I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Lisa Martin, Kristin Rowe, and their students for taking over my blog for the past week. All of the guest posts regarding Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) are linked below.
This is the kind of powerful, global, student-driven learning that is possible if we adults are willing to make it happen. As school leaders, we say that we want meaningful, collaborative, cross-border interactions for our youth. We say that we want to empower students to make a difference in the world. Let’s stop talking about it and start doing it. As the O-MUN movement shows us, our children are willing and able to step up and help us…
- Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement
- The nuts and bolts of online debating
- Palestinian-Israeli citizen calling for peace, making her voice heard through Online Model United Nations
- Online Model United Nations: Raising our voices
- Junior Online Model United Nations: Connecting masters and apprentices
- Why do teachers have an excuse when it comes to technology in the classrooms?
- Making connected learning the norm: What will it take?
On this almost three-year-long journey that has made up the development of Online Model United Nations (O-MUN), I have returned time and again to two overriding questions: What does it take to nurture this kind of innovation among students and educators, and what role do we want schools to play in making this happen?
Educators need both the recognition from their school leadership and the time and support to do innovative work. Much as we know that students need time and space to be innovative in our classrooms, this also holds true for teachers. School leaders themselves run on a deficit of time so I am sympathetic. But how many great projects and truly innovative ideas are simmering in the backs of teacher’s minds, dabbled on over weekends or in the 20-minute downtimes before heading to bed? Educators need the luxury of time, supported by their schools and funded by their districts.
I think about this a lot. What would Online Model United Nations have looked like had I been given one class period to develop this from within my school? Would my core global leadership team have been less diverse, pulled more from my school and less from the rest of the world? Perhaps. But what could have been gained by classroom students had they been given this opportunity? Would my website nightmares have been worked through more quickly had I been able to go to tech support down the hall? Could I have connected with regional thought leaders to expand O-MUN into our school’s professional conference network had I been given the necessary support? How would the school have benefited from that exposure? Without recognition from within my own school, these are moot points, wasted opportunities, and, for me personally, drivers that led me to search elsewhere.
How can teachers tap into funding or partnerships when ‘initiatives’ are only supported if they are narrowly defined as ‘Common Core’ or ‘STEM?’ What if you are a teacher in search of funding, recognition, or exposure but are not tied to a district – or the form you are trying to complete won’t advance because you are not tied to a physical school? How can you find working partnerships with teachers who cannot find the time and space to do something that’s not benchmarked to the standards or covered in standardized tests? How can you work across disciplines when the boundaries between them have become so entrenched that they feel insurmountable? This is where enlightened leadership comes into play, because tearing down these walls is something that cannot be done by teachers alone, particularly teachers consumed with building something new. If the work crew for O-MUN had included a few more key adults in positions of support, perhaps my program would have developed more quickly, or with stronger foundations, or with added benefit to my own school. Regardless, once the program was built, would there be an administrator on the other side willing to take the time to give it a look, give it an endorsement, and give it time and a place within the school culture?
I think these questions are indicative of this unique time and place in education. The experiences and spaces that we want our own students to build cannot be done without teachers and administrators having gone through the process too. You can’t buy off-the-shelf, organic, collaborative, student-driven programs. If this is what we say we want for education, how will we get there? Who will support it? What has to change within the culture of a school to bring ideas to fruition and, once ‘ripe for the picking,’ incorporate them in meaningful ways so that programs can develop and mature within a school’s culture?
One thing O-MUN has taught me is that students are more than capable of developing and driving major educational initiatives. These initiatives will take place because they can, because technology makes it possible, and because they often are more meaningful than what happens in a traditional classroom. Can they become part of a school’s repertoire or will the real-world, student-driven initiatives be left outside of it, further widening the gulf between schools and real-world engagement? For every multi-million dollar education company pitching a high-tech way of doing the same thing we’ve done for years, how many countless organic initiatives in need of nurturing and support are simply wasted and, by extension, become lost opportunities for students? As frustrating as this seems, I am excited for all of us as we begin to see the truly great things that connected, collaborative learning can bring us. Spend a bit of time in the O-MUN universe and you really will believe that anything is possible!
Please visit the Online Model United Nations website for further information. If you are involved in Model United Nations, please consider joining the Model UN Leadership Initiative to discuss ideas, research, and innovations within the field. O-MUN also is developing a number of national-level programs. If you are a teacher and think that you would like to oversee one of these country-wide programs, contact Lisa for more information.
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.
