Ottawa University student Kirstin Dawson has never traveled outside North America. But, thanks to a class integrated between Ottawa University and the University of Saints Cyril and Methodius (UKIM) in Skopje, Macedonia, Dawson now feels like she has.
The course, “Regions of the Balkans and the U.S.: Studies in Space, Place and Cultural Geography in Macedonia and the U.S.,” was taught by Dr. Steven Foulke, associate professor of history, and Dr. Rumena Buzarovska, co-teacher from UKIM, with technology assistance from Carine Ullom, Ottawa University’s director of the Office of Academic Technology.
“Meeting others and learning about their culture and experiences is beyond rewarding for me,” Dawson said. “It’s like taking a vacation without leaving my home. Of course, now I want to travel there.”
The course, which involved five OU students and 10 Macedonian students, is part of a second Fulbright Scholarship awarded to Foulke for teaching in Macedonia. The course addresses complex cultural questions involving ethnicity, religion, economic opportunity, political and economic power, and large-scale demographic shifts in the United States and the Balkans, with a focus on the Republic of Macedonia.
“Probably the most unique aspect of this course was the cross-cultural conversations happening between Macedonian and OU students,” Ullom said. “Using webcams, mics and free software called ZOOM, the students met in groups of three on three different occasions during the course. Each time they were with a different group, and they were required to either record their conversation or take screen shots of it and upload that into OU’s Blackboard Learning Management System (LMS).”
Because of costs and the often unreliable Macedonian postal system, the class required a different approach to study materials. “We opted not to try to use textbooks for this course,” she said. “About two-thirds of the material was documentaries, films, TV commercials and other videos, and the remaining third was English-language articles available online.”
The approach is unique for OU students. “In one case, the students watched a
famous Macedonian film that was in Macedonian, Albanian, French, and English with English subtitles,” she said. “This was a new and challenging experience for many OU students.”
The students created an Image Gallery together in Google Docs using Google Presents, the Google equivalent of Microsoft PowerPoint. Each week, they submitted one or more images that were related to the topic of the week. Besides offering a way for students to jointly contribute to something for the good of the whole, Ullom said the Image Gallery was a way for students to express themselves by means other than text.
“Since the Macedonian students were having to write their assignments and discussion posts in English, they were at a bit of a disadvantage,” she said. “Being able to express themselves with images leveled the playing field a bit. It also allowed for a different type of creative expression with the ability to add colors, fonts and even motion in addition to the images.”
To view the image gallery created by the students in the course and learn more about their virtual experience, visit https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RREXYVcRFpYUV5kYhvDZBwbYb_12_3yZjs7_6fdH_TE/edit#slide=id.p
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