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Distance learning specialists at Old Dominion University together with faculty members from the College of Arts and Letters have undertaken a project worth nearly $900,000 to help Navy personnel have smoother interactions with people they encounter in other countries.

ODU's project team will develop training modules in cultural competency and regional orientation that can be delivered electronically on the Navy's worldwide learning management system.

The Navy Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) will be the main user of the distance learning programs. Similar instruction in cultural competency and regional orientation has been available for more than a year to military personnel who can attend seminars at ODU's Virginia Beach Higher Education Center.

Two ODU administrators, Nancy Cooley, vice provost for distance learning, and Chandra de Silva, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, are leading the new project, which will extend through September. ODU was awarded the project by ITA International, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that contracts with military and security organizations to provide technical support and consulting.

"Distance learning is collaborating with the College of Arts and Letters on an interdisciplinary project that capitalizes on the strengths of our respective units to provide a very high-quality training program," said Cooley. "ODU faculty members are sharing their expertise to prepare the Navy to work effectively and sensitively with citizens from diverse cultures."

De Silva called the collaboration "exciting" and said it will allow ODU to help the nation's armed forces "prepare better to face the challenges they might encounter overseas."

Topics to be addressed will cover cultural, religious, ethnic, socioeconomic, governmental, historical and geographical characteristics of a particular region. There will also be training in United Nations charter provisions and operations of American Embassies.

According to ITA International, the goal of the training is to provide an appreciation for the relevance of cultural awareness and sensitivity, as well as skills for successful communicating and negotiating by U.S. military personnel deployed in other countries.

"This grant is going to make use of ODU's strength in instructional design techniques, world-class content creation and technological resources to create and deliver high-impact learning material to ITA and, in turn, benefit its many customers and learners," said Mohammad Karim, the university's vice president for research.

At present, the ODU training mission covers countries and regions in Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America. Other areas of the world may be added later.

The College of Arts and Letters faculty members involved are:

*For Africa-Bismarck Myrick, the former U.S. ambassador to Lesotho who now is resident ambassador at the college, leads the team. Other members are Victoria Time, associate professor of sociology and a native of Cameroon, and Tim Nevins, lecturer in African history.

*For Southeast Asia-Chris Drake, professor of geography and director of ODU's Center for Asian Studies, leads the team. Other members are de Silva, who is a specialist in Asian and African history, and Araceli Suzara, director of ODU's Filipino-American Center.

*For Latin America-Francis Adams, associate professor of political science, leads the team. Maria Fornella-Oehninger, a senior lecturer in political science and geography whose research focus is Bolivia, also is a member.

Mike Melo, president of ITA International, said his firm has partnered with ODU to develop "a comprehensive cultural language and regional orientation training program" for the Navy. He said future courses in a distance-learning format will be developed "to reach a wider Navy audience" beyond Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America.

The overall initiative, Melo said, is in keeping with the Chief of Naval Operations' 2008 Guidance to "continue to develop relevant regional, language and cultural expertise across the Navy." Skills that are taught will foster trust and improve communication between Americans and their cross-cultural counterparts, Melo added. The trust and understanding should be beneficial to negotiations and decision making, he said.

David Chase, ODU director of military distance learning and a key member of the project team, said he knows of one recent case in which a Navy Seal team deployed abroad sent back an urgent request for guidance in dealing with interpreters. "I understand the reply from NECC was something along the lines of, 'Those very items are in the training syllabus that we are developing with ODU.'"

ODU is a national leader in technology mediated distance learning and has been involved in technology-delivered distance learning since the mid-1980s.
The university's satellite delivery program, TELETECHNET, was implemented in 1994 as a partnership with the Virginia Community College System to provide quality higher education to students at a distance, especially in areas with limited educational opportunities.
"Its interactive television network now consists of nearly 50 locations throughout Virginia and at sites as far away as Arizona, Georgia, Washington, and the Bahamas, as well as on U.S. Navy ships and submarines around the globe."

Most course delivery has been via satellite interactive television broadcasts from ODU's main campus in Norfolk. In recent years, delivery modes have been expanded to include two-way video, Internet, CD-ROM and video streaming.

This article was posted on: January 23, 2008

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