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Pilot Teleconferencing Dialogue Project a Success

A new project called Solis, directed by Liza Chambers, is a unique cross-cultural education program that enables college students in the United States and the Middle East to collaboratively explore the relationship between the two countries through dialogue. Solis’ pilot Connect Program, which ran this winter, was a great success. Participating students from 5 colleges were divided into units, with each unit consisting of three students from universities in the U.S. and three students from universities in the Middle East. The units “met” twice a week for an hour and a half for six weeks for live sessions via Solis’ customized online collaboration application. The online application used is very intimate, allowing participants to see one another’s facial expressions, hear tone of voice, and even share jokes. Students were also able to communicate asynchronously via websites that were created for each unit. There they could post messages and exchange ideas, via both video and text. Click below to read more.

The conversations were lively, with discussions that ranged from the political to the personal and back again. Students talked about the relationship between the US and the Middle East, the situation in Iraq , the role of the media, the UN, and a variety of other topics. Using footage from Iraq provided by BBC, students were also able to create their own personal videos demonstrating their understanding of the current situation in Iraq and the relationship between the US and the Middle East .

Here’s what the students had to say about the program:

“I learned that in everything I do, I have to be critical and look at a situation from multiple viewpoints. The media and government have certain slants that they are trying to promote- the real truth is likely somewhere in the middle. It is up to me to find that truth.”
– Krister, Harvard University

“I felt that these discussions were very effective in both learning about the views of others, as well as forcing me to think and analyze my own perspectives by bringing them to surface.”
– Mohammed, American University in Beirut

“ If I was to recommend the connect program to other peers (which I would definitely do) I would tell them that it is almost like a free flight to the Middle East- not going sight seeing but rather talking to the people there.”
– Tanja , Virginia Commonwealth

“It made me aware of how much media and information can be manipulated”
– Souha, American University in Beirut

“Interacting with individuals, and learning through experience made internalizing everything I learned easier and therefore more powerful, because there was a human face to the argument, idea or feeling.”
– Cat, Clark University

Solis will continue working with students who participated in the pilot program over the next several months, helping them to develop and implement joint projects intended to spread what they learned to a broader audience. Some ideas that have been suggested are a joint film that grapples with the question “What impact does the media have on the relationship between the US and the Middle East”, and periodic editorial/ article swaps between student newspapers in the Middle East and student newspapers in the US. Solis will assist student groups to put their ideas into action. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in facilitation skills training, allowing them to facilitate future iterations of the Connect Program.

Go to www.solis.net to read more about Solis.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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