AP Human Geography and International Baccalaureate students at Red Bank Regional did not need to get on a bus and traverse the continent to discover the state of Islam in North America.
Instead, they traveled by telephone and computer networks to meet with their peers in classrooms across the United States and Canada with the help of Global Nomads Group (GNG), a non-profit organization which creates interactive education programs for students on global issues.
Students sought to answer questions such as what the percentage of Muslim victims of terrorism is, how the media portrays Islam, and how American perception of Islam has changed since 9/11.
“It was interesting to learn of other people’s perception on 9/11," said Red Bank Regional student Gunnar Wainright. "In particular one Muslim girl who suffered from prejudice following 9/11.”
Four schools participated in the conference, which was conducted in a round robin fashion that allowed every school the opportunity to present a question for the other schools to answer. The schools were Passaic Valley Regional in Little Falls, N.J., Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, Va., South Plantation High School in Plantation, Fla., and Bathurst High School in New Brunswick, Canada.
A moderator from Global Nomads Group kept the program moving and made sure the agenda was followed.
The GNG program marked the first time Red Bank Regional incorporated videoconferencing into its classrooms. Rose Powers, the lead teacher for the high school's International and Cultural Studies Academy, was first made aware of GNG
by student Sean Hickey while he was in her AP Human Geography course last year.
“This was a big step for us and I hope to talk to students from all over the world,” said Hickey.
In conjunction with Red Bank Regional's media specialist Kathy Smith, Powers is putting together a database of other videoconferencing opportunities to enhance classroom lessons at the high school. The two teachers plan to show other teachers how to use the technology for the benefit of their students.
“It is our hope that this will remove the mystery of using a videoconferencing system," said Powers. "Access to this information will also help our teachers learn how to use this system to enhance their lesson plans or current event topics."
Principal Risa Clay, who was on hand for the GNG program, said she loves the educational possibilities teleconferencing opens up. “I see many applications for the technology particularly to World Language, long distance learning,
college courses and professional development,” said Clay.
In the days following the initial conference, students have engaged in several other sessions exploring issues surrounding the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more conferences are scheduled before school lets out for the summer in June.
Carey Neff, one of the students who participated in the conference on Islam in
America, echoed the sentiments of his classmates, stating, “I would like to do this again. It gives us an opportunity to learn about other cultures and this is what the Academy of International and Cultural Studies is all about.”