November/December 2001 // Case Studies
Facilitating Interactive Learning in Internet Pedagogy: A Course in Conflict Prevention
by Colette Mazzucelli and Roger Boston
Note: This article was originally published in The Technology Source ( as: Colette Mazzucelli and Roger Boston "Facilitating Interactive Learning in Internet Pedagogy: A Course in Conflict Prevention" The Technology Source, November/December 2001. Available online at The article is reprinted here with permission of the publisher.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, the international agenda has been marked by the increasing prevalence of intra-state conflict. This fundamental change in diplomatic affairs occurred in tandem with the advent of popular Internet use and the rapid growth of Web-based resources in education. While seemingly remote from one another, both of these trends have led to the need for new types of learning. Can new developments in distance learning also serve a larger purpose in promoting global peace? In our work with a variety of software tools in education, we have sought to realize this possibility; our work has made use of such tools to facilitate an interactive, transcontinental, real time dialogue for conflict prevention.

As our general objective in this case study, we wish to share experience with colleagues and students to inspire a proactive evolution in Internet education, much in the same way Maria Montessori's methods influenced children's teaching during the last century. In 2000, we facilitated community learning with Web-based teaching that fosters freedom of expression, creative teacher-student interaction, and a cross-cultural context. As this experience has helped us develop a less formal, more engaged pedagogical approach to distance learning, we believe that it may serve as a valuable model to faculty and institutions.

Promoting a "Culture of Prevention": The TISK Program

In 1999, we established the Transatlantic Internet Seminar Kosovo/a (TISK), which has three interrelated goals for its participants. First, it aims to teach students in America and Europe about the Balkans in tandem with practitioners experienced in the region. Second, it strives over the medium-term to elaborate approaches to conflict prevention for ethnic groups in this region with their input. To this end, we plan in the fall 2001 series to include persons from the Balkans in weekly sessions. Third, it provides an exercise in "educational diplomacy" for the general public about the changes taking place in the Balkans, given the need for citizen support to maintain peacekeeping troops there. As it is evolving in 2001, the Internet seminar series, now designated as TISKSE, offers its participants the chance to learn about the root causes of ethno-political conflict from those most affected by its vicious cycles; the judicious mix of the different audio, video and text-based tools we utilize is meant to lay the educational foundation of an "esprit de corps" for peace in the new millennium.

Three groups of graduate students participated in the seminar over 14 weeks in fall 2000: 12 at the Center for Applied Policy Research (CAP)/University of Munich; 26 at the Institute of Political Studies, Paris; and 5 at the University of Costa Rica, San Jose. Students in Munich and Paris take the curricular offering for credit at their institutions; students in San Jose participate as auditors. An additional group of 5 students also joined us from the Monterey Institute in California, but technical constraints and time zone differences limited their synchronous participation during the 14-week series. Most of these highly motivated students are already obtaining scholarships for advanced study at leading American universities including Columbia, Georgetown and The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, as well as Rotary World Peace Scholarships at institutions like Berkeley. In addition, the TISKSE students are gaining practical experience as part of their course work at international organizations like the United Nations, in the embassies of their own countries abroad, in the institutions of the European Union (including the European Commission and the European Parliament), or in respected non-governmental organizations that aim to facilitate peacekeeping and reconstruction in the Balkans. Given the backgrounds TISKSE students are acquiring while still between the ages of 25-30, the majority are likely to assume leading roles in the international arena over the next 5-10 years.

For the funding of this project, Colette Mazzucelli approached the Robert Bosch Foundation, based in Stuttgart, Germany. The technical costs to design and implement the initial seminar were reasonable: $4,500 for Web site design, $3,700 for Webcasting costs, $1,500 in phone expenses, and free software tools downloaded from the public domain. The TISK series also profited in 1999 and 2000 from the technological infrastructure at the Houston Community College System (HCCS) and the pedagogical creativity of its Rockwell Endowed Faculty Chair, Roger Boston.

