February 16, 2001

Global Classroom

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Think 10:10 is early?

Every Wednesday, rain or shine, 40 graduate students in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations rouse themselves in the predawn hours for a two hour video-conference class: Global Industrial and Labor Relations.

“It is early, but a great way to get started,” said Jim Smith, grad, a member of the 6 a.m. class. “We get to see the whole world coming together and Cornell is leading.”

The class focuses on the effects of globalization on industry and labor relations, national unionism and regional employment regulations.

Using Pic-Tel video conference technology, Cornell students participate in class discussions with representatives from automobile manufacturer General Motors; SK Telecom, a Korean cellular, paging and wireless Internet service; and PDVSA, a Venezuelan oil company at their offices across the globe.

Sites are located in La Grange, Ill., Grand Blanc, Mich., Detroit, Mich., Antwerp, Belgium, Zurich, Switzerland, Seoul, Korea and Caracas, Venezuela.

“We would like to include even more external participants,” said Prof. Harry Katz, course instructor. “Eventually we want to recruit unionists and government officials.”

The class is the second in a series of five that are intended to extend over five semesters. The first in the sequence concentrated on global human resource management and the remaining three will focus on organizational changes, dispute negotiations and international law, respectively.

“The corporations participating currently have not committed to all five courses in the sequence but we hope they will continue,” Katz said.

The class, affectionately referred to as the global classroom, will consist of nine video conference calls and four web broadcasts from the course website. Participants exchange ideas via a television screen during the conference calls and dialogue flows both ways.

The four website broadcasts will all be based out of Cornell have no opportunity for visual feedback. However, the external participants can ask questions during class via e-mail.

The web is also used as a discussion forum. Students will utilize chat rooms and the discussion board on Course Info to work on international team projects.

“Some of the problems we have to tackle in our group projects are going to be actual problems faced by the corporations,” said Michelle Aimes, grad.

The class is held in English to facilitate fluid discussion, Katz said. A simultaneous translation into other languages would disrupt any lucid conversation.

“The dialogue had been pretty good so far,” said Katz. “But that is easy for us to say because we are a nation of English speakers.”

Katz and students were fascinated with Pic-Tel software.

“The technology is Star Trek-ish,” Smith said. “It is the most exciting part [of the class].”

The technology was purchased by ILR eight years ago and used to connect extension offices back to the mail office in Ithaca.

“We discovered that once we have the signal, we can send it to another country as well as we can to another part of New York,” Katz said. “So we constructed a new classroom with Pic-Tel technology built in.”

Currently, the ILR school has three rooms dedicated to Pic-Tel.

Though there is some delay while switching between sites, both the picture and sound come through clearly.

“Every time it happens, I am amazed that it works!” Katz said.

Archived article by Rachel Einschlag