This paper details a collaborative teaching and research experiment in long-distance civic engagement among students at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and Moldova State University on the issue of human trafficking. A project plan was established to promote engagement not only among students of different cultures, countries, and languages but also with global community partners such as NGO’s, Peace Corp Volunteers, local law enforcement, student organizations, and governmental agencies in both Moldova and the United States. Throughout the 10-week period of research collaboration, students met for joint classroom meetings and individual sessions, using technology and social networking tools to engage effectively. The logistics of designing a course to create a global classroom that fosters an understanding of a complex social issue leading to students’ civic engagement are discussed.
Professors Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan and Svetlana Suveica linked their Fall 2011 courses, so that students from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg (USFSP) and the Universitatea de Stat din Moldova (USM) could work together in groups on joint research projects related to the issue of human trafficking.1
Professor Suveica’s graduate students, who were earning MA degrees in American Studies, enrolled in a course called U.S. Higher Education.
McLauchlan’s were undergraduate students enrolled in Women and the Law. Over the course of ten weeks, the classes met jointly via Skype videoconference six times to discuss common readings, to hear from guest speakers in Moldova (NGOs and Peace Corps Volunteers) and in Tampa Bay (non-profits, prosecutors, law enforcement officials), to hold a conference to present their research findings, and to enjoy a celebration event at which each student was presented a book of the research papers produced in the course. Each joint research group consisted of students from USM and from USFSP. The bulk of the students’ work on this project took place outside of class; technology made it easy for students to meet via Skype, e-mail, and Facebook.
The authors expected this collaborative work with students abroad to give students in Moldova and in the U.S. an opportunity to:
- work virtually, outside homes, outside the country, through an on-line cooperation
- develop oral and written communication skills by working with a counterpart in another country, across cultures and beyond borders
- overcome stereotypes about a “privileged” American student in terms of research opportunities, non-academic cooperation, individual and group work
- make students aware of the interconnectedness of local, regional, and global social issues
- make students reconsider possible preconceived ideas about big and small countries and the social problems these face
- work with community partners, e.g. NGOs and Peace Corps Volunteers that are involved in solving the issues that are explored in the classroom
- make students share and learn from the experience of the other in terms of study and research
- inspire students to become civically engaged in preventing and solving social issues each society faces
- overcome language barriers for those who have not been able to communicate with a native speaker
- make students curious and interested in acquiring more knowledge about the U.S. and Moldova and their peoples
- foster intercultural understanding through learning and communication
- expand students’ opportunities for using technology in communication, learning, and research
Students in Moldova specializing in American studies do not have the opportunity to go abroad. Thus, this project gave them a unique chance to engage in study and research based on common academic requirements and to communicate and work with U.S. students to find out about U.S. higher education. In this way the American Studies students did not have to rely solely on books and publications. On the other side, the East European region in general and Moldova in particular are very little known in the U.S. Therefore, both Moldovan and U.S. students had the chance to familiarize their counterparts about their country, culture and tradition, serving as “on-line cultural ambassadors.” Moreover, this project offered the possibility for both groups to consider research and study topics that are linked with everyday problems and social issues, to become more sensitive to local/regional/global issues, and to think about becoming engaged in providing possible solutions and reflecting on the practical outcome of these for the benefit of the society. Students were encouraged to think about how they could get involved in solving community issues at home and to transform state policies.
The authors will use (1) analyses of pre- and post-project surveys, (2) a qualitative review of students’ written assignments, and (3) their observations of the students during the videoconferences and other interactions between the students from Moldova and the U.S to evaluate the effects of incorporating this international experience into their courses. In particular, we will analyze whether the knowledge gained through research and through engagement with NGOs, community partners, and victims of human trafficking expanded students’ perspectives on “global citizenship” and whether it led to student activism to combat this modern-day slavery.
Logistics and Project Design
As a political scientist and an historian, the authors shared a desire to cultivate “global citizens” and to provide an opportunity for their students to work collaboratively. The interdisciplinary and intercultural dynamics would make this collaboration enriching and rewarding for both the students and the instructors.