Hi, I’m Ugbad Kasim from Somalia (Northeastern part – Somaliland to be exact), a young lady who was fortunate enough to go to school and study in one of the best schools in the country. Although those schools are counted as the best schools, they are technologically behind. I’m not saying that they don’t have computers or the Internet but they don’t use them in education, which basically is a useless way of wasting resources. By the time I was in high school I was so bored of our traditional way of learning but I was not in a stage to change anything. But at that time I was lucky enough to have extra-curricular activities going on in my school like debating club, journalism club, art club, science club, etc. I soon joined the debating club as a deputy chairperson and the journalism club as an editor. That is when my passion for technology started.
I tried to innovate the debating club and to use technology to debate but the school administration didn’t agree with me. I used to always get excuses like it’s destructive, it’s a waste of time, it’s hard to monitor, or there are not enough resources for everyone. It was very hard to get teachers’ attention on technology and how it could be useful for students when some of the teachers were not familiar with many of the technology resources that were available. So I basically finished my high school struggling between the traditional and modern way of learning.
As soon as I started university, I found out about Online Model United Nations (O-MUN). I remember Lisa Martin explaining to me the whole program and how it works. I told myself, “Yes, this where I belong, this is what I was looking for,” and I joined the program as a delegate. I started debating with other delegates from all over the world without meeting or seeing them. What this experience brought to my life was much more valuable than any other thing. I never knew what Model United Nations (MUN) was before O-MUN because in my country we don’t have MUN programs running. I was able to participate in the program without any preconditions of who I am or where I am from or what color I am. Then I moved from a delegate to a moderator and finally to an Assistant Director for the Middle East and African region for O-MUN.
In O-MUN I have developed both professional and personal skills without moving from my room. I have gained skills like public speaking, writing, and debating. Most importantly, I consider myself as a multicultural person as a result of working with a diverse community. It changed my way of thinking and made me aware of what is happening around me. In O-MUN we use social media and I have learned a lot of useful resources that have made my life simpler: for instance, Mightybell, which acts as a research hub for O-MUN. Mightybell is a great resource area for preparation of students for conferences or even classrooms and I act as a focal person for O-MUN for Mightbyell. Without O-MUN, I wouldn’t have been able to use Mightybell or see the need for it.
After seeing how useful the O-MUN platform is, I tried to take it back to my former high school but, unfortunately, the teachers didn’t see the aim of it. They didn’t see the impact it can have on students. They only considered their own benefits and the time they need to give to students to implement the program. They chose the easy way out, which was not to use it at all. Social media is an important component in students’ lives and they should have the right to access it.
I have never been to a face-to-face conference in my life but now, after having participated in more than 30 debates as a delegate, moderator, or assistant director – and attending the Qatar Leadership Conference as part of the O-MUN team – I am no longer a stranger to the MUN world. Now I know that I am a change agent in my community at home. Even if the change I’m making is very small, I still now that I can do something. I know that my journey has just started. O-MUN gave me the opportunity to realize that with the help of social media. I believe that youth should be given the right to access social media.
Check out this collection of interviews conducted on O-MUN at QLC: THIMUN O-MUN, Our Stories
Previously in this series
Ugbad Kasim is 22 years old. She recently finished her undergraduate degree in Economics at Admas University, Hargeisa-Somaliland. She is one of the Middle East and Africa Assistant Directors at O-MUN and hopes to study international development and trade for her Master’s. You can find her on Facebook.
The Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) program is not only a powerful model of global conflict resolution and community building for students. The fact that the traditional Model United Nations (MUN) academic simulation can now take place online makes O-MUN a powerful example of the evolution of Connected Learning principles (see Scott’s post on Connected Learning). And if O-MUN exemplifies the Connected Learning principles of interest-powered, academically-oriented, peer-supported learning, then Junior Online MUN is a powerful extension of this third principle, in particular. It has transformed peer-supported learning into a global mentoring network.
Junior O-MUN epitomizes apprenticeship in the 21st century. Technology tools such as Edmodo and Mightybell provide the means for middle school delegates and their upper school mentors to come together online where the teaching and learning can occur as part of the fabric of their social lives; where the lines between the academic, the personal, and the social are blurred; where the formal and informal co-exist.
Junior Online MUN (jrO-MUN) is the middle school branch of the O-MUN program. It is specifically designed for students in the middle grades to collaborate and debate with a global network of middle school students and upper school mentors using online community platforms (e.g., Edmodo, and Mightybell) and educational software (i.e., Blackboard Collaborate).
Through pre-debate collaboration and during the online debate itself, jrO-MUN student leaders provide mentorship and support as young delegates navigate the language and procedures of MUN diplomacy. The chat feature of the Blackboard Collaborate debate room is one example of how O-MUN leverages tech tools to facilitate this kind of interaction.
