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"Interneting": or Studying with the Other*
All of us inhabitants of our planet are Other for Others—
Me for Them, and Them for Me.
Ancient cultures knew that everything in the World was interdependent. The modern era broke that view and only recently have we rediscovered Gaia – the close living relationship between living organisms and their environment.2 Now economic and political integrations implicitly recognize the need for collaboration. We must restructure and make our new and different interdependencies work.
The newest technologies allow us to access almost any part of the world as if we were all living in a virtual town with diverse and different histories, cultures and languages. But this “techno” ability is misleading since inequalities in accessibility continue to exist and are even on the rise.3 Still, those who have the technological ability to know each other don’t have the need to do so. However, our hemispheric diversity demands that we form part of a symmetrical interdependent collaboration and a respectful dialogue. For this we need materials, resources, capability and will.
What we are suggesting is outlined in the context of transnationalization and the internationalization of education but with its own characteristics.4 My profession –sociology-- has taught me (having given courses on Latin America for the past 32 years) that modern technology is key. For all of my courses I depend on web pages to publish my written discussions (we do not use textbooks), listserves to distribute articles on different topics, e-mail for bilateral or multilateral communication with students, and chat rooms. Students have their own web pages, or “blogs”, through which they teach and reveal to other students what they are doing and thinking, and share how their respective research and projects are developing week by week. At the same time, they have to research documents from numerous different databases (and in the process they learn about new sources of information and, with my intervention, how to interpret, evaluate, analyze and recognize what is merely normative or idiosyncratic versus social science). I model my teaching on a master’s-level class, in that I meet with students in a classroom and use technology. At the same time we also use a form of distance education since students continue to work with me once they leave the classroom, but I have assumed the role of pedagogical advisor until we meet in the classroom the following week.
The computer, Internet, and other various instruments that are such crucial components of today’s teaching cannot replace mentors, tutors, teachers, educators or trainers. At the same time, one teacher alone is not sufficient to educate students who have the ability to electronically access libraries in Buenos Aires, Madrid or any other place in the world.
The metaphor of the information super highway may now have a different meaning. A highway can also be a road on which we travel so quickly that the streets, landscapes and buildings pass us by without us even seeing them. We understand nothing. Information keeps growing and it grows more quickly and more out of context. In this sense we have traveled from one point to another without comprehending or understanding and for no particular reason.
On the Internet, virtual destiny does not coincide with reality. A real highway is not the same as a virtual highway. Internet opens doors, but more so for young students in a virtual world that is “wide and foreign” when it should have “depth and be progressively knowable”. Meeting this objective requires the help of real people, specialists who can transform virtuality into reality. And that requires guides-professors at the beginning of the journey as well as guides-professors along the way.
Students and professors of one country may virtually explore other subjects in other countries, but in an increasingly global and interactive world, we need counterparts; this is part of the integration and interdependency. In other words, in addition to the collaborative work taking place among the students, collaboration must take place between the students and the onsite professor as well as with the professor-guide of the country being studied.5 This is key not only because we must be able to actively dialogue with those in the countries being studied (as opposed to virtual pages that use imaginary helpers), but also because in the process of interrelating ourselves, new realities are established and we learn – in practice – mutually. Only with structure can we participate in a true symmetrical learning process that benefits everyone.
We need to develop “team teaching,” in which guides-professors in the country studied collaborate with onsite teachers who work directly with the students. This implies an integration whereby students and professors are present in the same place, but use Internet as a revised form of distance education.
Then we would have, in addition to distance education and studies abroad programs, a new experience that could be classified as co-studying with the studied abroad. We could call this “internetting” with the “other” countries / the “exterior, which is the true form – paraphrasing UNESCO – of together advancing intellectual knowledge.?
Nelson P Valdés, Ph.D
Department of Sociology
The University of New Mexico
*The ideas, thoughts, and opinions expressed are not necessarily of the OAS nor of its member states. The opinions expressed are the responsibility of the authors.
3. One recent report reveals that in 2004 only 2.7% of university institutions had virtual programs and the number of students in those programs was 1.3% of the total. The study added “virtual higher education in Latin America is limited, not only because of the few (although growing) number of institutions that work with it or because of the small number of teachers involved and students reached, but rather because of the use (or rather underuse) of digital technologies (used almost exclusively to deliver content) and the paltry development of new pedagogical methods, which is a great contrast to the great possibilities offered by digital technologies in education to improve the quality of learning and further other functions of a higher education institution.” (See: Instituto Internacional para la Educación Superior en América Latina y el Caribe, Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación y Educación Superior Virtual en Latinoamérica y el Caribe, Ángel H. Facundo Díaz, Ph.D., Bogotá, 2004, p. 6.).
4. In the event we suggest the students and professor are in the U.S. and a distance education program is not offered to students in Latin America, but depends on the participation of professionals with knowledge of the country being studied. Carlos Marquis dines the typical model of transnationalization of education as “the student is in a different country from that of the institution providing the educational service. This implies the crossing of boundaries by professors and educational materials. Regarding the cases of transnational education, it was most often found the creation of regional offices or headquarters of foreign institutions, the appearance of joint programs among local and foreign universities with a double recognition, articulated programs and twin programs.” See: Nuevos Proveedores de Educación Superior en Argentina y Brasil, Argentina: UNESCO/IESALC, Agosto 2002, p. 1.