Human Capacity Building for the Knowledge Economy : Creating Globally Distributed Web-Based Learning Environments for Advanced Graduate Studies in International Affairs
This paper presents the initial findings from a three-year pilot study of a distant independent educational initiative between two universities in the United States and two in South Africa. The primary research questions in this phase of the project have been, “To what degree can a suite of commercially-available web-technologies be used to successfully create a globally-distributed, synchronous, collaborative, learning environment for advanced post graduate studies between South Africa and the United States?” and “What pedagogical and administrative models best suit this distributed Learning environment?” Subsidiary research questions explored issues relevant to the impact of four critical factors on the development of complex cross-national virtual teams within this learning environment. These four factors are: (1) level of humaninteraction/computer-interaction mix (Hi/Ci); (2) existence of a collaborative learning community; (3) trust, culture and ideology; and (4) degree of technology mixture. In order to answer these questions, we have studied the Global Graduate Seminar on Globalization and the Information Society (Globalization Seminar), which is an advanced, interdisciplinary, post-graduate seminar addressing questions of international regime formation for the emerging Global Information Infrastructure and Global Information Society, and involving a diverse group of graduate students at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor); the American University (Washington, D.C.), the University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg, South Africa); and the University of Fort Hare (Alice, South Africa). This educational initiative has been successfully piloted from 1999-2001 through funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Alliance for Community Technology, and the University of Michigan School of Information. Primary data for the study are drawn from seminar participants, who are required to complete an 80-question evaluation survey including 25 open-ended and 55 closed-ended questions. The data are analyzed through qualitative and quantitative techniques. Thick-narrative case studies have been produced for each seminar and virtual team. Data from each year are compared/contrasted with that of previous years and similar studies. This paper also presents directions for future research, which consists of a two-year cross-sectional study to begin generalizing the findings from this pilot phase.