Online Model United Nations: Promoting Global Citizenship and Inclusiveness in MUN
THIMUN Online Model United Nations
Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) was born out of the passion and love I have for the MUN academic simulation and the deep skill set it helps to instill in students. In moving this program online, O-MUN was able tap into two powerful educational currents: global education and technology. Given that our students are digital natives, this online space is both comfortable and familiar, and engaging in ways that go beyond the classroom. Debates are held in an online Blackboard Collaborate classroom using The Hague International Model United Nations (THIMUN) rules of procedure. Debates are organized and led by high school students for high school students. A typical debate might see delegates logging in from over 20 countries, and a moderating and chairing team spanning several continents. The officer team in charge of executing a debate uses Blackboard Collaborate, Titan Pad, Google Docs and Skype in an integrated manner to allow students to communicate behind the scenes. An example of this program can be seen here.
But I began a global education program almost by accident, and it’s a story that speaks to the challenges of developing unique programs in a 21st century economy. In 2009, I started a small Model United Nations club at an online school I was working for, and there I experimented with pulling this much loved academic simulation into an online environment. This internet based iMUN club ended in failure, in part because my employer had high hopes of monetizing the program. This seemed to betray every value I cherished in Model UN, so I quit my job, waited a year, and in 2011, launched Online Model United Nations (O-MUN).
In deciding to move away from this profit-driven MUN program, O-MUN’s future course was charted. The vision of the program was to democratize the availability of the MUN experience, using the leveling effects of technology, and to bring together high school students from around the globe to discuss the world’s most pressing issues. In keeping the program free of charge, the hope was to make O-MUN accessible in ways that traditional MUN programs simply couldn’t. By inhabiting the social media spaces that students frequented, like Facebook, I hoped to connect with global youth. It was my first attempt at educational entrepreneurship, and my first brave step into a deep social media environment, since it had been ingrained in me that this was a forbidden zone for any serious or prudent educator.
O-MUN has been driven by THIMUN’s core philosophy, which stresses that students learn best by planning and executing MUN for their peers. So in order to build O-MUN, students have had to network globally, take initiative and work collaboratively across timezones. This might entail working with a fellow student in your hometown, or an individual halfway round the world. When you do this often enough, real friendships and team esprit des corps emerges. Currently, students from 50+ nations regularly debate, connect via social media, and develop friendships and partnerships that transcend geographical boundaries, cut across religious and ethnic differences, and increasingly, socioeconomic backgrounds.
Uniting students around a cause is not particularly difficult given today’s technology. Getting students to work together on an organic, student driven program, however, is entirely a more challenging proposition. Certain basic commonalities must be met: shared language, connectivity, adequate bandwidth, and in our case, ability to work in an online conference room. With these common tools, however, relationships have formed through shared collaborative projects. Shared responsibility for the implementation of programs spill over into more social, and ultimately more private spheres. Recently a delegate from Saudi Arabia told me that O-MUN had connected her with a student in the UAE, whose help in a high level physics class was proving to be invaluable. More dramatically, when students confess privately that this program has been their connection to the world, a shot at real leadership, kept them in school, given them a voice or saved them from troubled times in their home country, these stories seem remote from O-MUN’s core debating program, but are fundamental to the success the community has experienced. These relationships have authentic meaning for our participants, even if these are unintended. I am no longer surprised when students communicate the degree to which O-MUN has transformed their lives. Don’t take my word for it. You can listen to it here.
Online Model United Nations is about shaping attitudes, instilling confidence, forcing introspection and connecting with community, in this case, a global community where people really do have different views and agendas. Whether it be through blog posts, face to face encounters enabled by an online community, leadership opportunities, travel opportunities, or simply having a platform to be heard, these are in themselves tremendously empowering. Through these relationships, attitudes are changed and empathy developed. If we are fortunate, it leads to better decision making and more articulate, compassionate 21st century global citizens, individuals able to confront complexity with an eye to watching out for the interests of the ‘other’, the other that lives half way round the world and appears very different from yourself, but who shares your frustrations with physics, your love of Tumblr, your shared fears about climate change, your dream of justice and equality, and your shared commitment to a better future. This is the power of global education and the connectedness O-MUN can engender. Online Model United Nations is about giving youth a voice and fostering the skills needed to solve the problems they must solve in the future.