UGA class adds global dimension to hot topics

By for CAES News
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

When Dennis Duncan turns to face a class, he has to be careful where he stands. One move too far to the right or left and some of his students can't see him. While videoconferencing is hardly new at the University of Georgia, Duncan and his class take it to the next level.

On certain days, they don't just throw facts back and forth from Athens to Tifton. They discuss genetically modified crops or waste reduction with college students in Austria, Italy, Florida and Virginia.

By making sure his students take the time to research and report on various environmental and sustainability issues, Duncan figures he's helping them prepare for a global future.

Duncan is an assistant professor of agricultural leadership, communication and education in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

His "Global Seminar: Environment and Sustainable Systems," he said, helps students "effectively research, formulate ideas, problem-solve and present positions on global agricultural issues."

Duncan also lets his students see issues from more than one angle through role-playing and presentations.

"We must attempt to understand the feelings and opinions of those who are affected by U.S. policy and find a way to professionally discuss and debate issues related to agriculture and our environment," he said.

"It's really instructional to play a role that you don't necessarily agree with," said Marcy Coburn, a UGA senior majoring in agricultural communications. "It either reinforces your point of view or you learn something new."

After the class concentrated on global warming, Duncan commented on how students from Florida A&M University discussed the topic from each country the global class represented. Presenting different viewpoints of the subject “is better than just the U.S. perspective," he said.

Most of Duncan's students hail from American homes. But study-abroad student Aymeric Sire of Paris broadens their horizons. "Living in a different country is a really nice experience," Sire said. "It's really cool."

Sire said the political landscape in France is more "on the left," and people there don't hear much about different sides of issues. "It's interesting to hear other points of view," he said.

C.J. Pinson and Jamie Fulmer are students on UGA's Tifton campus. For them, every class, even those with students in Athens, gives them a new perspective. "We tend to have a different standpoint down here than in Athens," Fulmer said.

"I've enjoyed listening to people in different countries," Pinson said, "and seeing what's really happening instead of just what I'm reading about. Also, this class gives you more time to do prethinking than just listening to a lecture."

They discuss topics as current as the latest organic food trend, genetically modified crop policy, global responsibility and alternative fuel research.

"To really know about a subject," Pinson said, "you need to know the positives and negatives."

The class doesn't end with the topics the students discuss.

"It's crucial that students understand how culture, ethnicity and gender play roles in shaping one's belief system," Duncan said. "This course opens new doors to live, interactive discussion about issues that affect all who participate."

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.