The authors brainstormed possible research topics and courses that could be linked together, applied for a Faculty Course Development grant, and secured funds from the USFSP Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership and Civic Engagement and Learn and Serve America to support this new course. They conducted research on human trafficking and developed a bibliography on human trafficking in Eastern Europe, in Moldova, and in the U.S. The list of these sources was placed in a common Dropbox folder to facilitate students’ reading.
The instructors also spent time during the summer meeting with community partners and human trafficking experts in Washington, D.C., in Florida, and in Moldova (e.g., the Peace Corps, La Strada, Médecins du Monde, Zonta Club of Pinellas County, the International Association of Human Trafficking Investigators (IAHTI), the U.S. Department of State Office of Global Women’s Issues, and others).
Ultimately, they decided that the human trafficking issue would provide a rewarding topic for collaboration among students in both universities. In Florida, students were studying topics related to Women and the Law; students at the ASC were studying U.S. Higher Education. Moldova is a well-known source country (and, more recently, a transit country) for victims of human trafficking; Florida is a prime destination for victims in the U.S. The issue of human trafficking profoundly affects the lives of men, women, and children in Moldova and in Florida, as students learned during the course of the semester.
The instructors selected common readings that were discussed in an introductory joint seminar. Joint class meetings were held 6 times over a 10-week period while the project was underway. Guest speakers from the U.S. and from Moldova addressed the joint classroom. Students worked with representatives from NGOs in Moldova and in Florida outside of class as well. The project culminated with each group presenting its research findings at a joint videoconference.2
The Human Trafficking Research Assignment
Throughout the project, all students were expected to gain a well-rounded and comprehensive understanding of issues related to human trafficking through the reading assignments, class discussions, guest speakers, and individual and group research. Students were given the opportunity to think critically about an issue that affects the global community. Class discussions following reading assignments centered around questions about the root causes of trafficking, how Moldova and Florida figure into the multi-billion-dollar modern slavery industry, and how trafficking in the U.S. and Moldova can be prevented.
Each group of students, composed of three to four USFSP students and one to two USM students, were assigned an area of focus which allowed them to develop a deeper understanding of a single issue which they would then be able to present to their classmates at the joint videoconference. The subjects included the following: the role of NGOs and non-profits in combating human trafficking in Florida and in Moldova; U.S. and Moldovan partnerships, coordination with other nations and international agencies, and treaties designed to combat human trafficking; prevention programs in the U.S., Florida and in Moldova; prosecution of human trafficking in the U.S., Florida and Moldova; government agencies in the U.S., Florida, and Moldova responsible for combating human trafficking; U.S., Florida, and Moldovan anti-trafficking legislation (e.g., U.S. Trafficking Victim Protection Act 2000); and international responses to human trafficking (e.g., the U.N. Protocol against Trafficking in Persons (2003) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings).
Given the knowledge and tools to gain a real understanding of the impact of human trafficking on communities in both Moldova and the United States, students developed their findings within their assigned topic in a group research paper and, subsequently, presented the findings to their classmates. The most important aspect of the project was the individual and group communication that facilitated research. The outside involvement of professors, law enforcement officers, and NGO representatives to provide materials and suggestions was also impactful.
Pre-Test and Post- Test Survey Data3
The instructors administered pre-test and post-test surveys4 to the students to measure the extent to which this project affected students’ perceptions of “global citizenship.”
In the pre-test and post-test surveys we used a 5-point scale (with 5 being strongly agree and 1 being strongly disagree) to ask students how much they agreed with the following statements5:
- I consider myself informed about global politics.
- Global politics plays only a small part in my everyday life.
- Democracy requires citizens to regularly participate in government.
- Democracy requires citizens to be knowledgeable about their government.
- Global sustainability requires involvement of all nations.
- I feel comfortable discussing foreign policy.
- It is important for nations to reconcile differences.
- I enjoy having discussions with people whose ideas and values are different from my own.
