We are embarking on another new adventure. For the Spring and Summer terms, we are running a service-learning subject for a group of students at our university, jointly with a second group of American students in a subject on global leadership at Maryland in the USA, and a third groups of Cambodian students from the Royal University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. In June, most of these three groups are students are going to be working on a joint project building a community learning centre out of a used cargo container in Kampong Speu to the west of Phnom Penh in Cambodia.
This morning, the three groups of students sit together (virtually) through Skype. Physically they are in 3 different places: Hong Kong, Maryland and Phnom Penh. But they can see each other and speak with each other through Skype. We have to go through a lot of trouble to make it happen. Including sending a staff from Hong Kong to Phnom Penh to help them set up their Internet link. Since they have no WiFi on campus, we have to get a local SIM card, get a wireless router that uses in SIM card to get online, … We have speak much slower and louder than usual, strain to hear each other, guess what each other mean, …
We read a paper on the challenges of working in virtual teams, about cultural differences, communication, knowledge transfer, leadership, group norms, … Then use what we learn to analyse what is happening in our own virtual class. Actually, calling it a “virtual” class is probably misnomer. It is a real class happening simultaneously in 3 linked sites. Or 3 classes linked in real time. Or some such thing.
Afterwards, our students say they are tired, confused, surprised, … and excited about the experience. I hope and think that they also find it worthwhile. We have already got a lot of ideas on how we can improve the experience in the coming classes. This is just one of the many challenging endeavours that we are taking on this year. It is exciting times being a teacher in international service-learning.