I started out my first week as a Fulbright Professor at Notre Dame University in Lebanon trying to get an exemption from the university’s ban of social media on campus computers for a new class I was introducing into their curriculum, "Web Journalism."
I had already been told the journalism skills classes were not taught in labs, which is quite different than in the US, but in lecture halls with a computer for the professor at the front to demonstrate. And then there was this block, which includes Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube and Facebook, among others. This meant I wouldn’t even be able to project Twitter (now being called "the newspaper of the future") on screen from the professor’s computer. The university is concerned about overwhelming their computer system’s capacity, not to mention the ways social media can distract students. With the BBC reporting last fall that the country had "one of the slowest internet connections in the world," they certainly had their reasons.
But I thought this was important. If the class flops, then these students may see social media as a toy and not as a key to journalism’s future and their own future in the profession.
I asked my enlightened dean and the head of international studies for help getting an exemption, and in the meantime feverishly worked to find holes that might allow us to wiggle onto certain sites. For example, there’s a way to post to Posterous Spaces that the blocking software doesn’t seem to recognize – (please don’t rat me out! And in case you are wondering, this post was actually from a campus computer via email.)
Much to my surprise, late this week the block was officially lifted for my two classes (Web Journalism and a graduate reporting course). When the Web Journalism class met and I clicked a link to show a YouTube video about using social media to report elections, the students all told me it wouldn’t work, don’t bother, this is Lebanon. Even I was holding my breath waiting to see what would happen. The clip appeared! Then it stuttered, the stream pausing long enough for one of the students to shout the ironic refrain heard so often around Beirut, "Welcome to Lebanon," then it kept on streaming.