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With online learning, a new approach yields global connections

Unexpected tools are enriching the UW online learning experience and helping students connect with complex issues like human rights. UW professors are finding creative ways to build community and share knowledge.

Paulina Andrews
Paulina Andrews ’20

Paulina Andrews ‘20 is aiming for a career advocating for persons with disabilities. Paulina jumps at every opportunity to deepen her understanding of human rights issues, including a UW Study Abroad program to Jamaica organized by Professor Stephen Meyers and Megan McCloskey, where she spent time in a deaf village and with local grassroots organizations, and internships at civil rights organizations.

Last spring, Paulina was in her final quarter at the UW and excited to begin a course called Genocide and the Law with Professor Rawan Arar. Like students all over the country, Paulina was forced by the pandemic to complete her coursework from home, via Zoom. “Professor Arar was upbeat and brought a lot of energy to the class,” Paulina remembers, “but she was also real about what we were all going through. That helped me a lot.”

Determined to keep her courses meaningful, Professor Arar re-envisioned the syllabi. She offered one pre-recorded lecture for students to engage with at their convenience. The other meeting became a live discussion section so students would have more opportunity for connection and to ask questions. “I live alone,” shares Paulina, “so class time was one of my only chances to talk to other people.”

Professor Arar asked students to share artwork and written reflections on the course materials. Some curated Spotify playlists with songs relating to class topics. They engaged in visual storytelling using Flipgrid. Paulina loved the variety presented by the new class structure. Of course, there was still a lot of reading. “But there were also movies to watch and podcasts to listen to. It was a break from the usual.”

“It’s hard to express certain things through words,” says Paulina. Creating art provided a new avenue for exploring the challenging topic of genocide. “Drawing was a refreshing way to interact with the material. It was a good way of dealing with a heavy topic and what we were all going through.”Paulina's aet

Paulina’s drawing, inspired by a woman who survived genocide in Cambodia, explores the theme of silence. “She was so mad inside but never said anything. If you cover up the left side of my drawing it looks peaceful. But when you look at the whole you see her real thoughts.”

With a teaching and curriculum award from the UW Global Innovation Fund, Professor Arar has brought even more hands-on learning to her fall quarter courses.

Professor Arar
Professor Arar

While studying occurrences of genocide around the world, the class will focus on knowledge production and the role of genocide museums as institutions that are established to reclaim contested stories and preserve a people’s history. Informed by class readings, students will develop an interview protocol and engage with survivors and the ancestors of survivors.

“With Global Innovation Fund support, I’m now able to add this engaging and experiential museum project to my online course,” shares Professor Arar. She’s also delighted to be sending some hands on materials to students via mail to create a more personal connection.  “Being on Zoom for 5+ hours is really hard. I want to make a personal connection and give them something to hold on to.”