The students I now teach at the University of Washington have more intellectual power at their fingertips than any group of students that have ever walked through these academic doors. And the group of students that will walk through these same doors, five years from now, will likely have double that intellectual power.
All this is possible, asserts Thomas Friedman in his new book, “Thank you for Being Late”, because of the exponential growth of knowledge now immediately available to all of us, largely due to three key forces; the globally connected internet, the mobile phone, and cloud storage with open source collaborations. where we harness the power of all of us, to help each of us know more.
But I am convinced that these same students have less interpersonal power than many groups before them-in part the result of these same forces- which is harming their ability to apply this new found intellectual power effectively. And interpersonal power is the most important quality of the two, for the globally-connected world we now inhabit.
Alan Alda, one of my favorite actors and author of the book, “If I understood you, would I have this look on my face?” highlights this challenge and is working to help scientists and others overcome it. Through a series of role-playing training exercises, couched in communication research, he helps scientists better understand their audiences, so they can better communicate their compelling ideas. It is all based on improving our ability to read others and communicate more effectively. In short, to develop emotional intelligence.
When I am asked what I teach in my Collaborative On-line International Learning (COIL) courses, I offer up a variety of content themes: Teaching about “Contemporary Social Problems”, “Debating skills”, “Environmental Science and Water Pollution”, “Religious Studies”, or “Creating Compelling Video Documentaries”, but the course themes are just a means to an end. What I really help students to learn is how to develop interpersonal relationships, to read others, to understand group dynamics and group roles, to develop cross-cultural radar skills, and to develop mental flexibility that results in empathetic understanding. And all of that leads to effect team-based problem-solving.
Often times, when students form their small global teams in these courses to solve an assigned global problem, they immediately want to get to work on researching and solving the problem, rather than getting to know their global team mates. They want to text and not call or Skype, and do it on their own time frame, not take the time to arrange to communicate synchronously. The result is more confusion, frustration and a low success rate in solving inevitable group conflicts.
The title of Alda’s book assumes you can see “my face”, but if you can’t see it, or hear me, or get immediate feedback on my ideas, you start at a major disadvantage to understanding. And when we communicate and work together virtually-which is what makes up most of our daily interactions now-we risk losing huge swaths of non-verbal communication that is essential to accurate understanding of each other.
This is well understood by the faculty I meet locally and internationally, and they express a strong hunger to explore how they can integrate new strategies into their courses to teach students these skills. What is less apparent to them, is how to find and begin working with other like-minded faculty internationally so that their students can get the needed practice in global team problem-solving.
Starting last spring, I began working with a team of university students to create a website for helping faculty find one another. I think of it as the Match.com for faculty who want to find international partners to team up with for their courses. We plan to launch it this fall, 2018 and it will be freely accessible to university faculty all around the world.
And, unlike Match.com, ours will be free to all, our own version of free open-source collaboration.
Greg Tuke, as a Fulbright-Nehru Fellow, will be teaching and working with faculty at several Indian universities, sharing strategies for implementing international collaborations within course work. This blog will chronicle key experiences and insights about international collaborative teaching and living in India. All opinions expressed are mine, and mine alone, and represent no other institutional affiliation.