UNI class extends from Cedar Falls to Russia

UNI class during videoconference session with class in RussiaIt's more than 5,000 miles from Cedar Falls, Iowa, to Moscow. Nearly 4,700 miles from Cedar Falls to St. Petersburg, Russia. About 400 miles lie between the two Russian cities. But the miles that separate these communities evaporate at the University of Northern Iowa, the Russian National University of Science and Technology and the Russian State Pedagogical University.

Twice a week, students enrolled in UNI's Intercultural Communication course cross nine time zones to meet with students at the Russian universities via an interactive video-conference system. Facilitated by ITS-Educational Technology, the class meets at 9:30 a.m. in Cedar Falls and 6:30 p.m. in Russia, allowing for real-time conversation and interaction.

"As the students learn the theory behind intercultural communication, they immediately get to employ it in practice," said UNI professor of communication studies Victoria DeFrancisco.

The course is co-taught by DeFrancisco at UNI and Tatiana Yudina at the Russian State Pedagogical University in St. Petersburg. A faculty member oversees classroom at the Russian National University of Science and Technology in Moscow. The course integrates the WebCT/Blackboard system for e-learning at each site. Students are grouped, with representation from each university, and must communicate for at least one hour a week outside of class throughout the semester.

Having taught intercultural communication for 20 years, this is the first year DeFrancisco has taught using the video-conferencing system and the first time she's taught a cross-national course.

"I would say developing intercultural communication skills requires risk taking," she said, "and we are all taking risks this term."

The changes DeFrancisco has seen over the last two decades don't just involve technology; she's also witnessed a shift in attitudes.

"9/11 raised the consciousness of U.S. students. They realize that what happens abroad affects their lives and that they benefit from becoming more globally aware. World politics, immigration issues and transnational citizens make the issues of international communication much more complex," she said. "I no longer have to defend this class."