When a team of San Jose State University faculty members embarked on a three and a half year grant with the United States Agency for International Development to strengthen undergraduate social work education in Vietnam, they knew they would need to find a way to communicate across more than 7,000 miles and a 14-hour time difference.
“The technology was written into the grant,” said Alice Hines, principal investigator and director of the Social Work Education Enhancement Project (SWEEP).
In Vietnam, the field of social work is relatively new so universities have not been prepared to train the number of practitioners needed for the expanding sector. The SWEEP grant connected SJSU, USAID, eight Vietnamese universities, government ministries, community agencies and Cisco Systems in a project aimed at improving the administration of social work programs, faculty capabilities in teaching and research, social work curriculum and network communications among the universities through the use of technology.
During the grant period, Vietnamese university presidents, government leaders and faculty members visited SJSU to participate in workshops and training sessions designed for leaders and faculty fellows. The Vietnamese educators learned about the social work infrastructure in the Bay Area, how SJSU teaches social work curriculum and how to incorporate technology into their classes. The leaders and fellows received training from Cisco, SJSU’s IT Services, the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, and the Center for Faculty Development.
When the leaders and fellows returned to their home universities in Vietnam, they used WebEx and Telepresence to connect between the universities within their native country as well as with SJSU students and faculty members.
“We connected once a month with WebEx,” Hines said. “It enabled them to form a cohesive leadership group.”
Debbie Faires, the director of online learning for the School of Information, said it took some trial and error for participants to become comfortable with WebEx and Cisco Telepresence, especially in dealing with internet connectivity in rural areas or with audio background noise.
“With experience, people learned how to mute their microphones or telephones to improve the meeting for everyone,” Faires said.
The team also used Google Sites to create a website in English and Vietnamese as an archive of all presentations and documents. The site will remain active as a resource for the Vietnamese universities.
“My favorite part of the project was making new connections with many new colleagues in Vietnam and here at SJSU,” Faires said. “This was a remarkable project which has successfully impacted social work education throughout Vietnam. It was amazing to be part of the team that helped to shape these changes.”
While SJSU’s role in SWEEP ends in March, the Vietnamese university leaders will continue to meet monthly as they advance and expand the field of social work. The faculty fellows who participated in the grant with SJSU will now become trainers of additional instructors in Vietnam.
“My favorite part has been to watch the growth of the participants from Vietnam – how they took leadership responsibility and how the faculty took on the role of trainers,” said Ed Cohen, co-director of SWEEP and a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam this year. “That has been very gratifying, and their mastery of available technologies played an important role in their transformation.”