Palestinian-Israeli citizen calling for peace, making her voice heard through Online Model United Nations [guest post]

I have a dream, I dream of a world with no racism, with acceptance no matter what religion, colour, language, or ideology.

My name is Salam, I am 18 years old, and I was rejected my entire life by the people around me, something that made me so insecure.

I was born in a country that defines itself by religion. I was treated differently because of my religion, because of the way I dress. Basically, because I was not Jewish, I was never welcomed in the state of Israel, even though I am an Israeli citizen!

There is a whole wide community of undefined citizens just like me. I am a Muslim Arab that wanted to make my voice heard – to share my story and help my community – and found the perfect opportunity through this inspiring great program called Model United Nations.

I had a dream but I didn’t have a voice until I joined the Online Model United Nations program!

Why is this program so important to me?

Well for the first reason that it accepts anyone no matter who they are, for the first time in my life I felt like I was welcomed to something, that people actually accepted me for who I am. I was part of a greater community, and I felt comfortable sharing my story.

All the conflicts facing the world today could be easily solved by sharing our stories together, by meeting one another, because most humans are led by their government or leaders who decide for them who they are, but human nature tends toward a peaceful safe environment, deep down inside all human beings are the same, nobody cares about religion or colour or anything else for that matter, all these titles that were given to separate us, we all eventually just want to live a happy peaceful life.

And that can’t be done unless people realize who they really are. All people around the world should share their stories, especially in this time when it’s just a click away to communicate with anyone, anywhere.

Even though the status quo over here is somehow steady, I shouldn’t be afraid of sharing my story because it might jeopardize it, neither does anyone else, nobody should be forced to live hand to mouth, we all should share our stories. It’s the thing that gets us closer!

And we shouldn’t just not care about each other, I mean when I share my story I would love to get a response from someone else, telling me their story and how they can relate.

O-MUN gave me a voice, and the chance to meet students from all around the world and share my story, not just online but also in international conferences. I never thought I would meet students from Islamic and Arabian countries before, but I am so glad I did because it changed my whole perspective. Most things that are presented to us by the media are not true, we can’t jump into conclusion or start a conflict based on a misleading statement.

So let’s take an advantage of the Internet and let it unite us, such an incredible online program that united me with students from all around the world.

Hopefully someday we can all look over our differences, live together peacefully and create our own superior united government that unites us all.

We all should be free to be who we want.

Thanks to O-MUN for making my dream seem more realistic and achievable. And, of course, for the person behind all of this, Ms. Lisa Martin!

Now it’s your turn to share your story!

Sharing my story at Qatar Leadership Conference 2013 and Pictures from conferences and programs I joined.

 

Previously in this series

Salam Keadan is 18 years old. She is one of the Middle East and Africa Assistant Directors at O-MUN and hopes to study Liberal Arts at TAU International, She has recently started an O-MUN club at her school, Al-Qasemi High School in Baqa al-Gharbiyye, Israel.

You can find her on Facebook and share your story!

The nuts and bolts of online debating [guest post]

THIMUN Online Model United Nations evolved around (mostly) free and open source technology tools and today revolves around three, interrelated parts: our website, our Blackboard Collaborate suite of conference rooms, and our social media network. Each of these pieces plays a part in creating an online community that is both student-centered and capable of delivering information in a timely fashion. Much of O-MUN’s development has been experimenting with this combination of pieces, finding ways to make them work seamlessly with each other, and searching for other options when they have not.

Website: Our current website feels a little bit like a driving a Ferrari – way too powerful a machine for someone who just got a driver’s license. Our website is run off a Drupal platform: not exactly user-friendly, but full of possibility. We burned through our wiki and our WordPress site in a matter of months. As we grew and attempted to add more functionality to our website (something we felt was important because we didn’t want the program driven entirely off Facebook), these two options filled a need but quickly became too limiting.  Currently we run our blogs and debate registrations off our new home, and we hope to include messaging, forums, and additional program websites in the future. Students and MUN Directors are encouraged to register on the site and, once approved, may then sign in, click on a debate event, and register to debate. Goodbye Google Surveys, a system we outgrew and that was becoming far too cumbersome for our needs.

