International students have always been a presence at the University, but technology is now allowing Brunonians to collaborate with students in Brazil, India and Cuba without requiring a passport.
A new seminar offered for the first time last fall, PPAI 1701G: "Science and Technology Policy in the Global South," enabled Brown students to work directly with students at other universities. Throughout the semester, students held video conferences with students from Brazil's Universidade Federal da Bahia and Universidade Nacional del Sur on social and racial inequalities relating to access to science and technology. In addition, the Brown students maintained a blog about renewable energies with students from India's University of Calcutta.
In designing the seminar, Geri Augusto, adjunct assistant professor in public policy, said she wanted to create a way in which her students were "learning with (other students) and not from them." She said she wanted to create a forum for "an equitable and sophisticated two-way conversation."
"I'm always interested in how collaborative learning and teaching can take place across time and space," said Augusto, adding that she also continually looks for "ways we can increase learning that are more equitable."
"Ideas and perspectives exist everywhere among students," Augusto said. "What's different is the access." Technology is one way to make this access more equitable, she said.
Though the class was not associated with specific internationalization efforts, Augusto said she received a course internationalization grant from the office of Vice President for International Affairs Matthew Gutmann. The grant helped her travel to Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, over the summer and contact professors and students there.
"No matter how good electronic stuff is, face-to-face interchanges are very important when you are trying to establish a new relationship," Augusto said, adding that she will include a section on the Andes to the course when she teaches it next fall.
HMAN 1970R: "Literature and the Arts in Today's Cuba," a senior seminar offered last fall, also reflects the increasing role technology plays in classes that work with universities abroad. The class, taught last semester by Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature Esther Whitfield, was offered in the fall for the second time. Throughout the semester, students participated in several video conferences with Cuban intellectuals and artists — including architect Mario Coyula, writer Victor Fowler Calzada and filmmaker Fernando Perez.
Though the seminar was conducted primarily in English, all lectures were in Spanish, as were many of the readings. The students conducted video conferences in the Watson Center for Information Technology that were linked to Casa de las Americas, the cultural institution in Cuba where Brown students take classes while abroad.
Cuba's Internet censorship required the program to acquire special permission from the government to hold the video conferences. Though specialists were present during the conferences, both at Brown and in Cuba, there were often technical difficulties.
"The Cuban government had never set up one of these interchanges before, so they didn't really know how to do it," said Michelle Levinson '11, who studied in Cuba last fall and attended the e-lectures.
Despite technological problems, students back at Brown said they felt the class was a very valuable experience. Lily Friedman '09.5, who took the class last fall, said one of the reasons she first became interested in the seminar was because it focused on such an isolated part of the world.
"Traditionally, Cuba is a very inaccessible part of the world, especially for us in the United States," Friedman said.
Without Brown's special university-to-university relationship, the participating artists "probably would not have been able to present themselves to an international community," Levinson said.
Marianna Faircloth '10, another student who took the class, said she used the opportunity to communicate with a direct source. While working on her final paper, she e-mailed one speaker, who helped her find sources on Cuban tattooing and body art.
Without the guest lecturers, Friedman said, "It would have been a great art history class, but the artists never would have come to life in the same way."