Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Cyber Diversity

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Cyber Diversity

Article excerpt

Cyber Diversity

It's not unusual that all 15 students in one of Dr. Maureen Eke's African American literature course sections at Central Michigan University are White. What's striking, however, is that Black students and their Black professor from a campus located hundreds of miles away are beamed onto a large television screen to join Dr. Eke and her students in class discussions and lectures.

For the students at historically Black University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff and their teacher, Dr. Bettye Williams, participation in these class discussions and lectures is made possible by interactive television equipment.

"African American literature, in essence, seems to be a natural way to create a community of learners between diverse institutions," Eke says.

The diversity movement in higher education has taken many forms in the past several years. Beyond recruiting a diverse array of students, administrators and faculty, some schools have begun requiring diversity courses in the curriculum and encouraging students to volunteer in nearby communities. Such initiatives have grown popular as educators increasingly search for ways to prepare their students to enter a diverse workforce.

In the case of Central Michigan University (CMU) and the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB), technology is seen as another tool for enhancing campus diversity. School officials and faculty members are in the third year of a five-year project that combines team teaching with two educational technologies: interactive television, or ITV, and the Internet. The Building Community Through Technology (BCTT) project, is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for $1.3 million over five years.

The project uses television equipment to allow a teacher and his or her students on one campus to conduct a class with students and a faculty member on another campus, and vice versa. The respective classrooms are linked by interactive television technology, which involves the transmission of live audio and video through telephone lines. Thus, students and faculty at both locations participate in discussions, pose questions and conduct class exercises.

"Our hope is to add two classes a year to the project," says Dr. Carole Beere, project co-director and dean of graduate studies at CMU.

This school year, four courses are being team taught by faculty members at the respective schools. The project began with two classes each semester during the 1997-98 school year. By the 2000-01 academic year, the program will include 16 faculty members and cover eight classes per semester, serving as many as 480 students. Half of these students will be enrolled at CMU and the other half at UAPB.

A visitor to the respective campuses would have little trouble noting differences between CMU and UAPB (see Universities at a Glance box, next page). Racial makeup, school sizes, and local community settings are just a few of the differences that have allowed administrators to garner support for this project.

Based in Mount Pleasant, a city of roughly 25,000 people, CMU is considered a mid-sized university. It enrolls students from all parts of Michigan. Out of CMU's undergraduate student enrollment of 15,202 students, 7.2 percent are minorities.

UAPB is primarily an undergraduate university and is part of the University of Arkansas higher education system. Located in Pine Bluff, a racially-mixed city of 60,000, UAPB enrolls some 2,262 undergraduate students. Ninety-five percent are Black, and 87 percent come from Arkansas. The school has a significant number of students who come from the Arkansas Delta region, an area characterized by high poverty and unemployment rates.

That such differences exist among campuses led Beere, who is White, to conclude that CMU should cultivate a partnership with an HBCU.

"I was at a conference that had a session presenting information that HBCUs do a better job than predominantly White institutions at retaining and graduating Black students. …

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