June 4, 2020
Read an inspiring story of AUCA professor Ekaterina Galimova on how her dream came true trough the decade, and she initiated International Online Discussions between the American University of Nigeria and the American University of Central Asia together with Prof. Emilienne Akpan.
In times of Globalization, the mission of professors is not only to provide students with theoretical material but also to reveal new horizons of students’ future activities in the field of international communication, business negotiation, entrepreneurship, and leadership within the framework of English Language classes. So, the idea of conducting an online discussion came to my mind in 2009, the time when I was in the United States of America. I endeavored to unite Kyrgyz-Russian Slavonic University students with their peers at San Francisco State University. Unfortunately, due to some technical reasons, we had to postpone the online event; but the unrealized dream had been living within me for years. A decade passed, and through my interaction with my students, I kept reminding them that no matter how hard their goals might seem, they should always strive to start something new without being afraid of making mistakes. So, this is the story of the birth of a tradition and the challenges we faced.
At one of the AMICAL conferences held in the state of Kuwait in 2020, I asked Professor Emilienne Akpan, one of my Nigerian colleagues who teaches Freshman composition, if she would be willing to conduct an online Interuniversity discussion between AUN and AUCA students. To my delight, she agreed. Upon arrival back home, we resumed our communication with each other. At first, we discussed the logistics of our project and the feasibility of the initial online discussion. The next step was to encourage students to participate in the event as sometimes apathetic students are not ready to be involved in this sort of initiative due to their modesty, incompetency in English, or because of some other reasons. As professionals and psychologists, implementing student-centered approaches, we asked for the students’ consent to participate in online discussions with their international peers and got a positive response. Having selected 20 argumentative topics we shared them with our students to ascertain the top five they could relate with and discuss. At both universities, the selections were arrived at through voting. After exchanging via email the top picks, we once again asked our students to choose their favourite topic for the online discussion. The majority of the votes went to the topic on what motivates people to work. For the subsequent month, students from both universities prepared for the discussion while their instructors worked with their respective IT departments to determine the best medium of the online discussion. We started our trial sessions with Webex but after two unsuccessful connections, we moved to Skype. But the quality of the audio and video was not satisfactory and although being a little frustrated by this, we stayed hopeful about the interclass discussion, especially as our students were now looking forward to its happening. While mulling over what action to take next, AUN IT specialists offered to try Zoom. Oh, blessed Zoom, our savior! Emilienne sent me the link and we connected immediately with no audiovisual problems. That was the moment when I felt that my dream would have finally come true. We were so happy! Having already discussed the ‘ground rules’ prior to this moment, we finally, agreed on the day and time for the class interface. As we looked forward to the pioneer interaction, the Coronavirus pandemic scuttled our plans as globally, schools had to shut down while students went home. With the migration to online instruction via different platforms, we still had a chance to actualize the project. Besides Time difference between our countries, AUN had a different academic calendar and had a few weeks left to complete instruction and examinations. We had to schedule our inter-class meeting in between competing engagements for faculty and students.
The topic for the first international online discussion between our students was “Does money motivate people more than any other factor in the workplace?” and it took place on April 9, 2020. There were 20 students from both universities. At the beginning of the discussion Emilienne and I introduced each other to our students and played the introductory videos about our universities. After a brief explanation of the format for the discussion, it finally began. After contributions from AUN and AUCA students, before moving on to the next speaker, listeners had a chance to either comment on what had been said or to ask questions. Anisa Zulfova, Ratibor Goriainov, Zuhailo Zulfova, Behruz Shabolov, Farida Mbulo, Albert Okechi, Obumneme Chuka-Otazi, Stephen Abiola, David Vhyala and Phillip Billhansen were exceptionally active and we learnt a lot about and from each other. By the end of the discussion, students agreed that for workers anywhere, although money is important, there are other variables, wondered which also contribute to the viability of a workplace and the involvement of the employees.