- Learning about people from different cultures is a very important part of my college education.
- I am confident that I can communicate with people of a different culture or ethnicity.
- I feel that I can influence my own government.
- I feel that I can contribute to the global community.
We also asked students open-ended questions, such as, “What does it mean to be a global citizen?” and, “What was the most valuable aspect of working on an assignment with a colleague from another country?”
A preliminary review of the data reveals that students in both Florida and Moldova considered themselves to be more informed about global politics, felt more confident communicating with people of a different ethnicity, and had greater confidence that they could contribute to the global community after participating in the joint research project.
The percentage of USFSP students who considered themselves to be informed about global politics rose from 48% to 64% throughout the course of the project.
Students who believed that democracy requires the participation of all citizens rose from 66% to 84% at USFSP; at USM that figure rose from 38% to 66%.
Students who felt confident communicating with people of different ethnicity rose from 75% to 100% at USM.
USM students who felt they could contribute to the global community rose from 38% to 50%.
USFSP students responded to the question, “What was the most valuable aspect of working with someone from another country?” with answers that emphasized that they learned communication skills, gained a new perspective on world affairs, and were pleased to have had the opportunity to work with someone from the other side of the world.
USM student responses to the pre-test survey question, “What does it mean to be a global citizen?” included answers such as “to be involved in politics,” “understanding the importance of global cooperation and peace,” and “to understand other cultures.”
USFSP student responses to the pre-test survey question “What does it mean to be a global citizen?” indicated that it means to be aware of and to respect other cultures, to be concerned about issues which affect the international community, to keep up to date on foreign affairs, and to be informed.
Student responses to this question on the post-test survey are in the word cloud; awareness of global issues stands out in this graphic.
Student Reflection Papers and Journals
Two key components of the work in the joint project between USM and USFSP students was their work together outside of class and the papers they
drafted. The students utilized social networking and online programs such as Skype, Facebook, and Dropbox in order to facilitate communication with group members at USFSP and USM.6
Students at USFSP were asked to record their experiences of working closely with their USFSP and USM colleagues throughout this project. Here are a few student comments about their experiences with their partners in Moldova:
“Overall my thoughts about this assignment are positive. I feel that it was a unique opportunity to work with students both in our class and in Moldova. … I have learned more about Human Trafficking through my own research, and it’s all because of this project. … This project also allowed me to make new friends out of classmates, and I truly hope those friendships last.”– Kendell Mott
“[I was] very surprised and happy about the work Elizaveta has contributed… she’s very intelligent in her writings.” – Candice Carlo
“I made a Facebook group to strengthen the communication between the five of us [in the group].” – Lindsey Giancola
“I spoke to Elena on Skype this morning. … I learned that Elena is actually a Russian & Russian Literature major not American Studies like I originally thought. I was very interested to find this out and our conversation about the project quickly transgressed into a discussion about the writings of one of my favorite authors, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It turns out that Elena wrote her thesis on Dostoyevsky.” – Allison Brown
“Our group came together quite well, with each person knowing what they had to do for the group and contributing their best efforts. … Overall, I found it to be a very beneficial project and I hope that this book can be of benefit to people by highlighting some of the issues with the horrors of human trafficking.” – Yusef Hakki
“It was a great opportunity to collaborate with fellow college students from Moldova. Alexei and I were able to give our point of view on Human Trafficking, then used our growing knowledge to bring awareness to the situation. Along with our assignment we talked about the growing economy and the next step in furthering our education. Our lifestyle and culture may be different, but this project gave us common ground, and the potential to continue connecting with others on global topics.” – Victoria Taylor
The students at USM also provided their insights into collaborating with students from the United States:
“The course brought a new idea of how to learn about global issues more effectively. I think it was a useful course, totally new for me, and in some cases confusing, because it is one thing to work with the students from your native country and a rather different thing is to work with people who are living in another country or even on another continent.” – Yulia Erina
“It was very interesting, fruitful and enjoyable to communicate with students from the United States. I became very good friends with one [of the students] and we are still in contact via Skype. The common classes and research meetings via Skype provided me with a lot of new information and thoughts in my topic of research… Moreover, these classes showed that not only Moldova and East Europe have problems such as human trafficking, but the U.S. has them too. Plus, we had many guests from different NGOs and other organization who helped us to understand the phenomenon of human trafficking and see other side – the dark side of our life.” – Alexey Cresnoiv