Blackboard (Bb) Collaborate Conference Rooms: O-MUN’s first conference room was a 50-seat room that we won in a Learn Central  competition. The following year we were generously provided a room by The Hague International Model United Nation’s office in Qatar (THIMUN Q). When we needed more than one room, they updgraded our license. O-MUN now has 18 rooms, with various parts of the program each having their own specialized room (jrO-MUN, ICJ, Security Council, Asia, France, etc.) This is the only significant piece of kit that we pay for. We have not found suitable alternatives but Blackboard’s pricing structure is madly frustrating and does not adequately address the needs of small, non-profit with inconsistent first-time user numbers. Customer support also can be a bit dicey, particularly if you are not a large institutional customer. Having said that, it offers everything we need and the students find it easy to use!

Symbaloo is the only way I can keep our multiple room links straight.

Symbaloo is the only way I can keep our multiple room links straight

Students log into the Bb conference room as their country using the following protocol +China (name). This allows participants to be placed in alphabetical order. Guests log in as ‘guest’ and sink to the bottom. Moderators/Chairs log in with their name (position), with the exception of Amendments. An amendment student logs in as “amendments.’ When a delegate wants to submit a proposed change to the resolution being debated, she sends it via private message to this moderator. We only use the audio feature in Bb since 30-60 students with multiple bandwidth issues would make video streaming too difficult. You can hear an example of a debate and what it sounds like.

             Debate_Global

Behind the scenes a WHOLE LOT OF ACTION is happening. Students, upon initiation into this moderating world, describe it as a ‘rush,’ ‘wild,’ ‘hairy,’ a ‘multi-tasker’s nirvana.’ All moderators (and it takes a minimum of five to run a debate) are logged into a Skype group for backchannel communication. The tally moderator and the chair are logged into a shared Google doc to track every speech and question and update that in real time. The amendment’s moderator (the most challenging moderating position) is fielding private chats (amendments), copying those into a separate Skype group so that these can be reviewed with the chair, and operating a TitanPad (similar to Google docs) that is pulled into the Bb room via a web tour.  The Chair and Co-Chair calmly officiate over the debate but behind the scenes the tally mod is tracking participation, the chat mods are reviewing ALL private communications to check for suitability and appropriateness, and the amendments moderator is working the Titan Pad. ALL of them are on Skype, messaging hints, calling for assistance, offering encouragement. One or two university students – and usually myself – are present to oversee all of this but it is, for the most part, a student-run show.

And the best part? These students are usually on separate continents. It is very common to have a chair and co-chair from the USA and United Arab Emirates, chat mods from Taiwan and Jordan, an Amendments mod from Nigeria, and a tally mod from Lebanon or Tanzania. Throw in an Assistant Director from Somalia or Hong Kong and you’ll see just how crazily amazing this gets.  In a recent debate, we had participants from over 30 countries log in synchronously for a 90-minute debate on reaching the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal on universal primary education.

Social Media: It all started with Facebook but we do engage with some of our delegates via Twitter, using #omun and @onlinemun to communicate. Students recently set up a Tumblr account to engage in some of the sillier outreach we like to do: photo competitions, videos, and the like. Online Model United Nations has a LinkedIn Business page as well. But it really has been about Facebook. We have regional groups, moderating groups, leadership groups, working groups, and travel team groups. It’s a lot of Facebook but it is where students are. I now use social media like many of my students – friending and unfriending students to form alliances, to get information, and to network. Since email has become oh-so-20th-century to many of these millennials, I am more apt to communicate with them via private messaging than any other form of communication. In the evening here in the Middle East, my computer and iPad ping and squawk for hours as the messaging occurs in a steady stream.

FB  FB_message_SC

So that’s our world, developed fully-online by students from around the globe. But technology is just part of the equation here and, in my opinion, the smallest part of a larger story. The next several blog posts will give you a glimpse into the transformative nature of this program. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing from the students who have worked so hard to build THIMUN Online Model United Nations.

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement [guest post]

I became an educational entrepreneur by accident. A humble social studies teacher and Model United Nations (MUN) director by training, I am now working with students in over 50 countries to develop one of the most innovative global ed programs around: Online Model United Nations, or O-MUN for short. Up until 2011 there had never been a fully online version of this popular academic simulation. While precise estimates are unknown, it is likely that close to half a million students – grade 6 through university – engage in MUN each year. Tapping into this enormous community and undertaking the complex task of developing a free and open program for youth around the globe has changed my views on education, technology, and youth forever. And along the way, I have learned a few lessons that are as telling about the state of education and our comfort/discomfort with student-empowering technology as it is about the actual online debates program itself. So a bit of background is in order.

