Combining Studio Videoconferencing
& the Internet
to Promote Intercultural Understanding

Facilitated by Globe-Gate: UTMartin's Intercultural Learning Project

Professor Crapo has illustrated the overall project history, while Professors Jones and Sorenson have elaborated some technical and pedagogcal considerations. My job has been largely to invent and implement internet media strategies to support videoconferences. Some of this is outlined in a pedagogical film segment: "The Mercury Project." In La Visiocommunication à l'Université d'Orléans. [Orléans,1999].

Advantages of the Media

Now I would like to review videoconferences which I supported in the context of the role I played.

The first of our videoconferences ocurred on November 21, 1996. Participants were from the University of Tennessee-Martin, Austin Peay State University, the Université d'Orléans. The topic was the 1996 U.S. presidential election, the technical facilitator, BellSouth Videoconferencing, through a studio on the APSU campus. The event took place at 8:30 am, because of the 7 hour time difference between France and US Central Time. The eye-opening reality of a two and a half hour early morning drive, must have been a motivating factor in the readying of our campus distance studio for a bidge connection in the the next videoconference, on April 10, 1997. Here the topic was the 1995 French presidential election.

The web site created to support both videoconferences was mostly a webliography and a public display of student position papers. Our French interlocuteors were rather primitively equipped as far as individual connections were concerned, and it was hard to bring about any kind of dialog. The show value, however was worth the site; we had an American student participant who was a National Democratic Convention delegate and some firey socialist discourse from the French.

Bicultural forum on presidential politics in the life of the average college student /~rpeckham/presi.html

was cited in political journals like THE CONNECTION, ON POLITICS (Washington Post), featured in a number of French Civilization courses and has become a known resource for political opinion research.

The third of our videoconferences took place on November 13, 1997 The topic was racism in the US, with some emphasis on equal opportunity in employment. The fourth was on April 9th, 1998, focusing on the kind of racism in France delivered by the Front National and immigration policy.

We felt reassured that topically relevant events in both of our countries would provide grist for our mills. The European Commission had named 1997 " L'Année européenne contre le racisme" 1997 marked the year when the American practice of Affirmative Action received a legal set-back from California's proposition 209 .

Bicultural forum on racism and its effect on the life of the average college student
http://fmc.utm.ed u/~rpeckham/racism.html

Here is where we began to get some enthusiastic student participation. It is also where we ran into some unanticipated problems. More French students had internet connections and e-mail addresses than during our first two videoconferences. We had a particularly anti-racist student from Pulaski, Tennessee (origin of the Ku Klux Klan). When we started receiving e-mail from the French, we decided to try out a bubba-board for both English and French comments. At the outset this seemed to be a good move. Students who were normally fairly quiet, were suddenly writing, and one or two seemed to be caught up in the interactivity. All of a sudden we were discovered by some verbose neo-Nazzis who dowsed the fire of our enthusiasm with fairly brutal racist discourse.

The Role of Women in Society in France and the US
http://fmc.utm.ed u/~rpeckham/femme.html

conducted in English, and took place on Thursday, 18 November 1999.

I created a supporting site for this videoconference, with the intention of donating links to our Women's Studies colleagues, but alas, I found no interest. At the same time, with a full teaching load, a career crisis, and numerous other pressures, I could not muster the time for the kind of active and enthusiastic participation needed to direct a successful internet support campaign. The essays, however, do show a strong student interest. No videoconference took place the next semester due to the serious illness of the French course director.

Homeless, but not Hopeless in France and the US

Among its many problems, our latest videoconference, on homelessness, presented a situation which can only be labeled as pure "irony". Our Globe-Gate server had undergone a series of crashes involving swapspace and problems with a new version of the Apache web server. I was hesitant to put something new up, until I was fairly confident we were entering a long period of uninterrupted service. I chose instead the University's very stable main Sun box running a licensed version of the latest Unix, with good serverside includes. About 800 hits into the life of the site, a Polish hacker broke deep into the University system. The computer center quickly brought back web pages, but it closed down many services, including directory access, in order to rebuild using strict security guidelines. Since I was in the midst of editing, formating and posting a corpus of student position papers, now nearly 7000 words, the situation was unacceptable. By this time I had a list of e-mail addresses for most videoconference participants on both sides of the Atlantic. I decided to pack up our chattels and move the site to a server belonging to our local telecom, which had shown rock-solid stability, even though it offered no serverside includes. I mailed news of the change to all on our list. The site had not been up for two days, when I began encountering directory access and permission problems, which the help desk personnel were unable to resolve. Homeless again, the site had to be relocated quickly, and I chose a server in the computer center with some serverside includes, and which had not been effected by the hackers. This machine, however, had the ditinct disadvantage of teaming a Novell file server with a ZB web server...not exactly crashproof. I mailed news of the change and made my awkward apology to all on our e-mail list. Came the weekend, guessed it. The server crashed and we were evicted from our third home. Alas, there was but one choice left. Reeady and steady or not, we had to move, lock, stock and barrel to Globe-Gate, an old PowerMac 7600/120 running MkLinux R1 with Apache web server, version 1.3.19. We have been up ever since, but my 20/20 hindsite informs me that our homelessness and vabadondage resulted from making an initially wrong choice of servers. I have tried not to let the fact that our campus student e- mail was shut down for repairs the day before the videoconference bother me.

To conclude, I would like to leave you with some thoughts on how to let internet technology improve not only the videoconferencing , but the learning process for which it was conceived as well as the intercollegiate and interpersonal relations which can develop from it.

Return to the Globe-Gate Home Page .
TennesseeBob Peckham
Director, The Globe-Gate Project
University of Tennessee-Martin