“The human trafficking group project has been a surprisingly unexpected task for us. First of all, it was a great honor and challenge to work with foreign American students on a research paper. Second, this group project helped us practice our skills of working in a group and, most importantly, the skills of working with people from a different culture. I think this class has been amazing in terms of organization, practice, and feedback. In such a short time, we got to see and listen to a variety of NGO representatives both from Moldova and the U.S., and even listen to a victim of human trafficking. It made us realize once again how small the world is, and how many issues we have in common.” – Stela Botan
The design of the course, bringing together students from different cultures and countries to work together on a research topic about a major social issue affecting both countries, provided a means for developing global citizens. In their reflection papers, students emphasized the benefits of the opportunities to engage with their classmates through group work, to engage with colleagues overseas, and to engage with community partners. Students also talked about how learning more about this issue of human trafficking raised their awareness of an important issue and prompted them to think about possible solutions to address this crisis.
Reflections on the USFSP-USM Global Classroom
The objective of the joint research project on human trafficking was to give students the opportunity to conduct collaborative research with colleagues overseas. Our classes met together jointly several times during the semester, and students worked together outside of class as well. Students also had the opportunity to work with and learn from community partners who are working to combat human trafficking in Florida and in Moldova. Therefore, this course provided a unique opportunity for students from both countries to serve as “cultural ambassadors” and talk to colleagues about their country, culture, and tradition. They were also able to build academic oral and written reflections about an acute social problem.
The instructors edited a book of the student research papers and PowerPoint presentations from the conference. Videos of the students’ presentations were posted on YouTube.7
As a result of the joint collaboration, students learned about a wide range of issues related to human trafficking: the role of NGOs and non-profits in combating human trafficking in Florida and in Moldova; U.S. and Moldovan partnerships and coordination with other nations and international agencies and treaties designed to combat human trafficking; prevention programs in the U.S., Florida, and Moldova; prosecution of human trafficking in the U.S., Florida, and Moldova; government agencies in the U.S., Florida, and Moldova responsible for combating human trafficking; U.S., Florida, and Moldovan anti-trafficking legislation (e.g., U.S. Trafficking Victim Protection Act 2000), and international responses to human trafficking (e.g., the U.N. Protocol against Trafficking in Persons (2003) and the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings).
The design of the course, with its international collaboration and its cooperation with community partners, provided opportunities for the students to become civically engaged. First, the research on human trafficking helped students from both countries become more informed about a less visible and purposely hidden social issue. They became more aware of the need for systemic building of practical mechanisms for prevention and prosecution of human trafficking at the national scale, which comprises involving various state and NGO actors as well as regular citizens who should be active and responsive. The students learned about the importance of international cooperation and global solutions in this regard and the ways both countries are part of it. Through their research, the students became aware of a social issue that is not prominent in everyday life but that has a major social and individual impact both in Moldova and in the United States. They engaged in international teamwork with the aim to design practical solutions for preventing a social problem that affects their societies.
The survey data revealed that students in both Florida and Moldova considered themselves more informed about global politics, felt more confident communicating with people of a different ethnicity, and had greater confidence that they could contribute to the global community after participating in the joint research project. The increased awareness and knowledge about this issue led to civic engagement. For example, students continue posting on Facebook various videos and links to publications they have found that discuss human trafficking. They continue to spread their opinions about this social issue, opinions that have become well-documented in research and more complex with added global perspectives. Several of the students at the USF St. Petersburg campus started a chapter of Students Against Slavery (SAS) so that they can continue to raise awareness about this issue on campus and in the Tampa Bay community. A group of Moldovan students visited La Strada (a Moldovan NGO) and discussed volunteer opportunities to assist the NGO in its prevention activities throughout the country, mainly in the villages.
