(Posted October 11, 2004)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Juniata College students are currently interacting with religion and history students from two other colleges across the country as part of an interactive Web-based course centering on the history and religious principles of Islam.

The course is part of a nationwide program sponsored by the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) that is designed be a high-quality multimedia academic resource for students and scholars across the country.

At Juniata, Belle Tuten, W. Newton and Hazel Long Associate Professor of History, will teach the history course, titled "Middle East to 1453." Two other professors, Bahar Davary, professor of religion at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y., and Alfons Teipen, professor of religion at Furman University in Greenville, S.C., will collaborate with Tuten by teaching the course as an introduction to Islam and its tenets.

Tuten met with her teaching team this summer at Juniata. "We are teaching from a common syllabus in which all of the readings are the same for students at all three campuses," Tuten explains. "Some of our lectures will be taped and exchanged between campuses, but the really interesting part of the course is that students from all three campuses will discuss their readings using a Web-log forum."

Web-logs, or "blogs" are becoming a common part of campus life as students use the forums to comment on classes, world events or documenting their personal lives. In the NITLE project, the blog is solely for students and professors to interact on the three far-flung campuses. "The students are not blogging as much as I thought they would, but the amount of interaction is pretty high," Tuten explains. "I think it's still early in the course and all three of our classes are taught on different schedules and at different times of the day."

"The idea for the course is to get students from different regions and backgrounds involved in a collaborative discussion," she adds. Tuten says there are several Muslim students taking the class on other campuses and Juniata's course has several international students. Each professor will tape several guest lectures and send those to the other campuses on DVD. "We will have to tape the lecture ahead of time for the other students off campus," Tuten says. "It's difficult to be engaging when you are just talking to a camera so I'll have to find a couple of people outside the class willing to hear that day's lecture."

This project is the first collaborative cross-campus project to go forward under the NITLE plan, a turn of events Tuten credits to the course's small scale. The course grew out of a forum Tuten and her colleagues attended on Arab Culture and Civilization. The group encouraged interested faculty from colleges across the country to collaborate across campuses using electronic media. Next year, another history professor, Janis Gibbs at Hope College in Holland, Mich., will join the project.

The project is an offshoot of NITLE's first project, the Arab Culture and Civilization Web Site: http://arabworld.nitle.org/. The Web site offers sections on history, ethnicity, Islam, Arab Americans, literature, philosophy, performing arts and many other topics. NITLE is pursuing similar initiatives in the fields of bioinformatics, Geographic Information Systems and new media.

Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.