Another brick (in the virtual wall): Reflections from an Alternative Education Experiment

by Haris Shekeris

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Recently, we launched a new online course for civil society activists and peace practitioners.

The online course is the continuation of a face-to-face course we delivered for the first time last semester in the Buffer Zone, when twenty-nine participants from across the island joined us.

The high interest in the course was unexpected and inspired us to go ahead with a new curriculum, this time in a virtual space. We hoped this would bring even more of the unusual suspects, who may be geographically or otherwise challenged to attend courses in a physical space.

We thought: Why not harness the power of technology to bring knowledge to the people, instead of always expecting them to come to us?

If our previous course was a success – with participating students from not only Cyprus, but also Palestine, Italy, Germany and Ukraine – offering it online has been nothing short of a miracle: 140 participants, hailing from as far as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya and Greece.

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But of course, offering a course online is not as simple as renting out a virtual space.

We have had to overcome several technical and practical difficulties to make the most out of this new format.

We’ve created a wealth of audio-visual lecture material, produced in collaboration with MediaZone. These are mostly 20-minute lectures accompanied by audio-visual interviews (some of them produced by the Cyprus Community Media Centre) and animated material.

We’ve designed the content of the course to stimulate dialogue on various aspects of the concept of citizenship.

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Our lectures include extensive interview material on a wide range of topics, such as the civil war in Syria, the rise of ISIS and its impact on statehood in the region, as well interviews on the topics of legitimacy and legitimation crisis and a case study on Cyprus and the impact of the economic measures prescribed by the so-called Troika of the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF.

And the result? So far, it’s looking good – we are delivering lectures to a highly engaged audience. It’s great to see there are discussions taking place both in the lecture forum and in the Facebook group created for the course.

If you’re interested in our work, but missed out on the chance to register for the course, do check our project’s website (Resources for Democracy). We’ve started uploading a number of resources – and we’ll follow that up soon with interviews and discussions, both in audio and audio-visual form, with academics and civil society activists on the topics of discussion. Also, there’s a second online course coming up in May!

After all, the material, which is freely accessible to everybody, is intended to enable you – the reader – to take informed steps into making the most out of your rights as a citizen, so why not join us and demand more of it from their powers that be?

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