Following the first online discussion, AUCA students shared their impressions and concerns via on-line forum posted on the e-course. Summarizing the forum entries and comments, students came up with the ideas that they needed more participants to take part in the event from the AUCA. They also noticed that they needed to practice their speaking and listening skills more, e.g. Zuhaylo Zulfova was impressed with the language skills of AUN students. Having read this comment, I understood what could stimulate students to improve their English skills. We need more discussions with different peers to improve our students’ self-awareness, self-assessment! I should also mention that there were times when it was hard for AUCA students to understand the accent of AUN students, and during those moments, Professor Emilienne Akpan was helpful with the interpretation of the main idea in the student’s contribution. Despite the few linguistic challenges, AUCA students did a great job.
From AUN, the reflections were also very positive and the students appreciated the initiative and were happy to connect with intelligent peers who gladly shared their opinions and patiently listened while contributions were made. They were equally excited that they could support each other on relatable points and appreciate the flexibility in understanding the contexts, which guided their perspectives. For some of the students, this was the first time they were engaging with peers in an institution separated by time and continent. One remarkable takeaway from the connection was a revelation by a participating student. When Philip Bill Hansen shared the success of the discussion with his father, little did he know that he would be the catalyst for the second discussion that students were already looking forward to having. His father William “Bill” Hansen moved to the American University of Nigeria from the American University of Central Asia! Professor Hansen was very ecstatic about the collaboration and hoped to participate in a subsequent one. So just before examinations started at AUN, another interface was scheduled and our special guest was Prof. Bill Hansen, chair of International and Comparative Politics and director of the Center for Governance, Human Rights and Development at AUN.
The second online discussion focused on Postcolonial Literature: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Interestingly the participating AUCA students were studying Achebe’s classic for their research papers. Pr. Hansen, a founding faculty of the ICP department at AUCA briefly introduced himself and explained his connection to AUCA. He also shared his thoughts about postcolonial literature and modern governance in African countries. One of his favorite political philosophers is Frantz Fanon whose works have greatly influenced his writings. Hansen answered numerous questions from AUCA students and graciously stayed through the 2-hour discussion.
The two Zoom-enabled discussions were a success for both students and organizers. If the former were able to get acquainted with another American university, its students and Nigerian culture, the latter were happy to be a part of a new tradition that will hopefully hold annually. In addition, students from both universities overcame their shyness, personal reservations about language competencies or peer acceptability, and participated actively in the discussions. Moreover, as AUCA students were writing their research on similar topics, they were eager to get relevant information from first-hand sources. For example, Nazarbakht Yoftova, whose research paper was about human rights in Africa, asked AUN students questions regarding human rights of African citizens; Behruz Shabolov inquired about positive and negative effects of the colonial era in Nigeria; while regarding the first discussion, Zukhaylo Zulfova was surprised to find out that an employee might not mind tolerating an arrogant or abusive boss to have a high salary. While exchanging ideas, both AUN and AUCA students were able to practice their English language skills, such as reading, listening, and speaking. A review of the post-discussion comments on the AUCA online forum revealed that some AUCA students were very critical of themselves and resolved to do better participating in future events. For instance, Laliza Umatova, who used to be far from politics, wrote that the second online discussion inspired her to learn more about post-colonialism and politics in general. All the students agreed on the need to have more engagements of this kind with students from other American universities in future. Because students change each semester, a new section of students will benefit from the interaction when next it holds.
As we all know, conception is a delicate process but once it has taken place, determination and support will sustain it. The same applies to this initiative which we have tagged Interuniversity Online Events.
In the future, we hope to conduct a Karl Popper Debate between AUN and AUCA students. Next time, we will invite students from some other American university to be the judges who will provide unbiased and fair judgment, conduct mock trials where applicable, launch a series of conferences devoted to current topics related to students from both universities, and finally, organize exchange tours for interested students from Nigeria and Kyrgyzstan to conduct research on the topics of their interest thereby enhancing their research, analytical, critical and creative thinking skills. We believe that by giving these opportunities to our students, we would also be encouraging them to start their own collaborative businesses, organize, educational projects, and strengthen intercultural ties geared towards connections to improving the quality of each other’s lives.
Against the backdrop of globalization and the dynamics of technology, the mission of professors is not only to provide students with theoretical material, but to use all available platforms to reveal new horizons for students’ future activities in the fields of international communication, business negotiation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.