As part of UNC’s Connecting Carolina Classrooms with the World (CCCW) initiative, Dr. Claudia Yaghoobi of DAMES internationalized two of her courses in the Fall 2020 semester. What does that mean, you ask? It means global collaboration and incredible experiences: students in Dr. Yaghoobi’s UNC classes collaborated with students taking similar classes at Shiraz University and Shahid Beheshti University in Iran, joining forces on group projects, discussions, and more.
I interviewed Dr. Yaghoobi about her experiences this semester. Her responses are recorded below.
1) How did you go about connecting your UNC students with students in Iran?
I am teaching two classes this semester and both are collaborating with faculty in Iran: ASIA/CMPL258: Iranian Prison Literature and ASIA/CMPL256: Love in Classical Persian Poetry. In addition to class meetings and discussions, students also use Padlet for asynchronous discussions. We have put students in groups in which we have a few Iranian and a few American students. Each group has created their own means of communication outside of the classroom such as google hangouts or WhatsApp. They are also working on several projects collaboratively. Iranian Prison Literature students from the U.S. and Iran work in groups to prepare 15-minute presentations for which they collaborate to gather information, conduct research, and present their finding via a video recording. Their presentations are required to embody a comparative view of social or political injustices in the two countries. Iranian students focus on a specific case in the U.S., such as the injustices in the case of Breonna Taylor, and the American students explore a similar case of injustice in Iran. My Classical Persian Poetry students are assigned a poetry reading and a calligraphy assignment for which they collaborate with their Iranian counterparts. American students are to pick a line of poem from the books we have read in class and practice with Iranian students to learn how to recite them correctly. They will practice their lines and present via a video recording at the end of the semester. For Calligraphy assignment again, American students work with Iranian counterparts to practice writing a line of poetry in Persian.
(Click here to download a video of Dr. Yaghoobi’s students practicing calligraphy!)
(You can also download this video of her students reciting poetry!)
2) What goals were you hoping to accomplish/what experiences were you hoping to give your students through the program?
The collaborative nature of this grant has enriched my capacity to teach comparatively and incorporate perspectives from both Iran and the U.S. For instance, in my Iranian Prison Literature class, which focuses on Iranian literature written in prisons or about prisoners, particularly under the Islamic Republic, we read novels and watch films around the topics of social justice, human rights, and judiciary system of Iran. The collaboration with Iranian faculty and students has allowed us to explore judicial system and social justice, particularly the current protests regarding racism in the U.S. to provide students with a rare comparative perspective. During class meetings, we analyze the ways that literature, film, and related textual practices have the ability to reframe the debates on social justice, prison torture, law enforcement and race, incarcerations, and violation of human rights. Our goal is to offer students from Iran to learn about Black Lives Matter and anti-racist protests in the U.S. and simultaneously to provide American students with a learning experience about the judicial injustices and prison conditions in Iran. Ultimately, we ask students from both countries to come up with tools and means that can help them to address the injustices of their respective countries by examining the same or similar violations of human rights in the other country.
3) What were your students’ reactions to the program? How about the students in Iran? What did they think of it?
Students on both sides have expressed extreme appreciation for being able to hear various authentic voices on the topics of discussion in each class. The best outcome of this collaborative teaching is that it allows students to see the nuances and multilayered factors that intersect for social injustices to occur in each respective country. Students comment on each other’s statements and respond to one another while we, the two faculty, facilitate the conversation and try to guide them in the right direction. The space given to students to lead the conversation (while moderated) is the most important aspect of this collaborative experience.
One student said, “I truly enjoyed having the opportunity to interact with the students in Iran this semester. It was such a privilege to be able to learn from them, and I’m so grateful that you set up this opportunity for our class this semester.”
4) Do you think the program was influenced at all, positively or negatively, by COVID-19?
Generally speaking, for students not to be on ground in the country of their focus, they obviously miss out on many cultural and social aspects of that country. However, in the case of Iran and my classes, since we do not have a study abroad program in Iran, I strongly believe that this was a rare and unique experience for my students. I have already been asked if I will continue such collaborations post- COVID-19. This collaborative teaching allowed me to provide my students with the “humanity” of Iran rather than what they see on news or social media. They have made friends with Iranian youth and are excited to maintain their friendships. Since they are all passionate about the same topics, they are also thinking of ways to collaborate post-fall semester.