The Virtual Seminar in Global Political Economy

Article excerpt

Anne Derges works in the Faculty of Social Work in Harare, Zimbabwe. David Barkin, an economist, teaches at the Autonomous University in Mexico City. Sarah Tisch, based in Moscow, is an international development specialist with Winrock International. Derges, Barkin and Tisch are among 40 faculty colleagues in the Virtual Seminar in Global Political Economy (GPE) that I coordinate. Students in the course come from across Canada and the US, the UK, Central and South America, Australia, South Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Over the past four years more than 600 students have enrolled in the virtual seminar for based academic credit Until this past month, I have been facilitating the course from my home in Scottsdale, Arizona via a computer node at Communications for a Sustainable Future in Boulder Colorado for academic credit at universities around the world.

Over the past 18 months or so the internet has been successfully incorporated into the capitalist world economy. Microsoft, Netscape, and dozens of local internet service providers `give away' software that allows the user to turn on her or his computer and get plugged in. Around the corner, we are told, are pay-for-use services from economic databases to entertainment services. For some, among the pioneer generation on the internet, the commercialization of the internet has been the stuff of nightmares. Not so long ago the Association for Progressive Computing was among the leaders in the use of technology in North America and elsewhere. (Members of the Association include the IGC in the US and the original Web in Canada). Grassroots and educational use of the internet appears dwarfed against the huge shadow of the battle between Microsoft and Netscape. As rival firms battle it out for who will provide the standard for `connectivity,' the real struggle has just begun. The real issue is content and the innovative use of the technology to deliver the content

The Virtual Seminar in Global Political Economy is one such experiment in research and education, mediated through computer networks, electronic mail, and electronic archiving of materials (check out http://

It seeks to create an international dialogue among students and scholars in various countries on several continents, creating for students a globally equal basis. In the process, discussions and an exchange of ideas on the course theme and topics among scholars and students from other cultures and societies vastly enriches the learning experience. Previous offerings of the virtual seminar have dealt with Global Cities, Third World Debt, Economic Structural Adjustment and International Development and Social Movements in the International Political Economy. Faculty for the seminar includes academics and professionals, practitioners, city planners, community organizers and lay persons. In its current offering, academic credit will be offered by universities participating in the seminar.

For those who agree to become faculty members, responsibilities are twofold. First, faculty members are asked to serve as virtual tutors to 3-5 students from the virtual seminar. As an example, a student in Helsinki will be in a tutor group with two other students from New Zealand and the University of Guelph, along with a Faculty Colleague as tutor from, say, Durham in the UK. The objective of the virtual tutorial is to connect some of the world's foremost authorities on the subject matter to students enrolled in the seminar in a virtually intimate setting without the `noise' of the larger seminar. Second, members are asked to facilitate one topic during the virtual seminar. This entails a responsibility for framing opening questions for the seminar discussion, providing closure at the end of the topic and making timely intervention over the duration of the topic discussion.

For students, the GPE is an opportunity to engage in collaborative learning and research. …