These technology tools provide the means for young people to come together online where the teaching and learning can occur as a natural extension of their social lives. This is apprenticeship in the 21st century. Technology has freed O-MUN to operate outside of the traditional barriers of geographical location and financial burden, as well as the limitations of school-based learning, which requires everyone to sit down together in the same room at the same time within the constraints of the same school schedule and calendar of activities and often subject to teacher availability. Now, in the jrO-MUN program, student masters and apprentices can interact online to prep for and debate global issues – anywhere, anytime.
When middle school delegates sign up for monthly global debates, they are supported by a team of upper school MUN mentors from the global O-MUN community who serve as jrO-MUN Assistants under the supervision of the jrO-MUN Secretary General and Deputy Secretary Generals, as well as O-MUN Founder & Director, Lisa Martin.
Debate prep follows a monthly cycle of collaboration. Middle school delegates are introduced to the global issue debate topic by the jrO-MUN student leaders, who curate a Mightybell collection of resources. Via Edmodo, the younger delegates introduce themselves and the country they will represent, while continuing to suggest research links for Mightybell. As the debate cycle moves ahead, the delegates post country policy statements and eventually propose resolution clauses for the debate, connecting with each other to build alliances and develop arguments. Meanwhile, MUN directors have the luxury of simply observing the Edmodo collaboration, as the team of jrO-MUN Assistants pick up where the lone teacher would traditionally have operated. The Assistants post and reply alongside their young apprentices in the jrO-MUN Edmodo Group, providing individual feedback and group-wide updates, all the while modeling the language and practice of diplomacy.
Edmodo and Mightybell support the jrO-MUN Groups/Communities where the collaborative MUN debate preparation takes place.
The social context of apprenticeship in this model is essential and the online platforms make this possible. Young delegates have access to a variety of veterans, helping them to understand that there are multiple ways of thinking about international diplomacy and helping them to appreciate a diversity of perspectives to global issue problem-solving. Young delegates have the opportunity to observe others grappling with the issues and completing various tasks in the debate prep cycle. They also see the mentor feedback provided for others so they can self-correct. In this way, the middle school students come to understand that learning is a process but also that there are benchmarks indicating success. Compare this to the limited impact of a single MUN teacher-coach (sometimes managing 30, 50, or even 80 delegates) and the exponential nature of the advantages becomes even more apparent. In fact, even if a student moves to a new school, they can enjoy the continuity of the O-MUN program and the O-MUN community. The jrO-MUN mentoring model derives many important characteristics from the fact that all participants are embedded in a community of practitioners, all practicing and discussing the target skills.
“When I first started MUN many years ago, I learnt primarily from my senior delegates, since there is only so much time a MUN coach can offer. Looking back, I now realize the importance of guidance from strong MUN role models in becoming a strong delegate. Now, as a senior delegate myself, jrO-MUN allows me and other experienced high school delegates to engage in this “pay it forward” system on a far larger scale. Through the jrO-MUN program, experienced MUN student leaders give tutorials on essential MUN skills such as composing and delivering opening speeches. Furthermore, via the social learning platform Edmodo, jrO-MUN Assistants help delegates through the process of researching, writing country position statements, collaboratively composing resolutions, preparing arguments and anticipating counter-arguments, and finally through lobbying and the culminating debate. The jrO-MUN program enjoys all the advantages of Online MUN, but it is perhaps even more relevant to these younger delegates because they get strong guidance from experienced mentors, without needing to worry about monetary or logistical burdens.” – jrO-MUN Secretary General Rohan Sinha (Taipei American School, Taiwan)
The jrO-MUN program pushes past traditional boundaries of time and space to bring together masters and apprentices to solve global issues. In the example below, Edmodo allows Jasper, who will represent India from his home in Taiwan, to be mentored by Omar, a jrO-MUN Assistant and the Deputy Secretary General of Africa regional debates, who lives in Egypt.
“There’s something very motivating about being part of the online MUN community – perhaps it’s just the kind of dedication that O-MUN attracts – but among our delegates, there seems to be a constant drive to participate, and more importantly to improve. It’s been humbling to watch the zeal with which even our middle school participants approach MUN preparation and debate. I’ve seen complete novices transform into confident delegates in the space of a year. The passion and leadership that O-MUN fosters is truly inspirational to me … as I’m sure it is to our many delegates, too.” – jrO-MUN Deputy Secretary General Sheyna Cruz (Singapore American School, Singapore)
“Mentorship is one of the most crucial and integral parts of the jrO-MUN program because it ensures the quality of our debates and allows delegates of all levels to further their knowledge. The quality of mentorship is one of the key factors explaining the quality of jrO-MUN debates and the success of this program in general. Increasingly, jrO-MUN mentors are graduating from the pool of previous jrO-MUN participants. At this point, it’s just an amazing cycle: experienced MUN delegates continue to raise the standards and expectations of jrO-MUN debates while the younger generation of delegates strives to attain and exceed the standards set by the previous generation.” – jrO-MUN Deputy Secretary General Jessica Chen (Taipei American School, Taiwan)
Through this junior online program, MUN delegates are gaining extra MUN debate preparation, practice, and performance as well as the opportunity to network and collaborate with middle school and upper school students with whom they may well debate face-to-face at future MUN conferences around the world. For example, around 40 students who participated in the November jrO-MUN Global Debate from as far afield as Jordan, India, and Taiwan are looking forward to continuing their collaboration in person at a February MUN conference to be held in Singapore!
