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Students in Pittsburgh and Qatar Come Together in Web Simulcast History Course

Students at Carnegie Mellon in Qatar work with students in Pittsburgh during a Web simulcast history course on U.S.-Arab relations.

The new course was the brainchild of Indira Nair, Carnegie Mellon's vice provost for education.
Imagine a course on current events that students in the Middle East and the United States could take at the same time. Carnegie Mellon University is making it happen. This innovative history course is being taught on Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh and Doha campuses via Web simulcast.

The idea for such a course came to Indira Nair, vice provost for education and professor of engineering and public policy, after she learned of a Web-based discussion forum, offered by the Boston-based company Soliyah, which was being used by several American and Middle East universities.

"This got me thinking about how we could connect our students on two continents," Nair said. "Two faculty members, Dr. Laurie Eisenberg and Dr. Ben Reilly, then developed the course to bring students together in direct dialog about American and Arab relations."

Professors Eisenberg and Reilly, from the Pittsburgh and Doha campuses respectively, have worked together to overcome the distance obstacles and create a seamless classroom experience for the students. Via theater-sized video screens, students in classrooms in Pittsburgh and Doha discuss materials at the same time. Challenges in teaching the course include a time difference that will increase by one hour when the United States goes off daylight savings time and the complication of holding a late afternoon class during Ramadan in the Middle East, a time when most people will be focused on Iftar, the meal that breaks the fast. All involved agreed—the benefits of direct discussion of current events within an historical context outweighed the challenges.

"In the aftermath of the horrible events of September 11 and the bitter controversy created by the second Iraq War, there is a greater need than ever before for a direct dialog between young American and Arab students," Reilly said.

The Web forum is being offered to universities in the United States, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority through Soliya's Connect program. Using an ordinary Web camera, students participate in Internet-based chats. The chats augment the classroom exploration of American and Arab history, international relations, conflict resolution and media studies. As part of the Web forum, the group writes an op-ed and evaluates broadcast news footage from the BBC, Al Jazeera and MSNBC.

"I am tremendously excited to embark on this course because it gives our students the solid historical background that they need to discuss directly, intelligently and meaningfully the very important issues currently at play in U.S.-Arab relations," Eisenberg said.

Cross registration in Doha's Education City brought students from Texas A&M and Virginia Commonwealth to the Carnegie Mellon Qatar campus to participate in the course.

"This is a wonderful course to pioneer cross-registration. We are very happy to work with the Qatar Foundation and our sister campuses to broaden the educational experience for all students at Education City," said Charles Thorpe, dean of Carnegie Mellon in Qatar.

Reilly says it's basic to the mission of the course to bring together a diverse group of students. The course has two goals: To enable the students to express their feelings on issues of personal relevance, and to inform those views by examining recent scholarship by some of the best authors working today in the field of U.S.-Arab relations.

"It is my hope that such experiences will build shared understanding, and shared visions for peace among young peoples of conflicted nations; that they, as future leaders, will build bridges that offer possibilities for dialogs and compassionate compromises rather than violence and blind dogma to settle differences," Nair said.

About Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar:
Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar is the first international branch campus operated by Carnegie Mellon University. In August 2004, Carnegie Mellon Qatar began offering its highly regarded undergraduate programs in business and computer science at the invitation of the Qatar Foundation. Carnegie Mellon plans to open a new facility on the Education City campus in 2007, where the campus is based along with Georgetown University, Texas A&M, Virginia Commonwealth and Weill Cornell Medical College. For more on Carnegie Mellon in Qatar, visit

Lisa Kirchner and Jonathan Potts
October 14, 2005

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