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SFSU Public Affairs Press Release

Published by the Public Affairs Office at San Francisco State University, Diag Center.

#050--November 17, 1999; FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: John Kroll
phone: 415/338-1665
e-mail:pubcom@sfsu.edu

For students in war-torn areas, internet provides access
to the outside world and model for a peaceful life

San Francisco State's Global Learning Center brings computer networks
and educational innovations to areas of the Balkans

SAN FRANCISCO, November 17, 1999 ---A few years ago, fighting between Croats and Serbs had reduced much of Eastern Slovonia to rubble. Today, in one corner of that region, children of both groups go to school together and use the newest educational technology, the Internet, to learn that people can work and live together in peace.

This progress has been made possible through the Global Learning Center (GLC) at San Francisco State University, founded recently by Gary Selnow, a professor of business analysis and computing systems. The GLC uses the Internet as a tool to reduce isolation, advance civic life, and diffuse ethnic tensions in the long-troubled area.

Selnow returned last month from Eastern Slovonia, where he presented a gift of 60 computers that connected nearly 1,000 students, ages 14-16, to the Internet for the first time.

"These kids had never had any access to computers. Their teachers had been training them using paper keyboards and paper mice. After the equipment was installed, they went right to town on the Internet," Selnow says.

Selnow was inspired to begin the project when as a Fulbright professor he taught at Zagreb University in Croatia in 1997-98 and saw the devastation the war had inflicted on the region's children, who were both without educational supplies and cut off from the experience of people working together in harmony. Their fascination with the technology he told them about led him to seek donations and computer hardware that would end their isolation.

"We help teachers use the Internet to further their curricular goals and students' educational needs," Selnow explains. "About 85 percent of Web sites are in English, but the kids are studying English, and the Internet is a natural language tool."

The GLC purchases and installs computer networks and teaches educators how to use the Internet in classroom instruction. The three-pronged program provides ready-to-run Internet labs, trains local teachers in their use, and maximizes use of the equipment after school hours by offering it to journalists and business.

A fourth component of the project, called e-Pal, will become the most personal way to reduce these students' isolation from the outside world. It will link American students with their Croatian counterparts in an electronic pen pal network. The first connections will be made in Bay Area schools next spring, followed by a national rollout.

"The Global Learning Center's location at San Francisco State lets us draw on the expertise of our faculty and students and the resources of technology companies in the Bay Area," Selnow says. For instance, SFSU students will soon develop Web sites for Croatian teachers to use, based on those instructors' needs.

As a result of its first successful installation in Eastern Slovonia, the GLC will expand its work to other troubled regions. The next site will be Montenegro, also in the Balkans, where Selnow has gained the support of local officials to introduce Internet access to seven schools. He is seeking $50,000 to fund that effort.

Because tensions still run high among ethnic groups in Balkan nations, Selnow envisions a way to use the Internet to help students from different groups and nations, including the U.S., work together peacefully: setting up problems (in the form of contests) which teams of as many as five students, each from a different group or nation, work on the Internet to solve together. The initial phase of that project will begin in February with teams of two students, Selnow estimates, and expand to four- or fi ve-person teams by the end of 2000.

"It may be na´ve to think that this will help students understand the value and process of working together peacefully," Selnow says, "but we have to try."

The Center's work to date has been funded by private donors, foundations corporations, Rotary International, and USAID. All contributions are tax deductible. The GLC can also accept donations of new computer equipment, including workstations and servers, networking hardware, and printers.

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