jrO-MUN Tutorial: Pre-conference practice session prior to a traditional f2f MUN conference
Online MUN was not developed simply to increase MUN student numbers and events. It was developed to take advantage of new educational technologies in order to build a global community that more closely models the true purpose of the United Nations. To paraphrase the United Nation Charter Preamble, the role of the UN is to provide us with the ability to build community, unite our strength, and work together for a better future and the advancement of all.
The most critical aspect of O-MUN program growth thus is this very deliberate and explicit cultivation of a culture of mentorship. Connecting masters and apprentices has been every bit as important as simply starting students earlier with MUN. By creating a cross-divisional mentoring network and building bridges between middle school and upper school MUN participants with open source technology tools, O-MUN is able to unite their strengths and work for the advancement of all.
Previously in this series
Kristin Rowe is the jrO-MUN Assistant Director and Middle School MUN Coordinator at Taipei American School, a THIMUN O-MUN Partner School. O-MUN Taiwan operates under the directorship of Darby Sinclair, the Upper School MUN Coordinator. Together, they coordinate Taipei American School’s annual junior MUN Conference (TASMUN).
My first contact with Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) was in my sophomore year of high school. At the time, I approached the program with some degree of caution; after all, although I had done a substantial amount of Model United Nations (MUN), I had never heard of its existence online. MUN was supposed to be in real time, face-to-face, wasn’t it? How was an online MUN program even possible, let alone practical?
The extensive MUN program at my school had already served me well. By the end of my sophomore year, I had done MUN in three continents and I wanted more. However, clear barriers existed which prevented me from acquiring more experience. After all, traveling expenses, geographical distance, restrictions on face-to-face meetings, and time off school ultimately set a conference limit and a school only has so many human resources.
The Online MUN debate platform is a Blackboard Collaborate room, where traditional elements of a f2f conference are replicated online – for example, delegates raising their placards to indicate they are ready to take the floor. O-MUN student leaders run monthly Tech Check sessions for new delegates and students quickly adjust to the debate room environment.
My first online conference, however, was the game-changer. With the friendly accents of delegates from over four continents, with the sheer intensity of debate over the South China Sea archipelagos, with the voices of students my age hungry to make a positive difference, a feeling of belonging stirred within me. I felt connected to a group of people who, like me, were filled with raw idealism in hoping to help others. I was empowered – I could now influence and be influenced by change-makers from over fifty countries.
With Online MUN I can debate multiple times every month, and with far greater authenticity due to the international nature of the program. It is not uncommon to be in a committee with delegates from three continents, some of whom are directly tied to the conflict in question. In my opinion, it is this democratization of a more authentic MUN experience that separates the MUN of today from the MUN of tomorrow.
The middle school delegates of jrO-MUN (Junior Online MUN), many of them new to MUN, are particularly appreciative of the way this online simulation is democratizing the MUN experience. They recognize that jrO-MUN brings an authentic experience of international diplomacy to their fingertips. They see that jrO-MUN is giving them a voice. Middle School delegates who are fully capable and passionate about debating are often denied early MUN access due to resources. They may have to wait their turn while older students take up travel team positions and have their overseas adventures, but junior delegates no longer have to wait for a genuinely globe-spanning MUN debate.
Secretary General, Rohan Sinha, sets up the interface for a Security Council simulation. Junior O-MUN is also integrating crisis scenarios into traditional face-to-face debates using the O-MUN platform, an exciting addition to middle school MUN programs.
Over the past year, as jrO-MUN Secretary General, I have had the opportunity to lead and learn from students all around the world; from my laptop at home in Taiwan to the lecture halls of Georgetown University in Qatar and the assembly halls of The Hague in the Netherlands. More than ever before, I realize the power of exposure – early exposure – to different voices with shared passions. O-MUN sets the stage for this chorus.
Previously in this series
Rohan Sinha serves as the Global Secretary General of Junior Online MUN (jrO-MUN), the middle school partner program to O-MUN. Currently a high school junior at Taipei American School, Rohan started MUN in seventh grade and since then has debated in conferences in Taipei, Berlin, New York, and Qatar. He also founded and leads his school’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team, after having won the Gold Medal at the college iGEM competition at MIT with the NYMU Taipei team.