Mazzucelli taught the Internet seminar as a distance learning course from the United States in affiliation with a number of host institutions: EastWest Institute, the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, and the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies. Wim van Meurs of the Center for Applied Policy Research joined the team from Munich during summer 1999; as CAP's Co-ordinator for the Baltics and Southeastern Europe, he was able to offer valuable regional expertise at our German partner site. In fall 2000, van Meurs also co-taught the TISK students there and suggested syllabus references.

Working as a team, Mazzucelli designed the syllabi for TISK to highlight its marriage of content and technology, and Boston designed the Web site and suggested various Internet-based tools to create a meeting place among our partner sites each week. The tools we chose were dictated by our goal to establish an affordable, dynamic, and inclusive synchronous discussion series that would bridge continents and inspire students to address the challenges of preventive diplomacy throughout their careers.

Course Development: The 1999 TISK Series

Boston designed the left frame of the Web site to assist remote participants. It contains the full agenda broken down according to the timeline. Here we include newly posted photographs of our speakers along with the approximate time allocated to their part of each weekly three-hour program. The photographs add a human dimension to the Web site. The right frame of the Web site contains the main message by a primary speaker for the week, usually in the form of Power Point slides (PPTs) accessible as a part of our transatlantic outreach. The slides, clicked in rotation by remote users as they were shown to the students on campus, allowed the entire transatlantic audience to advance together down the three-hour timeline.

We relied almost exclusively on the use of regular long distance telephone service to bring the voices to the Internet. Students experienced traditional face-to-face instruction near Philadelphia, PA including maps of the Balkans. Overseas speakers were present regularly, arriving via the speaker telephone in the room. Telephone calls were placed to OnLine Training, Inc. in Florida, where the phone patching was accomplished, which allowed us to mix several participants into one audio stream and to feed this mixed audio to the Real Server Basic software. This option provided 25 live outgoing Real Media streams, encoded at a data rate that insured clear reception by slower modem connections. Our Romanian participant, Mr. Gigi Roman, who worked in the office of former president Emil Constantinescu, said the audio transmission was quite clear, just like "listening to the radio." Our initial experience taught us the value of an outstanding speakerphone in the physical class to register clear audio.

The requirement for the remote participants was the download and installation of a plug-in for their Web browsers called Real Player; with a no-cost download from the Real Player Web site, the participants could then have access to the streaming sessions (see Exhibit 1 for a streaming A/V session of the TISK introduction). As a pedagogical tool, the Real Player resource became a crucial component of the seminar. For example, our closing session in the December 1999 series included two speakers well versed in our subject matter to discuss the prospects for an international peace keeping presence in the Balkans: Dr. Harvey Sicherman, an advisor to three US Secretaries of State, and Ambassador James Dobbins, Special Advisor to President Clinton and Secretary of State for Kosovo and Dayton Implementation. Here we combined the traditional classroom setting with our innovative use of the technological tools at our disposal. Dr. Sicherman addressed us in person as part of our group that week, whereas Ambassador Dobbins participated in a conference call with us that was relayed to all our partner sites via Internet Webcast (see Exhibit 2 for a clip of the Dobbins session). The integrated exchange of views with both experts was one of the most instructive of the entire 1999 series.

Meanwhile, a JAVA Applet that enabled a multi-user keyboard chat facilitated global "talk back" originating from remote participants. Those who joined the class in distant locales could ask questions of the presenters and interact with students thousands of miles away. One excellent chat tool is Spaniel Chat; it runs under Windows NT 4.0 as a free program and steadily maintained its reliability for a substantial part of the 1999 series. We learned quickly that effective moderation in the traditional classroom among the participants there—on the phone with our guest lecturers and in the chat with the various overseas partners—is essential for an effective and enjoyable pedagogy. Here it is also crucial to ensure that the dialogue occurring in the chat does not distract from the content of the speaker's audio presentation. It is helpful, for example, to suspend chat dialogue until a set time period during which the presenter may also participate in the chat with students.

In November 1999, we also adopted the platform and distribution tool, Nice Net. This platform was used primarily to post questions for asynchronous discussion between live sessions. Students could go there, read conference topic questions, respond appropriately, and return periodically to review others' postings from different parts of the world. This experience taught us that asynchronous threaded discussion is an invaluable component of an effective Internet pedagogy across continents.

