Teaching in the Twenty-First Century
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1996, 4(5), 2-3. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Lev Gonick, university dean for instructional technology and academic computing, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, coordinates the Virtual Seminar in Global Political Economy (the GPE) from his home via a computer node at Communications for a Sustainable Future in Boulder, Colorado, for academic credit at the University of Guelph in Canada (as well as numerous other institutions). Among his teaching colleagues are Anne Derges, a member of the faculty of social work in Harare, Zimbabwe; David Barkin, an economist who teaches at the Autonomous University in Mexico City; and Sarah Tisch, an international development specialist based in Moscow with Winrock International.

The purpose of the seminar is to create an international dialogue among students and scholars in various countries on several continents. Thus students are in a global forum in which they participate on an equal basis with scholars and students from other cultures and societies. Seminar topics over the past three years have included Third World Debt, Economic Structural Adjustment, Global Cities, and International Development and Social Movements in the International Political Economy. The proceedings—that is, the e-mail discussions and student papers—are archived on the Web at Over four hundred students from over thirty countries around the world have enrolled in the seminar.

How does it work? Gonick initiates each new seminar through an electronic discussion group of some fifty faculty members known as the gpecafe, who discuss how they will integrate a global seminar with face-to-face on-campus seminars or directed study projects, and how they will grant students academic credit in their home institutions. Faculty members are asked to facilitate one topic during a seminar by framing opening questions, by providing closure at the end of the topic, and by making timely intervention during topic discussion. They also serve as virtual tutors to three to five students (for example, a student in Helsinki will be in a tutor group with two other student colleagues from New Zealand and Wellesley College along with a faculty colleague as tutor from Durham in the United Kingdom).

For students, the GPE is an opportunity to engage in collaborative learning and research. Final term papers for the integrated advanced undergraduate and graduate offering must be done with a virtual seminar colleague who is not on the same university campus. Students are required to use the Internet as a research tool and are encouraged to submit final papers fully coded for posting on the World Wide Web, complete with links to sources. Each student tutor group is responsible for providing a weekly summary of common readings outlining the central issues of the course e-mail discussion group. Students and faculty then engage in exchanges through electronic mail around questions provided by faculty and summaries produced by student groups.

Gonick reports that discussions are animated and at times heated. He also notes that female student participation in the virtual seminar is both qualitatively and quantitatively better than what he has seen in the classroom. The medium provides the opportunity for reflective, integrative, and substantive contributions—all of which appear to produce a greater contribution from female students. Minority students (people of color, aboriginal students) are willing to expose themselves behind the protection of the virtual setting and explore their identities both with faculty and student colleagues in a manner that is intellectually and emotionally powerful.

Gonick and his colleagues illustrate how to use the Web and the Internet to help university scholars and their students learn collaboratively, research cooperatively, and produce collectively. An elementary or secondary school could use the same technology. Imagine a sixth-grade class in a U.S. inner-city school being part of a virtual sixth-grade class of young people from an inner-city school in Lusaka, Zambia, along with young people of similar ages from an aboriginal school in New Zealand. The potential result of such a learning environment, if it is anything like the experience Gonick and his colleagues have had at the college level, could help to shape degrees of respect, tolerance, understanding, and inquiry well beyond the traditional experience of twelve-year-olds in any of those settings. Is this the way educational organizations will function in the twenty-first century?

For more information on Gonick’s Virtual Seminar, you may contact him at For illustrations on how teachers at all levels are integrating technology in their instruction, visit the special projects section of Horizon Home Page (, where we are developing an on-line monograph for college teaching and an on-line monograph for K–12 instruction.

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