Students use Skype and Twitter to study and impact social revolutions across the globe.
Eighteen days after thousands of Egyptian protesters mobilized in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, at least 800 of them were dead, and a group of student journalists at Cabrini College were just a screen away from it all.
For their capstone project, senior communication majors at Cabrini College in Radnor, Pennsylvania used Skype to interact with Egyptian graduate students and faculty at the American University in Cairo (AUC) during the country’s volatile 2011 uprising against autocratic president Hosni Mubarak.
Elshamy’s photos captured the 2011 uprising against autocratic president Hosni Mubarak. Photo by YouthVoicesRise.com
Cabrini Associate Professor Cathy Yungmann connected with Catholic Relief Service aid workers who put her in contact with a political science professor at AUC. The two classes exchanged info through a Wiki page and Skype sessions, often occurring at AUC students’ own homes.
Yungmann says the exchange process, which resulted in a comprehensive website dedicated to social justice, awakened her students to participate in the global community.
“It changed their whole perspective about the world,” she said.
Using Twitter, students followed users who were tweeting about the protests, and developed relationships with them—a tool that helped land additional Skype interviews.
One individual at Cabrini connected with Mosa’ab Elshamy, an Egyptian pharmacy student and amateur photographer who was photographing the eruptive scene outside his classroom window.
Elshamy granted Yungmann’s class access to all of his photos.
TIME, The New York Times and Rolling Stone have since used Elshamy’s work. Now 23 years old and dedicated to photojournalism, Elshamy is recognized as the revolution’s “premier photographer,” says Yungmann.
“Twitter gave students a place to establish relationships with people that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to communicate with anywhere else,” she says.
Jamie Santoro, a senior communication major back in 2011, conveyed just how big social media was for young Egyptians involved in the revolution.
In one article, he quotes a girl’s perspective of how significant Facebook’s role was.
“'It was kind of a Facebook event and it became sort of a joke: ‘RSVP to the revolution.’ Everybody underestimated the significance it was going to have,'” Santoro writes.
This past September, when thousands of young Chinese citizens protested the government’s ruling that would determine the candidates for China’s 2017 election, one of Yungmann’s former colleagues was there, and he acquired the names and contact information of student protestors.
The former colleague then facilitated an hour and a half Skype interview between Cabrini students and the student leaders of the Hong Kong protests.
Yugmann says the conversation was an amazing journalistic experience for her students.
“It’s changed the way we can mentor our students to look at the world,” says Yungmann of the evolving technology. “They’re part of humanity and they need to learn about what’s going on in other countries. American students are kind of parochial that way.”
Being able to reach out to others globally is one skill employers require across the board, and one that too many higher-ed students are apprehensive to do.
However, students in Yungmann’s class are being proactive.
“It widens their circle of contacts and makes international networking much easier,” she says.
This article first appeared on Higher Ed Tech Decisions, December 2014.