Tuesday, March 24, 2009, will be remembered as a historic day at Milwaukee Area Technical College. That day, 22 MATC students visited via videoconference with their counterparts from Shanghai Dian Ji University. The 7,000-mile distance and 13-hour time difference was hardly noticeable as students traded questions about their respective cultures and schools.
The project was spearheaded by Anthony Aveni as part of a 2008 MATC Innovation Grant. Aveni, a television and video production instructor, felt an enhanced educational partnership with China was important as Chinese businesses sought to increase their presence in the Milwaukee area.
Thanks to a long-standing relationship between MATC Dean of Technology and Applied Sciences David Turner and leaders at Shanghai Dian Ji University, a partner school was identified.
Aveni’s biggest challenge was securing the technology that would allow the exchange between students to occur. Several failed tests may have deterred others, but Aveni, with the help of Jim Stepp from the Teaching and Learning Technology Office, was committed to the project and to providing an opportunity for the students from both institutions to learn about a different culture. Finally, the technical kinks were worked out and a clear connection with a minimal delay for the videoconference was established.
The exchange of information between schools in advance of the videoconference was slowed for a variety of reasons. Complicating matters were lengthy Chinese holidays and the break between fall and spring semesters at MATC. “Different cultures are going to move at different speeds and quite a bit of time went by without communication,” said Aveni.
As the date for the videoconference drew closer, more details fell into place at a rapid pace. MATC students from the College Success course and architecture and electronics programs participated in an orientation session the week prior to the event. Turner and Yan Wang, a staff member of MATC’s Department of Institutional Research who served as the translator for the videoconference, shared their insight and experience with students. Kevin Mulvenna of the Pre-College Division played a key role gathering materials to help prepare the students for the videoconference. The orientation was capped off with a Chinese lunch from MATC’s culinary arts instructors and students.
“We wanted to build the confidence of the students and encourage good interaction and questioning during the conference,” said Aveni.
Finally, the day of the videoconference arrived. Dr. Vicki Martin, MATC interim president, was on hand to welcome the Shanghai students and faculty. “While much attention is paid to the differences in our cultures and countries, today’s videoconference allows all of us to focus on what we have in common,” remarked Martin. “MATC and Shanghai Dian Ji are institutions that are committed to student achievement and innovation.”
After some initial hesitation, the students engaged in a healthy question-and-answer exchange that lasted more than one hour and covered a wide variety of topics from on-campus food to sports to study habits. Shanghai Dian Ji students represented the school’s business, engineering and foreign language programs.
Aveni envisions more collaboration between the two schools and other institutions as well. His goal is to build on the success of the 2009 videoconference and explore student collaboration to solve a technical problem; develop knowledge exchange opportunities through social networking media; or create live web video postings to share ideas on both campuses.
“I believe continuing this program will result in more open doors for MATC students and our community,” concluded Aveni. “This was a good first step and there is unlimited potential.”
While Aveni intended to establish a protocol for other faculty, staff and students to adopt for future exchanges, he also opened the doors to a new way of learning that will benefit everyone associated with MATC.
A video overview of “Opening Doors with China”, edited by Kevin Mulvenna, is available at http://video.matc.edu/mulvenna/opening_doors.asx