Technologies that are free and readily available in the U.S. and overseas (such as Skype, Dropbox, Facebook and e-mail) can be very useful educational tools that eventually serve social progress. Using these tools, students can easily
connect with colleagues in the U.S. and in Moldova, while Dropbox made it easy for students in the U.S. and Moldova to share documents and research. We believe that faculty at other colleges and universities could use these technologies to reach out and to collaborate with colleagues overseas.
We did experience some challenges implementing this assignment. Not all students approached the project with the same level of dedication, but these issues seemed unrelated to the international component of the project. We did have to compress the timeline of the project due to conflicts in schedules, which added to student stress about the deadlines.
However, the overall experience was a positive one for the students both in Florida and in Moldova. Students reported greater global awareness and a better understanding of the complexities of human trafficking and of the need for international cooperation. In many cases, the increased awareness and sense of civic responsibility derived from the joint research project on human trafficking led to activism to combat this modern day slavery.
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1 The authors wish to thank the USFSP Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership and Civic Engagement and the U.S. federal agency Learn and Serve America for the faculty course development grant that supported this course.
3 The authors wish to thank Allison Brown for her assistance compiling and analyzing the data from the student surveys.
5 This section of the Survey was developed by Ekaterina Levintova, Terri Johnson, Denise Scheberle, and Kevin Vonck. “Global Citizens Are Made, Not Born: Multiclass Role-Playing Simulation of Global Decision Making.” Vol. 7, No. 3 (July-September 2011) Journal of Political Science Education pp.245-274.
6 Photos and Skype screen snapshots of the students working together outside of class are posted on Dr. McLauchlan’s blog, www.jainmoldova.blogspot.com .
7 You can find all of the videos if you search “USFSP USM Joint Group Project Human Trafficking” on www.youtube.com. Photos and videos are also posted on McLauchlan’s blog:www.jainmoldova.blogspot.com.
About the authors:
Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan
Dr. Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan is Associate Professor of Political Science and Founding Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where she teaches courses in American Government and Public Law. She received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 2003. She was awarded her university’s highest teaching award, the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. As Founding Director of the Center for Civic Engagement, she has led the charge to integrate civic engagement across the curriculum and to develop sustainable long-term community partnerships. McLauchlan worked to strengthen volunteerism and community service statewide as a Commissioner on the Florida Commission for Community Service. Her latest book, Congressional Participation as Amicus Curiae before the U.S. Supreme Court, explores how Members of Congress attempt to influence Supreme Court decision-making in specific cases. McLauchlan has extensive experience in American government and politics; she worked at the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the White House. A veteran of several presidential campaigns, she has managed statewide operations across the U.S., from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon. McLauchlan taught courses on the American law and politics at the Free University of Moldova (ULIM) while a Fulbright Scholar in Chişinău, Moldova.
Dr. Svetlana Suveica is Associate Professor of History at the Department of History and Philosophy of Moldova State University in Chişinău, Republic of Moldova. She received her Ph.D. in 1999 from the “Al.I. Cuza” University in Iasi, Romania and teaches courses in contemporary Romanian history, comparative methodology and historian’s professional ethics. Since 2004 she also teaches courses in U.S. higher education and U.S. history within the MA program in American Studies held at the American Studies Center of Moldova. She is a well-known researcher who published widely on Bessarabian/Moldovan interwar and recent history. Dr. Suveica has been awarded several research fellowships, including the Fulbright Senior Fellowship at Stanford University, California. As president of the U.S. Alumni Association of Moldova she represents Moldovans who benefited from U.S. Exchange programs, such as Fulbright, MUSKEE, FLEX, Open World, and Community Connections at the national and international level. Dr. Suveica work to support alumni in sharing their knowledge and skills and engaging in community and volunteer activities around the country. The courses she teaches are focused on skills-building and civic engagement.
© 2012 Journal for Civic Commitment