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Students Attracted To Diplomacy Web Site Contest

International Students Attracted to Diplomacy Web Site Contest

About 40 percent of Doors to Diplomacy participants come from overseas. Many entries in the Doors to Diplomacy Web site competition come with interesting stories, says Yvonne Marie Andres of the Global SchoolNet Foundation, which co-sponsors the contest with the U.S. State Department.

Doors to Diplomacy challenges young people ages 11-18 to create Web sites that teach the importance of international affairs and diplomacy. The winners are chosen among American teams and among teams from outside the United States.

Andres recalled a team of students in Uzbekistan that found that some people in the community were afraid to fill out a survey on human rights for the project.

"After observing people who were reluctant to assist us for fear of negative consequences, we grew afraid to submit our project too," said one student. "We were nervous because our Web project contains controversial information."

The students "felt they couldn't make their Web site public until the very last minute -- which they did," said Andres. "They ended up winning the competition that year."

In another case, students in Ghana wanted to build a Web site but did not have access to the Internet. A mentor regularly walked nearly 20 kilometers to an Internet café to send their research by e-mail to a team of students in San Diego that helped bring the Web site online.

"We discover a lot of incredible stories when we read the narratives" submitted by the students with their entries, Andres told USINFO.

Registration for the 2008 Doors to Diplomacy competition now is open and lasts until February 28, 2008. Projects must be completed by March 15, 2008, and winners will be announced in May 2008.

In 2007, there were 197 entries from 38 countries; the grand prizes went to teams from Taiwan and Minnesota. (See related article.)

Past international winners include teams in India, Macedonia, Mexico and Uzbekistan. About 40 percent of Doors to Diplomacy entries come from international students.

Each winning student receives a $2,000 scholarship and their coaches -- generally teachers - are awarded $500 for their schools. Most Web sites created for the competition remain online, and anyone can use them "as a library of resources," said Andres.

The State Department, which selects the winners, is looking for Web sites that provide in-depth research on both sides of an issue and are "easy to navigate and find what you're looking for," said Janice Clark, a public affairs specialist with the department and contest judge.

A site "shouldn't be superficial. It should really explore an issue," she said.

Web site topics are not restricted to international security or foreign relations, Clark said. "One of the ways we [the State Department] do our job is by promoting understanding through arts and culture and sports."

All international entries must be in English, although many international teams also create Web sites in the team's native language. Some teams, like last year's Taiwan winners, use instant-translation software for research.


Each Doors to Diplomacy team is required to evaluate four other teams' entries. "What I hear from teachers is that this [peer review] process is more valuable than the students creating their own content," Andres said.

"There are a lot of contests where kids create content -- videos, Web sites and the like -- but they're so involved in the creating process they don't ever get to understand what works and what doesn't work," she said. "When they look at other projects, suddenly they begin to see what makes for good [Web site] navigation or what sites provide good citations of resources."

Many universities also have their teacher-education students evaluate the entries, Andres said. "It gives them a perspective on what students are really capable of doing."


Teachers go to Global SchoolNet's Web site "to search for [online] projects and partners that meet their curriculum needs," said Andres. Its largest collaborative online learning project is CyberFair, in which students conduct research and create Web sites on local community issues. There are more entries from international students than Americans each year, she said.

Doors to Diplomacy and CyberFair "really embody 21st -century skills," said Andres. "Students need to have a global perspective, they need to be able to work in teams, they need to cooperate, they need to be able to create content and share and evaluate that content."

American students who participate "become so much more open-minded and understanding of geography, of political issues, of cultural issues," she said. "They just get a much broader view, a global view."

In 2006, the locations that provided the highest number of teams for Doors to Diplomacy and CyberFair were the United States, Taiwan, Armenia, Philippines, India, Uzbekistan, Poland, Romania, Ghana and Singapore.


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