Waking Up to Imagine Another World is Possible!

The Experience of Discovery in Distance Learning


Colette Mazzucelli, MALD, PhD, DDG


Rotary Center, Institute for Political Studies, Paris,

Teachers College, Columbia University &

OnLine Training (OLT) Institute, West Palm Beach


Keynote Remarks

Pan Pacific Distance Learning Association (PPDLA)

16th Annual Conference

Distance Learning: Pathways to Cultures and People

March 13, 2004

Mid-Pacific Institute

Honolulu, Hawaii


         Good morning Mr. Schaffer, Miss Powell, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It is my pleasure to join you today at the Mid-Pacific Institute during the 16th Annual PPDLA Conference, Distance Learning: Pathways to Cultures and People. I would especially like to thank Professor Curtis Ho, Mr. John Southworth, Miss Christina Higa, Mr. Kekoa Hayashi, and Miss Allison Tai for their gracious invitation and assistance in the organization of this keynote presentation.

It was my privilege to visit Honolulu for the first time in mid-December with my father. The spirit of Aloha touched us. We received a lovely welcome from the PEACESAT team and other esteemed colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Our time at the EastWest Center was enriched by conversations with colleagues from across the Pacific. Together with Roger Boston, my colleague and friend, it was also wonderful to speak with members of the Rotary Club of Pearl Harbor who greeted us warmly during their fellowship meeting. In honor of our visit, and our time together today, I am happy to wear the Kukui nut necklace from the Islands that is an expression of friendship from the Pearl Harbor Rotary Club members.

Each of these experiences demonstrates the richness of the diversity that is Hawaii. Roger and I share your genuine commitment to, and interest, in distance learning for the Pacific and for the world in which we live. It is this commitment that inspires my remarks today. I would like to touch briefly on three points. First, let me share our experiences in e-Learning, working together to create a unique series in conflict prevention for the Balkans, the TCMuses transatlantic Internet/multimedia seminar southeastern Europe (TIMSSE).[1]  Second, I would like to explain why, in my experience, distance learning is significant in our world today. In closing, my intent is to dialogue with you about an ethical concern educators face as we strive to innovate in learning with communications technologies.

 TCMuses TIMSSE: e-Learning as a Person-Centered Experience. Shortly after the NATO bombing of Serbia in spring 1999, Roger Boston and I, in cooperation with Dr. Wim van Meurs at the Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP) and the University of Munich, created a novel type of transatlantic seminar that utilized communications technologies to establish an intercultural dialogue. Our purpose was to learn more about the conflicts in the Balkans and to assess the extent to which the use of communications technologies might over time prevent the cycles of conflict that endure there. Our initial experiences relied on basic tools, including a telephone conference call fed to the Internet through the services of the OnLine Training (OLT) Institute.[2]

By fall 2000 we began to use an audio talking room to join graduate students at the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po) in Paris, the University of Munich and the University of Costa Rica in a dialogue with colleagues from the Balkans region. Over time the series developed a unique pedagogy, an original approach to learning, on behalf of conflict prevention through the use of multipoint videoconferencing, Web-based discussion forums and e-mail exchanges.[3] Ours is an experience in active learning that illustrates the ways in which the persons involved are at the center of the experience we create.[4] This is the most significant aspect of our work together.

The insights our students provide in the dialogue we establish demonstrate that the use of technologies provides a valued-added to our learning. We are consistently discovering common perspectives amidst our differences in backgrounds, cultures and experiences. These shared views make us part of a larger society, a society in the making, whose members are increasingly lifelong learners. In our world today, communication, or the lack thereof, makes the critical difference in relations among peoples and the nations in which we live.

For this reason, our objective is to learn over time from our experience to pioneer in the definition of a learning model. In this model, we are learning on behalf of human security to emphasize the dignity of the person and to focus on the person’s potential to develop. In a world of states, we acknowledge through our learning experience that human security for peoples in conflict-torn areas around the globe depends on initiatives working at the grassroots level, emphasizing a bottom-up, not a top-down approach.[5] As participants in this learning process, our students identify those networks in the field of conflict prevention, within the Balkans geographical area, that involve them, early in their professional lives, as agents in global affairs. 

The introduction of communications technologies in the classroom via distance learning influences profoundly the paths we take to cultures and people.  Through our experiences in what we define as multimedia pedagogy for active learning, we aim to introduce “democratic processes in classrooms” by which students take responsibility for decisions that impact on their assignments.[6] Our learning together is less subject to the hierarchy of authoritative relations in the traditional classroom. There all eyes are focused on the teacher who lectures while students passively take notes.

In the global classroom students are engaged in a dialogue that accentuates personal development and community spirit, a dialogue infused by openness to the world around us, its peoples, their customs and languages. Ours is a blended learning experience in which technology complements and supports face-to-face meetings and facilitated dialogue by team leaders at each of the physical locations we join in videoconference. We thereby share in the joy of self and intercultural discovery motivated in our learning by a curiosity for direct experience that characterized Renaissance thinkers hundreds of years ago.

