Peering into the Middle East through a computer screen enabled Ian Kowalski and his classmates to develop layers of understanding.
Like many Americans, Ian Kowalski's knowledge of the Middle East was once limited to what he read or watched on television. His worldview shifted after he enrolled in "Middle East Media" in the School of Communication and began communicating with students in Egypt.
The course employs videoconferencing and Web cam chats between students at Queens and the American University in Cairo (Egypt) to foster open discussion across the globe.
"This class has really opened my eyes about a large part of life in the Middle East," Kowalski said. "The modernization (or "Westernization") of media has almost forced the Middle East, along with the rest of the world, to adapt, through outside forces, such as foreign news and entertainment networks, and inside forces, such as Arab citizens urging for media reform on par with that of Al-Jazeera's."
Dr. Mohammed el-Nawawy says he designed says the course to examine how the news media, particularly satellite television and the Internet, have affected the political, social and cultural aspects of the Arab Middle East. His course at Queens also explores the role of Middle Eastern media in political action, as a potential tool for negotiation or resistance.
"We discuss concepts, such as the clash of civilizations, and modernization paradigm and how they can be critiqued in the context of the Middle East, with all its nuances and intricacies," said el-Nawawy. He is Knight-Crane Associate Professor of Communication and the author of author of several books on middle East media, the latest being "Islam dot Com: Contemporary Islamic discourses in cyberspace," which was published by Palgrave MacMillan.
During one recent videoconference between the two classes the students on both sides of the world discussed their Internet use habits. All of the students said they use the Internet for class research.
The Queens students shared that they spend most of their non-academic online time using social networking tools including Facebook, and for entertainment such as reading music blogs.
The students in Cairo, most of whom hail from the Middle East, said they spend most of their online time newsgathering, reading political and religious blogs, and using Skype.
Kowalski and his classmates at Queens are also enrolled in a program called Soliya that connects them via Webcam with students at other schools in the Middle East and Europe.
"It has all opened my eyes about media here in America and the great amount of bias most people are not able to see," he said. "Almost everything we take in the news is biased or censored in some way. You just need to be able to look past this and find the real facts and make up your own mind about what's going on."