Global Classroom: Teaching about Refugees in the Age of Trump

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I am teaching GER/GIS/GWS 262: “Refugees in Europe: Germany” for the second time this semester. Obviously the recent change of government in the United States has impacted this course in many ways. As we all know, on January 27th, President Trump signed the Executive Order 13769 “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” limiting – among many other things – the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States in 2017 to 50,000 and suspending the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. As a consequence, the course has become much more comparative in nature, with students discussing the impact of the Executive Order and drawing parallels to Germany’s refugee policy. Right after the Executive Order was signed, students – as an online assignment on a snow day – wrote a letter to an (imaginary) friend or (imaginary) family member or local, state, or federal elected official, discussing the legal implications of the recent Executive Order in light of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol.

Another assignment in this class that has been heavily impacted by the above-mentioned Executive Order was the Twitter assignment. Throughout the semester, students are asked to tweet 4 times a week about our course readings and news sources regarding the situation of refugees in Germany and Europe. While students’ privacy is always a major concern, the recent changes in U.S. Customs and Border Protection that make social media accounts part of the screening process clearly affect the privacy and safety of non-US citizens more than ever:

If you travel, know that CBP will open all of your electronic devices (laptop, phone, tablet) and examine the contents. We know of instances where individuals have been turned away for being perceived as “anti-Trump.” If you delete the content on your phone, they will ask for your email username and password. They will do the same for all of your social media accounts. –  a newsletter from Global Immigration Partners, sent to me on January 31st.

Again, this is something most of us are probably aware of, but a threat that, in a global classroom with extensive online and social media components, poses itself with particular urgency.

At the same time, the Twitter assignment this semester has triggered even more engaged discussions about its use as a tool for political social media marketing and branding; the challenges to distinguish between facts and lies; and one’s own responsibility to respond (or not to respond) to unsettling responses to one’s own posts.

Video of student answering why he signed up for this course

Like last year, the second half of the semester has been dedicated to the videoconferences with our German interview partners (see my Engage blog post). This year, I have had a larger group or students, raising some of the technical issues that we had discussed during our Technology Workshops throughout the year, so I felt well prepared to address them (as always, thanks to Laura Little for her support!). This semester, we Skyped in a young female refugee from Syria, two volunteers from a private reception center for refugees in Lübeck, a teacher from Hamburg, the organization “Flow” from Lübeck that offers programs for young refugees; and a lawyer who volunteers his time to help refugees with their asylum applications. Our final interview with “KidzCare Lübeck“ is scheduled for May 3rd, focusing on the special situation of female refugees.

On Wednesday, May 10th, we are going to have the public “launch” of our collaborative WordPress site. You’re welcome to join us from 11:50-1:00 at the Visualization Wall in Shain!

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Using Quizlet for Elementary German

Quizlet "Gravity" Question
The Gravity question type in Quizlet.

For the first time this semester, I am incorporating Quizlet into my Elementary German class, as a mandatory tool to study new vocabulary on a regular basis. Most of you will be familiar with Quizlet, a collaborative online learning platform released in 2007 that offers students different gaming and study modes. These gaming and study modes include “Flash Cards”, “Speller” (students must type a term that is read out loud), “Match” (students have to drag terms on top of their associated definitions), and my very favorite “Gravity” (see above), where students must type a term that goes with the definition in the shape of an asteroid before the asteroid reaches the bottom of the screen. Quizlet thus addresses a number of different language skills and learning styles. It simulates testing conditions, students are familiar with its different study modes from high school – and most importantly: it is fun, and the students love it. It is also free and easily accessible.

I had prepared the vocabulary lists for this semester at the Tempel Summer Institute, including articles and plural forms of the nouns as well as the third person singular of each verb. That way, students are forced to study them as a unit. Every other day, we now have a brief vocab quiz in class. I use the Quizlet “Test” tool for that but print out the tests to ensure that all students are tested on exactly the same vocabulary. So far the use of Quizlet has been hugely successful: students now study the vocab on a regular basis and not just for the chapter exams – which makes a big difference in terms of teaching. Also, almost all of the students do extremely well in these quizzes. I am very happy with this new tool and am definitely going to use it in the future!