O-MUN

The first attempt at online MUN was done while I was a teacher at a private, for-profit online high school. I decided to start a Model UN club as my required extra-curricular activity. Using my Blackboard Collaborate classroom, I quickly realized that I needed a model to show my students. With the help of a co-collaborator, we rounded up a dozen students from around the world to test the viability of this platform. For nineteen hours, wave after wave of students found us, logged in, and tested out the room’s features, and  found them to be fun and engaging. Many of the very procedures we use in our program today were discovered and tested  in that first open session. I went to sleep that night with my computer on, listening to the chatter of students in Singapore and Malaysia troubleshooting how to vote or submit amendments. I woke the following morning a changed educator. Like a thunderbolt, I knew I had fallen into something potentially huge. With barely-above-average tech skills and a fair amount of MUN experience, I set out on  a path to develop an online, global debating program for high school students. Two successful debates later, my online school’s administration and corporate leaders began to catch the online MUN fever too, and that is when trouble started.

Delegate at O-MUN

The response of my school was to pull the plug on the entire program. I was then entrusted to a minder and told not to publicly speak about the program. Attorneys were called in to assess how this program could be patented and monetized.  Figures were bandied about, with a princely $235 subscription fee per student the likely price for access to this online debates program. The program was to be run from behind the school’s enormous firewall, and developed in isolation and away from a larger international student population. People with no experience in MUN were put in charge of developing the program. So with the core values of this program at stake, and marginalized within the school for which I had developed the program, I made a tough decision. I walked away from my job and my expensive online classroom – the great enabler of the program. With no good alternatives in sight, and taking very seriously my non-compete clause, I sat it out for a year and, in September of 2011, relaunched the idea as O-MUN, a not-for-profit global education program offered up to students for free. (O-MUN’s vision can be found here.)

Delegate from Tanzania

I tell this story in order to set the stage for what happens next. Without resources, we patched together free and open source technology tools to meet our growing needs. Having to  innovate as we went along, our operating costs were (and remain) negligible. We won an online Blackboard classroom in a contest hosted by Steve Hargadon. With that one precious room as the cornerstone of our program, we launched O-MUN. There was no  institutional backing and very limited ability to connect with a larger audience; in fact, most of the over-25 crowd studiously ignored us during that first year. But we grew because students found us, primarily via  our growing community on Facebook. When our debates were small, we wrung our hands, put our heads together, and tried to figure out the next plan of attack. For the students who got actively involved that first year, they worked together to innovate our leadership structure, down to the positions needed and what their job descriptions would be, how to run our Facebook communities, and what worked/didn’t work with Google Docs. Students actively developed our website, our banners and graphics, and our training and moderating programs, so critical for a student-driven organization. No one made students do this. They certainly didn’t do it for grades. This was in the era of pre-digital badges, so they didn’t even get that (they do now, but more on that later). Most would never meet one another face-to-face, but the O-MUN community esprit des corps soared that year, as did the social currency that binds communities together: inside jokes, shared mythology and legend, even a currency and theme song.

Delegate from UAE

In the waning days of 2013, I look back at what has been O-MUN’s true international debut: a partnership with THIMUN, exposure and collaboration with a small but growing number of organizations, and a proliferation of programs driven by the demand and ideas of students around the world, working collaboratively, simply for the sheer love of MUN and their O-MUN community: a middle school and university level program, the first online model International Court of Justice, national programs in places like Taiwan , Singapore, Turkey, and France (and more on the way), a recently-launched French language version of O-MUN, with Arabic planned for 2014. The frosting on the cake has been O-MUN’s travel teams, proving to others as well as ourselves that online activity can translate into real, face-to-face skill development and opening a path for participation that normally would have been denied students without an online avenue to connect with the larger MUN community.

beach

This week members of our community will share how Online Model United Nations has impacted them, professionally and personally, as delegates and as human beings. I believe they are the voices that educational thought leaders, teachers, administrators, and parents need to hear. What is driving O-MUN’s development is far removed from what we often talk about in education circles. It is my hope that the O-MUN story adds a fresh perspective to the global education conversation.

nick and Salam, opening ceremonies

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Upcoming guest series: Online Model United Nations

FYI, over the next week or so I am turning my blog over to Lisa Martin and the students who help her run the Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) program. Many of you may be familiar with the Model UN program and know what a wonderful experience that is for students. Now imagine taking that program and extending it online and across multiple continents and time zones!

The O-MUN story is an incredible tale of perseverance, creativity, and student empowerment. I hope that this guest series will get you thinking about some possibilities and that you’ll interact with Lisa and these amazing students over the next few days.