Classroom Technology Enables Cross-Cultural Collaboration

CONWAY, Ark. (August 6, 2012) - This fall, Hendrix students will have some far-flung classmates, thanks to two experiments in globally networked learning and cross-cultural collaboration with Chinese universities. 

Religious studies professor Dr. Jay McDaniel will teach two courses that feature online sessions using the College's new high definition (HD) video conferencing capabilities.

"I consider the teleconferencing icing on the cake. The cake is the collaboration itself that occurs as colleagues and I from different countries explore sharing common learning units," said McDaniel. "The officials on the Chinese side have been great and immensely supportive. These things don't happen without approval from party officials. We have such approval, and I tip my hat to them for agreeing to do all this."

McDaniel will teach a course called Journeys East and West with students at Heilongjiang University in Harbin, China, and with first-year students from his Journeys course at Hendrix. Discussions will focus on a Chinese short story titled Renting a Son for the New Year, selections from Plato's Republic, Jane Addams and W.E.B. Dubois, as well as themes such as family life, education, voluntary service, and multiculturalism, McDaniel said.

Han Sun, who was a visiting professor at Hendrix last year, will facilitate the sessions at Heilongjiang.

McDaniel and Han Sun will have approximately 12 students in their respective courses, which will meet together four times.

"They are all very excited about this opportunity and hope that it will continue in years to come," he added.

McDaniel will also teach a process philosophy course called Constructive Postmodernism: Cross-Cultural Collaborations with three other institutions in China: Harbin Normal University, Harbin Institute of Technology, and United International College in Beijing. The course will also meet online four times.

"Each school has deep interests in Whiteheadian or 'constructive postmodern' thinking," said McDaniel, who is teaching a course on the subject at Hendrix this fall. 

Harbin Institute of Technology is one of the top 10 schools in China, specializing in science and technology, but wants to add more humanities, he added. 

With help from the Media Center, McDaniel has made 20 short videos for the constructive postmodernism course. The videos are available on his website.

"They are developed for this experiment in cross-cultural collaboration with Chinese but will also be useful in other parts of the world where there are process centers," McDaniel said.

Coordinating the second collaborative course in China is Haipeng Guo from United International College, one of the few liberal arts colleges in China.

Haipeng and McDaniel are developing a website for both courses with documents and videos for each learning unit and also (they hope) opportunities for blogging among students prior to each session.

Tim Lepczyk, the new fellow in digital humanities and pedagogy at Hendrix, will also assist, McDaniel said.

The cross-cultural collaboration is part of the New Paradigm Initiative being developed by Hendrix's academic consortium, the Associated Colleges of the South, which aims to introduce digitally-assisted "blended" learning to ACS schools. 

"ACS wants to encourage schools to collaborate through teleconferencing," said McDaniel, who worked with a colleague from Rollins College last semester on a blended learning course. "But this is, to my knowledge, the first time we've tried transcontinental collaboration."

"Our approach to evaluating classroom technology is always through the lens of how it advances the academic mission of Hendrix", said David J. Hinson, executive vice president and chief information officer.  "High Definition Teleconferencing is allowing us to push the limits of what an engaged classroom experience is."

Hinson is also pleased with the Hendrix's partnership with Blue Jeans Network, a Software as a Service (SaaS) provider specializing in virtual meeting spaces.

"Blue Jeans Network facilitates Voice, Skype, Google Chat, Microsoft Lync, and standard h.323 conferencing systems, seamlessly and transparently, into our classrooms," he said. "It is the communications 'glue' that allows us to accommodate all of the major teleconferencing clients in the market, protecting the College's investment in infrastructure, and saving us many tens of thousands of dollars in comparable hardware bridging solutions."

"Any technology that requires an army of technicians on standby in order to make it function is not a sustainable, nor a desirable, classroom tool," Hinson said. "The new LifeSize classroom teleconferencing gear we have installed in Mills 101 and Mills B is integrated into our standard A/V controls, and is readily usable by any of our faculty using our standard Sympodium configurations."

"It's actually quite stunning when you experience it (HD teleconferencing) firsthand, and realize how drastically it will transform our notion of what blended learning in the liberal arts can make possible," he said.

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is a national leader in engaged liberal arts and sciences education. Hendrix was named the country's #1 "Up and Coming" liberal arts college for the third consecutive year by U.S. News and World Report. Hendrix is featured in the 2011 edition of the Princeton Review as one of the country's best 376 colleges and is listed in the 2012 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges as one of 25 "Best Buy" private colleges included. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. For more information, visit www.hendrix.edu.