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Bill Hunter – Online learning and community cohesion

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Bill Hunter – Online learning and community cohesion


Hi, I’m Bill Hunter and I’m a professor in the
Faculty of Education My current research is focused on online
communication as a way of enhancing community cohesion. The research is focused on the ways
that telecommunications technologies can be
used to bring people together across diverse
religious, ethnic, and political boundaries. I first became interested in the use of online technologies some time ago when I
was at the University of Calgary. I was given responsibility for
coordinating distance learning programs but what
struck me then was that technology was kind of anti-distance learning. It was bringing people into a
classroom together from diverse places. When I had
a sabbatical leave a few years ago I went back to northern
Ireland where I was born and tried to find people
there who were interested in the same ideas and I found Roger Austin, a researcher
there who was running something called the dissolving
boundaries project which has teachers working with children
from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on all kinds
of math, biology, social studies projects together and they’re interested in
seeing how that improves the relationships between
children in the North and the South. Subsequently, Roger and I
began to look at international policies in ICT and that led us to examining Canada, particularly Newfoundland, and also the United States. There are also
programs in Israel that are built on the dissolving
boundaries project that Roger was doing and there’s a massive eTwinning
project in Europe. So what we wanted to do ultimately was try to compare and
contrast all of these things to see were there
lessons to be learned. What excites me about this research is
the possibility that over time we will learn how to use
technologies to reduce the tensions between different
groups of people. How to build stronger, better political communities as a consequence of children learning to get along with people who
are, in their parents lives, too dangerous and too difficult to communicate with. We see that happening in Europe, we see
it happening in israel, we see it happening in Northern Ireland and the Republic of
Ireland. We would like to see these technologies used more in the United States and in Canada which for a variety of reasons have
tried to focus their efforts at bringing communities together face to face rather than online. We have seen that in England there have been considerable reductions in riots and
violence based on race over the last 10 years. We have seen that kids in Northern Ireland and the
Republic of Ireland have come to refer to one another as friends as a result of their projects
together. We see the possibility for
considerable change over half a generation but it’s not
possible to say in any global way. It’s clear for example that in israel things will go more slowly because of the concerns parents have about violence and because of the nature
of the religious concerns that say kids cannot be educated with children who are different in religion, or even different in gender.

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