Gláucia Maria de Queiroz: Learning in a world without borders
I still remember the year 1999, when computer games and dictionaries were sold on CD-ROMs and files were saved on discs. I had a clear advantage back then because I already had an e-mail address, which meant that I could stay in touch with people from different countries whom I had met on my journeys. I was able to exchange photos online and put my foreign language skills to practical use. A little later, chats arrived. How great was that?! And yet we had no idea how much the Internet would change the way people learn or network with others, exchange their knowledge and experiences and so on.
Since then, I have moved from one continent to another and back again. And still I was able to stay in touch with friends and colleagues – in former times via e-mail, today via What’s App or the Alumniportal Deutschland. I was even able to obtain an MSc from England without any paper and without ever having lived there at all. But above all, for around eight years, I have been teaching not only in seminar rooms, but also online.
This has given me the opportunity to gather valuable experience, make wonderful discoveries and face totally new challenges. The courses on International Project Management on the Alumniportal are distinguished by both the participants’ cultural diversity and the wide range of their topics. The participants truly come from all corners of the world. There are doctors who have to manage a hospital, engineers who are building markets, project leaders on international UN-assignments or administrative employees with HR responsibilities, to name only a few examples. Their common denominator is a connection with Germany. For them – for us – the seal of quality “Made in Germany” and the Germans’ competence in matters of planning still enjoy a great reputation and appreciation. And they are all interested in continuing to develop and facing some common challenges.
Recently, a Kenyan university lecturer wrote in a chat: “The terms objective, goal, target, aim used to be so confusing.” A female student from Belgium commented: “I found it hard to distinguish goal and purpose, possibly because my project is a very simple and ‘standalone’ one, a fantasy project about furnishing a kitchen.” I was delighted that such a simple project from everyday life could in fact help someone to gain a basic understanding of planning time and resources just as well, if not better, as a complex development programme with many different actors, levels and a complicated structure. Which led me to understand that exchange and discussion among the participants is the most important thing. These experiences confirm that my task as a tutor is not to fill the participants’ heads with knowledge, but to support and encourage this joint learning process.
And in addition, my role as a tutor allows me to enjoy all the special things, or when barriers are overcome. For instance, one participant from a Middle Eastern country, where YouTube and Facebook are frequently blocked by the government and where the Minister for Communications wants to establish a separate Halal Internet, wrote to me: “I am always looking forward to Thursday for the web chat or webinar because I can feel the world without any border for the short period of time.”
Of course, there are also challenges. The dynamics of a virtual (study) group is just as important as the building of trust and a free, inter-culturally aware exchange of opinions. And our Alumniportal is also a social media platform, so we have to find a balance between anonymity and spontaneity on the one hand and commitment and the communication of content on the other. And since technology is developing at an ever greater pace, our tutoring tools will also continue to change quickly, which will keep it interesting. And still, the interaction between those who learn among each other as well as with their tutor will always be a deciding factor for the success of the Alumniportal Deutschland’s online courses.