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Soliya’s Connect Program

Utilizing new web-based videoconferencing technology, Soliya allows small groups of university students from the US and predominantly Muslim Countries in the Middle East to meet weekly on-line with the help of skilled facilitators. Together they engage in intensive dialogue about the relationship between the U.S. and the Arab and Muslim World, with a particular emphasis on the role of the media in shaping perceptions of the “other.”

The students also explore a multi-media library containing a wide range of resources including archival news and interview footage, academic and policy articles, websites, and lectures from relevant experts. And they express their understanding of relevant issues by producing their own video segments with provided news footage and working together on joint projects.  Learn more at www.soliya.net.

Soliya’s Connect Program is a unique cross-cultural education program that enables college students in the United States and predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East to collaboratively explore the relationship between the US and the Arab & Muslim World with the aim of improving intercultural awareness and understanding. Participating students from across the globe literally see and hear one another in a rich and intimate online environment utilizing the latest in videoconferencing and online collaboration technology. Recognizing the profound role of media in shaping young adults’ perceptions of other cultures, Soliya trains participating students to create and exchange video segments illustrating their perspectives on current world events. The Connect Program:

  • Engages students in global affairs;
  • Expands students’ understanding of and ability to think critically about the relationship between the US and the Arab-Muslim World;
  • Sensitizes students to the power of media in shaping opinions and perspectives and provides them with the analytical skills they need to assess the media more critically;
  • Develops multi-media communication skills;
  • Humanizes the “other” through intimate communication and collaboration and catalyzes genuine relationships across borders;
  • Empowers students to work for change on a global level, and provides them with the skills they need to make a positive impact.

Students participating in the Connect Program congregate into eight-person groups online. Each group consists of four university students from the U.S. and four university students from the Middle East. These groups “meet” with two trained facilitators once a week for two hours throughout the course of the semester via Soliya’s customized on-line technology. Student participants sit in front of a computer and a web-cam. On their screen they see a circle of windows, in which they see real-time live images of the other 7 members of their group, and their group facilitators. The medium is remarkably intimate: participants can see one another’s facial expressions, hear tone of voice, and even share a joke. Students are also able to communicate with their group-mates asynchronously. Each group has its own webpage with a wealth of online resources including raw news and interview footage, academic and policy articles, websites, and lectures from relevant experts as well as a forum where students can post messages and exchange thoughts outside of the live sessions.

Through this combination of synchronous and asynchronous communication, the members of each group build meaningful transnational relationships, sharing personal and cultural information, and talking intimately about the influences-both political and personal-that shape their understanding of US and Arab & Muslim World relations. Students have a genuine window into the worlds of their group-mates, despite the distances that divide them. Guided by two expert facilitators, students:

Participating students also have the opportunity to express their understanding of the issues discussed by creating their own short video segments using raw footage provided by Al Jazeera, APTN, BBC & Reuters and simple video editing software. This experience empowers students to express their own perceptions and encourages them to develop a personal connection with the issues. It also provides them with insights into the video production process, thereby demystifying television journalism and providing them with critical media literacy and media production skills. Soliya provides training to students assuming they have no previous video production experience. Students also express themselves through writing Joint Articles at the conclusion of the program, in which students work with partners on the other side of the Atlantic to write a joint article. Through a partnership with Search for Common Ground, select articles are then distributed with the possibility of getting published via the Common Ground News Service.

Concurrent with their activities online, students discuss their experiences in class with their professor and classmates. Soliya has been working with professors in the fields of International Relations, Media Studies and Conflict Resolution to develop an academic curriculum, enabling participating students to receive course credit. The course is currently accredited at the American University of Beirut, Tufts University and Virginia Commonwealth University, and is scheduled to be accredited at all participating universities in the Fall Semester of 2005.

At the completion of the program students are also eligible to participate in Soliya’s Continued Engagement Activities. These activities include Facilitation and Conflict Resolution Skills Training, in which students are trained to serve as facilitators for successive implementations of the Connect Program; Joint Video Projects, in which students work collaboratively to create short video features; and Cooperative Action, in which students work in small multi-national teams to promote better understanding in their communities through creative outreach activities.

Soliya’s mission is to develop a new generation of leaders with the cross-cultural knowledge, communications skills, and international connections to create a more informed, peaceful and just global society. Soliya partners with educational institutions across areas in conflict, using new media technologies and transformative educational programs to mobilize young people as catalysts for social change.

The name Soliya derives from the integration of sol (Latin for “sun”) with iya (an old Arabic word that means “beam of light”). Drawing on the universally revered symbol of the sun, Soliya aims to shed light on the relationship between the US and the Arab & Muslim World in a way that promotes understanding, respect and constructive joint action.

Resource Link: www.soliya.net

We also found a nice video introducing Soliya’s Connect program on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGp-ta4enqU.

Email:  info@soliya.net

Mailing address:  25 Washington Street, Suite 652, Brooklyn NY 11201

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