Like a Digital Study Abroad

By Ifrah Akhtar, DISC Social Media and Communications Intern, Rutgers University Class of 2019

 

Imagine having access to renowned professors that are miles away from you. You’re exposed to unique topics, a new system of learning, and peers in other states. If any of the previous
statements resonated with you, then you should look into distance learning. The DISC or Digital Islamic Studies Curriculum is an alliance of the Big 10 Academic Institutions in the United States to provide students with diverse and unique perspectives on the Islamic world.

When I was first introduced to a DISC course, it was the topic that snatched my attention, “Islam in South Asia.” The course was taught by Farina Mir, who is an expert in colonial and post-colonial studies in South Asia. My mother is from that region and as I grew up in the fold of Islam, I always wondered about the historical impacts that not only brought Islam to South Asia
but how they intertwined with culture and impacted my mother’s ancestors. This DISC course was a gateway for me to answering those questions.

I clearly remember the first day of class, I was in a small seminar room with about 4 other students. There were two large screen TVs in the room and an array of cameras. The teaching
assistant connected us to the University of Michigan through a video call and we joined the class. Although there were only a handful of Rutgers students taking this class, on the other side of the
screen, the lecture hall at Michigan was filled. Initially, I didn’t realize that the professor would be connecting with us this way so I was taken by surprise. The cameras in the room also
followed us, zooming in on the person who was speaking which was a bit unsettling. It’s strange attending a class with the instructor not being there in person, but it’s fun too. Professor Mir always took time to make sure we had chances to participate in discussions and that we were understanding the material. She made herself easily accessible by email, in case we had any further questions and we had the option to have office hours with a teaching assistant at Michigan as well. After the first two classes, my peers and I easily adapted to distance learning. Being in a DISC course ended up being a positive experience for me; I decided to take another course on the Islamic mystic, Rumi. In this DISC course, the professor was actually from Rutgers, so he was in the classroom with us and we video called students at the University of Michigan and Illinois. Compared to my previous DISC experience, this one felt more rigorous since the professor was lecturing on our end and we connected with two other university classrooms. For this semester, I distinctly remember having great discussions across all campuses.

After being in two DISC courses, I can assuredly say that the best part is being able to have access to unique and diverse courses. I personally felt that not enough Islam themed or centered courses were being offered at my university, so DISC resolved that. Also, the DISC professors visit each campus that is taking their course. Professor Mir came to visit us and it was wonderful seeing her in person and being able to physically be in one of her lectures. Professor Mojadeddi from the Rumi course also went to visit the other two universities that were part of our DISC class.

The DISC experience not only expanded my educational horizons but I also have a larger network due to it. The students and faculty I connected with through my DISC classes are now friends and professional resources for my future career.

The only con I had about the courses regarded technological glitches. Sometimes, the wifi connection would stop working and we would miss out on class time. Yet, I understand this is a
new initiative and things like that will happen in the beginning. Our professors always made sure to repeat things, in case there was a technological malfunction.

For the DISC courses that are smaller, more seminar-like, it would be great to have students from all campuses tuning in introduce themselves and create a list of expectations: for the course, from the professor, and from each other. This would definitely help in fostering more of a community during the semester.

I’m set to graduate soon and I’m excited to have taken DISC courses in my undergraduate career. Each day increases our exposure and engagement with social media and having that connecting-technology used for education is revolutionary. It’s a bit like digital study abroad, we don’t have to leave our college campus, state, or area, yet we have access to a world of topics.

Evan Murphy

DISC Program Coordinator