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Students in ECU's global classroom wave to welcome peers at Kufa University in Iraq back to the "Midnight Special" after technical difficulties. Elmer Poe, associate vice chancellor for academic outreach, directs the students' distance learning conversation. Photo by Will Preslar, ECU.

Live ... From Iraq ... It's Monday Night!

(Mar. 24, 2011)   —  
By Mary Schulken
Director of Public Affairs
ECU News Services

The technology balked, yet the learning went on in East Carolina University’s global classroom.

Some 70 ECU students who stayed up late for a first-ever campus get together with peers in Iraq didn’t get the experience they expected. The connection flittered, and instructors had to improvise.

Yet for many participants in the event dubbed the “Midnight Special,” the hour they spent conversing, on and off, with students at Kufa University via satellite reinforced lessons they’d been learning in the classroom.

“Working across the globe will obviously have its difficulties and it’s just something we have to work around,” said ECU student Jonathan Breton, 20, of Charlotte.

Jami Leibowitz, a professor of anthropology and lead teacher of ECU’s Global Understanding Teaching Team, said that’s an important part of what the university’s global understanding course tries to teach students.

“We hope students come away with some specific skills that will help them interact in the world with people who speak English as a second language,” Leibowitz said. “How to adjust your communication, how to ask a question, we hope we’ve begun to help them develop these skills.”

War-torn Kufa University is ECU’s newest partner in the Global Partners in Education program, where technology and distance learning let students and faculty interact in broad ways across disciplines. Some 30 other partners participate, including universities in Malaysia, Brazil and the Czech Republic. Kufa joined last year, and the “Midnight Special” welcomed Iraqi students to the program. They will formally participate in classes in the fall.

“We are particularly excited about this relationship,” Leibowitz said. “Our students are unaware of people in that part of the world and the image of them they have is what they see on the news. This is a chance to get to know more.”

The odd hour here — midnight, Monday, March 21 — reflected the need to work around a standing curfew in Iraq. Officials planned for ECU students to do a musical production. Iraqi students planned a fashion show from the ages.

Instead, a connection that blinked in and out only allowed the students to talk briefly about what they liked to do for fun. On ECU’s end, the musical performance went on and was taped. It will be sent to Kufa. A handful of ECU students who stayed late eventually got to see the Iraqi fashion show.

Snafus, however, didn’t keep students such as Breton from taking away insights.

“When you go straight to the source and learn from the ones who have experienced it, you will gain a whole new perspective on life,” he said.

Students need that perspective and the skills that come with it to be successful in today’s world, Leibowitz said. That’s the point of teaching a course in global understanding.

“It’s not just about understanding Iraq,” she said. “It’s about understanding those who are different from you.”

The course has had impact for Breton, who is studying community health with plans to be a physicians assistant.

“I could really see myself using this openness to my advantage,” he said. “For example, if I have a patient who is of Algerian descent I may be able to connect with them on a more personal level than most physicians would be able to.”


Contact: Mary Schulken | 252-328-6481