Course Development: The 2000 TISK Series

In October 2000, the second 14-week series began delivery on an upgraded platform that emphasized the capacity for instantaneous multi-user verbal exchange. We adopted FIRETALK as our audio delivery mechanism and thereby built our entire pedagogy around the real time opportunities for exchange that this Internet tool could provide.

Here was a pedagogical improvement of the first magnitude: it eliminated the need for a Webcast service, bringing the richness of immediate audio exchange and linking every participant closely together. FIRETALK also provided an integrated chat space, so the options were there for verbal and text exchanges to complement the other materials available from the Web site (Exhibit 3). While the use of audio and text together in an integrated space enhanced the learning experience, the missing multi-point interactive video was a significant constraint.

One way to address this challenge, particularly for a class with a larger number of students, was through a series of point-to-point videoconferences using NetMeeting. This option offered real time audio and video in each direction, keyboard chat, and whiteboard interaction. Although the voice transmission was not always as clear as in the FIRETALK audio room, the inclusion of one- and two-way video images was another step forward in our interactive learning. The example featuring General Klaus Reinhardt, former KFOR Commander in Pristina, illustrates this fact.

As the 2000 series progressed, an enhanced listserv option, eGroups, offered us the flexibility to post information in digest form (i.e., several e-mails in one message). To date, the listserv has 664 members on 7 continents. Interested parties may subscribe to the listserv, renamed Transatlantic Internet Seminar Kosovo/a and Southeastern Europe (TISKSE) for the 2001 series, via the Web by accessing the home page of the Robert Bosch Foundation Alumni Association (RBFAA).

Further Resources of TISK Course Development

As the FIRETALK service has since then been discontinued by the company, we have turned to a new resource for the fall 2001 series: this year we will rely on an audio room, PalTalk, that has a videoconference feature as well. Because this tool can link up to four sites simultaneously using audio and video transmission, it offers a significant advance beyond its predecessor FIRETALK. Meanwhile, another tool already utilized in a Bosch Public Policy Seminar on 22 March 2001 has allowed remote connections in New York, Berlin and San Jose to be joined to Houston in face-to-face dialogue at very high speeds for a high resolution, virtual town meeting. The client software for this interactive virtual bridge is CUseeMe 5, an inexpensive ($39.99) but powerful tool.

In the March seminar, presentations were made from each location; as these occurred, the rest of the world was given access through simultaneous streaming via a 60-stream Real Media server located in Houston. A software bridge made possible the isolation of sound and video from the multi-location videoconference, passing the A/V stream of each individual speaker in rotation to the Houston server. From this server, audio and video clips of every speaker were available worldwide (see Exhibit 4 for a sample clip of the March 22 session).

It was also possible during the March seminar to use a second, real time keyboard chat option to communicate directly with any of the other participants in the multi-point program. Thus, we were able to include Lulzim Peci at the Kosovar Civil Society Foundation in Pristina, Kosovo/a in our dialogue; we were also able to receive news directly from the war-torn area of Macedonia, where at that very hour violence with fatalities had been observed.


The essential tools of our evolving approach to Internet education are a user-friendly and personalized Web site, sufficient visual aids to facilitate our students' English-language comprehension, a balance of traditional and virtual teaching with numerous practitioners, and a judicious mix of audio, video and text-based tools to encourage participants to feel part of a transnational community.

Virtual instruction is no substitute for human interaction; our students respond to the personalized attention we offer. However, they appreciate our choice of Internet tools that maximize creative, innovative, and shared learning. As we have integrated communications technology in our global classroom, our tools have allowed us to put "service above self" in efforts to sustain peace. Through transcontinental synchronous exchanges about the dynamics of conflict, we aim to learn from those in war-torn areas about the ways in which education and conflict prevention may be mutually supportive.


Colette Mazzucelli and Roger Boston. (2001, August 6). Testing software tools to bridge the Balkans. Thoughts and practice to create an internet pedagogy for conflict prevention. Paper presented at the 2001 SSGRR International Conference on Advances in Infrastructure for E-Business, Science, and Education on the Internet. Retrieved September 26, 2001, from

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