DA Favorita Papers Platzer

 

CAN THE UNITED NATIONS BE TAUGHT?

Foreword - Diplomatic Academy Favorita Papers by Michael Platzer

The provocative title of this colloquium was meant to have a double meaning. If the discussions over the three days in Vienna led to any conclusions the answers remain ambivalent. Whether the United Nations, in whatever way it is defined, is ready to learn or even willing to listen to insightful observers from the outside remains an open question. Although the Assistant Secretary General for Policy Co-ordination and Inter-Agency Affairs speaks of a new "partnership" with the academic world, he admits there is no regular institutionalized mechanism for harnessing outsiders' creative ideas or constructive criticism. The change of the nomenclature for the Lessons Learned Unit in the Peacekeeping Department to the Best Practices Unit does not bode well. The "Academic Impact" initiative of the Department of Public Information also sees academics as "mulipliers" or "advocates" not as useful critics. On the other hand, can abstract analysts or "all wise" (after the fact) historians really understand the messy world of the United Nations and the difficult decisions that must be made with restricted resources and limited intelligence. Can the behind the scenes power games be conveyed to students who are only taught the constitutional framework of the United Nations and given the public resolutions? Or can the contributions of quiet diplomacy or effective personalities be transmitted when the United Nations is most often seen through public posturing. The Charter and documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millenium Development Goals capture the aspirations and highest principles of mankind but the reality usually lags far behind. How does a honest teacher convey such contradictions and ambiguities? How does one best train a person for a job at the United Nations? How do we create "global citizens" or persons with sense of social responsibility and inquiring minds? How to inspire idealism while maintaining effectiveness in a messy world?

United Nations studies cover a broad range of topics ranging from global governance or international relations to specialized peace keeping or human rights police training. While mastering content is important, cognitive learning research has shown that for many individuals lectures are not the best way to retain information. Moreover, active learning techniques promote higher order thinking, analysis, synthesis, and critical evaluation. There are many successful inter-active techniques employed in UN studies - role playing, simulations, structured debates, case studies, historical model UNs, excursions to UN headquarters, Q + As with UN officials, visual based discussions, peer teaching, group projects, experiential learning, translating UN standards, making films, producing simplified texts. The United Nations in fact has on line suggestions for teachers, specifically for celebrating UN Days, community projects- learning by doing.

Whereas, the United Nations has not taken full advantage of Web2 technology, there are increasing computer-based training opportunities. More exciting are the wide variety of e-learning, virtual classrooms, MP3 distancing teaching, and blended learning offered by universities, training institutions, and private organizations. In addition, to Google B and electronic rosters of courses being offered world wide, there are now active networks and websites of users, teachers, and activists exchanging syllabi, bibliographies, and teaching tips. The most comprehensive network is the United Nations Studies Association, whose chairperson joined us from Berlin, and which organized a workshop on using its Wiki portal at the University of Vienna Law School.

This colloquium represents only a snapshot or a 2008 stocktaking of the continuing voyage to improved teaching methologies and technologies. At the end of 2007, a international virtual conference "The United Nations and the New Media" was organized by Professor Alexander Siedschlag and the World Wide Education Web. Ten UN Departments participated as well as eight Universities, twelve NGOs and 200 others on line. At the annual meeting of the Academic Council on United Nations Council in June in Bonn, a panel discussion took place on innovative teaching techniques. In July, ACUNS and the Austrian Science and Research Office in Ljubljana hosted a workshop on Building the Knowledge Base for Global Governance using Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). The group was able to come to Vienna and interact with representatives of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime and was briefed on the use of ICT in the areas of Anti-Money Laundering, AIDS, and Counter Terrorism.

Early in the year, an anthology "Criminal Justice Teaching and Training @cross the world" was published by the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, which is affliiated with the United Nations. It captures the experiences of twenty six experts teaching the Rule of Law in widely different contexts. The anthology emphasizes the new pedagogy and technologies available and practical exercises. The book launch and a panel discussion took place at the University of Vienna in April. Discussions on how to best teach international criminal justice have also taken place at the annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in Cincinnati, Ohio and at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, organized by the United Nations University in New York. The twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, to be held in Salvador, Brazil, in April 2010 will have a workshop on "Criminal justice education and training for the rule of law."

In July, the World International Studies Conference met in Ljubljana and had two panels on inter-active teaching of internations relations, In August, the Austrian Ministry of European and International Affairs organized a world conference of experts on human rights to commenorate the 15th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration. A working group "Human Rights for all- how to spread the message" was organized by the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Graz. This group considered the most effective ways to undertake human rights education, including using the new information technology. A week later in September, the UNESCO and the French government hosted the DPI/NGO conference to commemorate the 6oth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On behalf of ACUNS and the World Federation of United Nations Associations, I proposed creating a "virtual" academy for Human Rights.

This colloquium has brought together many of the teachers and UN officials who participated in the above mentioned events. It is hoped that this exchange of information with new participants will expand the network of persons and institutions interested in United Nations education. The attached compendium of innovative teaching techniques hopefully with stimulate others to submit their experiences to the Academic Council on the United Nations System and the United Nations Studies Association who will maintain a wiki portal of interesting active learning examples and dialogue among instructors.

In this sense, this special issue of the Favorita Papers, is but a milestone on the journey. It hopefully will gain new adherents to the cause of more effective teaching about the United Nations as well as contribute to a more structured mechanism of dialogue among and between academics and UN practitioners.