The rapid adoption of digital technologies over the last year has diminished the distance between the United States and the rest of the world. The default language of digital media is emotion, and much of the news that comes out of America is tinged with negativity. At the same time, this technology has allowed authoritarian regimes to control their own information spaces to paint themselves in a favorable light. The integration of this technology into the classroom has made open conversations more difficult.
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matically increased the role of these technologies in our daily lives. A Nielson survey found that in the United States, the amount of time spent accessing current events through mobile devices increased by 215% in 2020. Other countries such as Italy and Japan saw similar increases. At the same time, schools have embraced digital platforms like Zoom which allow administrators to save every classroom interaction onto their servers. This flattens dialogue among students and teachers who may be unwilling to broach contentious topics knowing that their comments will exist digitally forever. This aspect of post COVID-learning threatens the effectiveness of higher education which traditionally provided a safe environment for students to challenge their own beliefs and assumptions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has showed the world that there is a need for collaboration on global issues. This will continue to be difficult in a digital world that becomes more fragmented and more competitive. Educational exchanges such as the Fulbright Program, however, can help construct shared realities among people from diverse cultures and backgrounds by providing students opportunities to engage in conversations with people who are outside their algorithm-driven constructed reality.
our countries’ views on conflict. Furthermore, the conversation helped everyone at the table to check their own beliefs.
We believe that this experience is evidence that mutual understanding remains possible in a post-COVID world. As we approach the 75th anniversary of the program in September, the Fulbright community should celebrate the impact of previous scholars by preparing future cohorts for the unique challenges they will face in a world of competing countries and realities. In doing so, the program can ensure that it continues to fulfil the original vision of Senator Fulbright of building mutual understanding and empathy across cultures – a vision that is needed today more than ever before.
This piece originally was published by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy on the CPD Blog here.
Margaret McLeod and Bryce Johnston – Fulbright to Spain 2020