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Making your Marx: Dr. Monoug Somakian and his Students Express Their Approach to Taking IR Classes Online

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The classroom is a young mind’s pathway to tackling global challenges and forging a better future. Dr. Manoug Somakian, International Relations Professor, Webster University Thailand, brings the world into courses- “In my ‘Fall II International Security’ graduate course, and ‘SP Introduction to International Relations’ undergraduate, I had raised the question ‘what are some of the global threats that humanity faces’ and of course ‘pandemics’ was one of them.” 

As the world has come to a standstill with the COVID-19 pandemic, the professor wanted to instill a sense of social responsibility, “My lesson plan outlined the global consequences in the eventuality of a pandemic and how COVID has raised global challenges that we have not witnessed in almost a century.” In his graduate class, Dr. Somakian engages his students in critical thinking exercises. He affirms that students must be able to examine global events and find productive outcomes or predications, “I posed questions that were connected with the outcomes of the pandemic that included: how the pandemic would strengthen nationalism, cause states to retreat from hyper-globalization, increase international cooperation with the inclusion of multinational firms in tackling vulnerabilities, the political consequence to both democracies and authoritarian governments, and how fragile states would cope with limited resources and means of recovery.” 

Dr. Somakian initiates a proactive approach to the undergraduates in the Human Rights course. He provides lessons on the mandates of the International Criminal Court and examines the judgments delivered by the court. The academic has also adapted to the new normal with the vision of maintaining a productive classroom experience- “Students were encouraged to make observations and ask questions using the ‘chat’ forum. Then those students who were assigned to give a presentation on the UN Sustainable Development Goals shared their slides and proceeded with relative ease with their presentations.

Pedagogy Takes Perspective 

Education

The pandemic has inevitable consequences that brought everyday life to a standstill. It has led to the most severe disruption in the global education system with over 1.6 billion learners from 190 countries out of school during the peak of the crisis. Dr. Somakian reinforced the need to adapt, “I remind my students that in America alone, there are more than one million students who have resorted to online classes. Platforms such as WebEX provides all the necessary tools to continue to enrich their knowledge without hindrance. With WebEx, an additional positive factor is that timing is synchronized with actual class time.”


Unity at the time of social restrictions is essential. Dr. Somakian encouraged his students through constant communication and assurance- “I reminded students that the guidelines being developed were created with their safety and best interests in mind. Furthermore, if issues arise and confinement stresses them out, Webster’s counselor would be at their service.” He also wanted to present his students with the learning experiences that come with changing the norms of their everyday lives. “ this could serve as an opportunity in the future for them to take online courses that a number of Institutions offer such as the IMF and obtain a certificate.”

A few of Dr. Somakian’s students also shared their experience of the online courses. 

During the start of the online classes, Wunna Htike Kyaw, initiated a greater sense of self-discipline. He attended Dr. Somakian’s Human Rights Course- “Some advantages would be the flexibility of time management and convenience of saving additional costs of transportation to come to the university. I just found the lack of social interaction to erode the sense of community and belonging from the classroom.” His classmates found a way to stay motivated together with the restrictions, “We have group chats on social media where we always keep in touch to make sure each one keeps up with the schoolwork and assignments. We help each other when in need.” Wunna concludes that motivation from his professors really helped his mindset about attending online classes.

Consistency is key for Shafid Morgan, “The need to continue via the online method was necessary for some of us because we had a certain timeline. Any delay would have serious impacts.” He was also a student in Dr. Somakian’s Human Rights Course. Shafid welcomes the challenges that came with the online modality- “I had to give a presentation on the second day of online classes. It was daunting but I managed to obtain high marks and now I’m more than happy to help my classmates navigate the online platforms.” 

Maintaining the flow of education was just as important for Gregg Homoki- “Most of us are already invested in our courses to have them stopped. This also gives students who are already here in Thailand a reinforced sense of purpose as they must still complete their course work.” Although he did join Webster Thailand for the classroom experience, he stresses the positive side of online education- “We are putting our safety first and following government guidelines. I also think that online classes are keeping us busy during isolation.”

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