two cultures and try to suggest some solutions. If might be hard to believe, but it worked. For instance, looking at the women&rsquo s position in the American society from a Muslim point of view, I&rsquo ve noticed how often women are considered just for their aspects and not for their personalities. This happens everyday in the fashion world that opens its doors only to skinny young women. A possible solution that we found in order to defend the Muslim women&rsquo s habit to wear a veil could be to organise a flash mob thanks to the social network, in which all women would wear a veil. This might sound insignificant, but according to the previously mentioned butterly effect, it will have an effect sometime somewhere in the world.
Another important issue we dealt with is the importance of the media. We have been asked to create a video project in which we had to arrange several footage clips in order to report in 3 minutes the news of the Muslims&rsquo protests against an American sarcastic movie about the Prophet. Although we had to be unbiased, we realised how hard it is to give an exhaustive view on such a deep topic in that little time. Still, sometimes the &ldquo Western&rdquo media willfully decide to give a certain idea of the Muslims as fundamentalists and violent people, or they choose not to report something at all. For instance, Italian TV news give far too little room to foreign policy issues or other Countries&rsquo situations, they focus just on the Italian matters. And yet, even when we hear about a massacre on the TV, do we really stop and think about what do those numbers mean? Honestly, I rarely manage to do this. During a Soliya session Yara wrote me that she was very sad because she had heard that some Palestinian children had died that day due to a bomb attack. The number was much more little than the ones I&rsquo m used to hear from the news, but I felt profoundly touched and angry for that event. Dialogue is the real butterfly effect, dialogue is what will assure us a better future.
What challenges did you face?
What did the teachers think of the project?
What kind of institutional support did you receive?
Padova is now running the program for its fifth consecutive year, and institutional support has changed considerably over the years.
We finally have a lab that students can access specifically for the Connect program!
The program has been officially recognized as an alternative to the English Language course for a few master’ s degree courses, and the facilitation training has become an offical option for student internships in the degree course International Politics and Diplomacy. The Department of Political Science has increased the funding available for the program, and other departments are now interested in offering the exchange too, for instance the Department of Languages.