Finding Ourselves in Translation: Pathways to Cultures and People in the Distance Learning Society. In the 21st century, we face the challenge to respond pro-actively to the demands of the marketplace and the pace of change in professional life. These demands call for us to be literate in the use of communications technology, to acknowledge the tremendous potential of the brain to develop creative thinking skills and to demonstrate global awareness by our appreciation of diverse cultures and people.[7] 

The literacy in the e-Learning process helps us to adapt in our daily lives, to be more aware of a global society that influences us. In this context, we not only experience transition; we must increasingly find ourselves in translation. In Freirean perspective, there is “dialectic” between persons and the world. If the world, defined as history and society, comes about through the activity of persons, how do we live, and not merely exist, in the world?  If, as Elias argues, reflection and activity, that is praxis, actually create meaning and culture, how do humans fulfill their essential function, to be an active participant in the world (a subject) and not merely a passive object?[8]

The term fraternity in the Freirean context is concerned with the quality of relationships among persons in society. Some of the characteristics noted in this regard are an equality of social esteem, a lack of manners of deference and servility, a “sense of civic friendship and social solidarity.”[9] Freire’s term for the ideal of fraternity is communion.

Fraternity rejects any form of education in which there are subjects, i.e., teachers, and objects, i.e., students, in what may be defined as less than true partnership in the learning process. Education, in Freirean perspective, must realize genuine communication anchored in dialogue and, by extension, solidarity.[10]

One channel to genuine communication is through references to art and the viewing of international films and documentaries that illustrate local contexts as we experience the cultures and peoples around us. Here we must question the extent to which distance learning can establish over time a relation identified by Maxine Greene as that “between the release of the imagination and the pursuit of identity.”[11]

Potentially, distance learning provides us with a shared opportunity to realize a vision of education that engages us in aesthetic discoveries and experiences together with members of local communities. We are obliged, therefore, to question the effect this can have on the borders we transcend in our classrooms, on the perceptions we transform in our minds and on the dialogue we strive interculturally to create.[12] In each of these ways, we continuously find ourselves in translation.

Waking Up to Imagine Another World is Possible! Distance Learning and the Ethical Awareness We Face in Education.  Those of us who experience distance learning primarily through the growth of the Internet realize that we are part of an included minority. Those peoples who are denied access presently, the excluded majority, comprise 90% of the world’s population. As we acknowledge this reality, we continue on our path of discovery. Our innovation takes place in the belief that infrastructure must be created, applications can be sustained and the world in which we live continues to evolve in response to the process of globalization. This is a process that simultaneously redefines community as it revives nationalism. The inherent tension that exists, that between interdependence and separation, is an intrinsic part of the ethical awareness we face in education today. The ways in which we engage in distance learning are destined to address this tension, for better and for worse, in the decades ahead.

One of our objectives is to think about constructive ways to dialogue beyond the digital divide, to innovate through a marriage of Internet use and radio dissemination of non-traditional classes that invite local and global participation. Here teaching creates “the possibilities for the construction of knowledge.”[13] These are essential forms of learning and outreach in the distance learning society.

Of critical importance is the creativity educators demonstrate in curricula designed to make local forms of non-traditional learning an intrinsic part of a global dialogue facilitated through innovative radio applications. Here the needs of those most vulnerable are at the heart of learning that is inclusive. We must acknowledge critically the Internet’s existence as a two-edged sword, pregnant with unexplored learning possibilities as it simultaneously creates and sustains the digital divide.

My colleague and friend Roger Boston has spent decades pioneering in the creation of “the Boston trail” to bring cultures and people together in dialogue. It is my pleasure to let you discover his work in distance learning. Roger invents technological applications that wake us up to imagine other worlds, to experience that which is possible, and to envision the paths that are ours to choose. Thank you.

[1] http://www.tc.columbia.edu/newsroom/

[2] http://www.oltraining.com/arch_news/2000.html

[3] Colette Mazzucelli and Roger Boston, eds. with the assistance of Adrienne Bortree, Preventive Education for Human Security in the Balkans (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., forthcoming, 2005.)

[4] April Morgan, Lucinda Peach and Colette Mazzucelli, eds. Ethics and Global Politics: The Active Learning Sourcebook (Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, forthcoming, 2004).

[5] One example is the Japan Center for Conflict Prevention’s (JCCP’s) 4th global e-Symposium, which occurred from 22-30 January 2004, http://www.dwcw.org/4th_e-symposium/

[6] Henry M. Levin, “Worker Democracy: Is It Feasible,” Paper for the Interrupting Oppression and Sustaining Justice working conference at Teachers College, Columbia University, February 27-28, 2004, http://www.interruptingoppression.org/archives/000010.html

[7] Michael J. Gelb, How To Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci (New York: Delacorte Press, 1998), p. 19.

[8] John L. Elias, Paulo Freire: Pedagogue of Liberation (Florida: Krieger Publishing Company, 1994), p. 55.

[9] Ibid, pp. 116-17.

[10] Ibid, p. 117.

[11] Maxine Greene, “Thinking of Things as if They Could Be Otherwise: The Arts and Intimations of a Better Social Order,” in Variations on A Blue Guitar The Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 2001), p. 116.

[12] Ibid, p. 119.

[13] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom Ethics, Democracy and Civic Courage (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001), p. 30.