Melissa Koenig

Collaborative Learning Experiences: Lessons from Dr. Seuss and the World University Games

Book cover for The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. SeussAs a child one of my favorite stories was The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss. I have since learned that many have never heard of this wonderful story about Sneetches with stars and those with none. Seuss intended the story to be a satire of race discrimination—in particular antisemitism.

I always loved the message of The Sneetches, especially the fact that by the end “neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew whether this one was that one… or that one was this one…or which one was what one…or what one was who.” I loved this idea of the world, a world where it didn’t matter where you were from (or whether or not you had a star on your belly). This world view is one I think you achieve by being exposed to many different cultures.

In February I had the honor to take a group of student athletes to the World University Games (Winter Universiade) in Almaty, Kazakhstan. The World University Games, sponsored by the International University Sports Federation (FISU), is the largest multi-sport event outside of the Olympics and brings together more than 2,500 athletes from more than 50 countries. Like the Olympic Games athletes, student athletes from these 50 plus nations live together in a village—spending their days competing and their evenings interacting with each other.

Student athletes at Athletic Village, Almaty 2017

What struck me about this experience was the way that athletes from around the world interacted with each other. It really brought home the mission of the FISU, and in many ways that of DePaul.   FISU’s mission is “to promote sports values and encourage sports practice in harmony with and complementary to the university spirit.“   More specifically, FISU hopes that the experiences these athletes have competing with others from around the world will teach them the skills necessary to collaborate and deal with every eventuality after they graduate. These competitions provide these student athletes opportunities to come together in celebration of true friendship and sportsmanship.

I was also struck by how these students (our future leaders) came together without regard to country affiliation, religion or political ideals—which during this time in history is truly remarkable! They ate together, mingled on transportation, and competed on the same field of play. One of the most powerful moments was during the closing ceremonies, when the countries become so co-mingled that you can no longer tell (given the fact that the athletes have all traded country gear) which country anyone is from. It was just like those Sneetches—no one cared who had stars and who didn’t!

Closing ceremony at Almaty 2017

This is the power of international collaboration. Be it through study abroad, global learning experiences, athletic endeavors or travel, the ability to experience other cultures, to interact one-on-one with others who at first glance seem different—these interactions provide individuals with a more expanded view of the world. It is through these experiences that we as society become more tolerant of each other and make the world a better place.

As educators, it is our responsibility to help students find these opportunities, and technology provides one way to do this. Not all students have the means to travel, but technology can help us bridge this gap—providing students the opportunities to collaborate with others around the world. More collaborations with those whose experiences are different than our own brings us closer to a world where no one knows “whether this one was that one… or that one was this one…or which one was what one…or what one was who.”

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