Using Twitter to Sharpen Literacies and Engage in Global Conversations

Screenshot of Twitter feedIn my previous blog post, I talked about videoconferences as a way to integrate global perspectives into my refugees course. Another tool to encourage students to apply their knowledge by engaging in a global dialogue was the use of Twitter. Students were asked to tweet five times a week, using the hash tag #GER262. During the first half of the semester, I made sure that each student was comfortable using Twitter and that they had acquired the necessary background knowledge to engage with the global community in an informed and meaningful way. Hence the Twitter posts were not only a way to interact with the world outside of the classroom, but also helped the students to deepen their social media literacy and to critically analyze rhetorical strategies being used in social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Students posted and discussed links to articles, videos, and cartoons they had found online and – as part of the assignment – responded to other people’s tweets around the world. In order to value the students’ contributions and to contextualize their findings, I reserved 10-15 minutes each week for a group discussion of their tweets.

Even though Twitter is not a medium commonly used among students, they responded enthusiastically to the assignment. As one of the students highlighted in their course evaluations: “I have been able to sharpen my ability to identify specific rhetoric that either supports or criticizes the situation on media outlets such as Twitter. To converse on Twitter gave us a hands-on opportunity to engage in the global conversation of this ongoing refugee and migrant crisis.”

I will definitely continue to use Twitter in my classes and plan to incorporate it also into my beginning language classes, as a meaningful way to apply newly acquired vocabulary and grammatical structures in a real-life setting. I would like to thank Ari Rotramel for sharing her extensive Twitter assignment guide and Laura Little, as always, for her invaluable technical support.

Refugees in Germany: Bringing Global Perspectives into the Classroom

One of the areas that I’m going to explore as a Technology Fellow is the use of videoconferencing tools in my course on the situation of the refugees in Europe (GER/GIS/GWS 262). This course explores the refugee crisis in Europe with a special focus on the case of Germany, where more than one million refugees and migrants arrived in 2015 alone. The course is cross-listed with German Studies, Global Islamic Studies, and Gender and Women’s Studies and has a FLAC section in German attached to it.

During the first half of the semester, students got an overview of the situation of the refugees in Europe: the different routes taken by the refugees; the role of the smugglers; abuse, exploitation, and human rights violations along the way; gender issues; European refugee and asylum policies; the Common European Asylum System and the distribution of refugees among the EU member states; the lack of solidarity among the EU member states; Europe’s reception system and conditions; restrictive policies such as fence-building and push-backs; and anti-foreigner rhetoric and xenophobia in several European countries.

During the second half of the semester, we are focusing on the case of Germany, the recipient of the largest number of asylum applications in Europe. We started with an overview of Germany’s history of migration before exploring the current public debates in Germany.

One of the highlights of the semester is the international collaboration with local organizations, schools, NGOs, and refugees from Germany who join us live via videoconferencing.

GER 262 students interview Nele Brüser, Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein
GER 262 students interview Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein

Our first videoconference took place right before spring break. After learning about the role of the central reception centers for refugees in Germany and the first (legal) steps refugees have to take in Germany, the students – in pairs – prepared the interview questions for Nele Brüser, Associate Director for Migration Services at the German Red Cross, Central Reception Center Neumünster, Schleswig-Holstein. The role of the weekly student assistant was then to collect and organize the interview questions and to email them to our German partners in advance – as well as to follow up with them afterwards.

The first videoconference exceeded all our expectations: after introducing themselves in German(!), the students and Nele Brüser had a very lively, engaged, and thoughtful discussion about her work and the situation of the refugees at the reception center Neumünster. In their written reflections, the students highlighted how much they had enjoyed the first-hand exchange, how “real“ the refugee situation now felt for them and how much they appreciated Nele Brüser’s dedication and honesty. The feedback we got from Germany after the videoconference was equally enthusiastic.

Both the students and I are very excited about meeting our remaining interview partners via Skype: we are going to talk to a refugee from Afghanistan and his German “tandem partner,” and in the remaining weeks of the semester, we will be joined by a teacher who teaches German to refugee children at a high school in Hamburg, three social workers whose projects focus on the special situation of young male and female refugees respectively, and a music teacher who works on integrating refugee and migrant children and teaching them the German language through different music projects.