Writing across borders

I’ve been indirectly involved with Atlantic Bridge for the past two years (beginning at a curriculum development workshop in Liberec, Czech Republic). My initial contact with AB came through Drs. Nathan Corbitt and Vivian Nix-Early of BuildaBridge International. Nathan and Vivian have consulted on the curriculum from the beginning and usually oversee the writer’s workshops. I am the Director of Communications for BuildaBridge; through a series of meetings concerning media planning and development, I was asked by Atlantic Bridge to come to the Netherlands for a short term and concentrate specifically on revising and finishing the Bridgebuilder curriculum. My professional training is in cinema production; however, I have moved increasingly toward communications consulting with a focus on writing and information design and welcome the opportunity to work on a project such as this.

The curriculum has, for the past several years, been a work in progress. It was written in a series of workshops in different locations by many collaborators. We now have the heart of the material; however, as it stands, it is not ready for publication or wide distribution. Though there has been a roughly standard format and structure during the writing process, the curriculum as a whole needs further refining and editing (much of this is merely standardising the language throughout so that “participants” are always called “participants” and not sometimes “students” etc. However, there is still a great deal of thought going into how to best structure and present the material in the leader’s manual as well as generating supplementary content such as a participant’s manual, handouts, audio-visual materials, etc.).

The major challenge in editing material such as this is compressing down the broad topics it considers into just these few sessions. For example, we propose to cover world religions in one session. Obviously, the participants are not going to develop an in-depth understanding of the history and complexities of world religions in an hour and a half session with games and a snack. However, we do hope they will at least gain an initial introduction; that they will pick up some key points that can be called upon later (either in later sessions or in a life situation where they must either discern the difference between people’s beliefs or call upon their own).

Another considerable issue is that of language; while the curriculum is entirely in English, many of the leaders and participants are non-native speakers. It may be particularly difficult to communicate theological or sociological terms in English. Again, we are attempting to write the materials in such a way that these issues are minimised. This will not be such an issue with the materials intended for participants themselves, as they will mostly pose simple questions concerning interaction with others or straightforward questions such as, “How might your beliefs about God differ from your friend’s?” However, the leader’s manual is more in-depth and aims to provide as much material as possible for leading the session (without, hopefully, overwhelming the leader). The amount of material and the complexity of the language is something we will have to find a careful balance on. In addition to the material we present, we also provide a bibliography and web links for further preparation. It is always preferable for the leaders to find material in the participant’s native language. This will allow them to understand more fully and allow the leader to use the curriculum as a guideline rather than a document that must be first translated from English and read to the participants.

Another variable to consider is the level of technological access available to the leaders and clubs. We would, eventually, like to include much more multimedia material with the sessions (i.e. videos exploring the topics, PowerPoint presentations, music to open sessions); however, we must first asses what kinds of equipment are available to the majority of our clubs (several are in Central and Eastern Europe in schools that my not have ready access to data projectors).

My main consideration at the moment is how to best collaborate with knowledgeable people on the structure and editing of the materials. AB has a small cadre of dedicated people who are all juggling one flaming torch too many at the moment. I’ve had the original materials in hand for several months and feel I have a good grasp of where we should generally go with it; however, I’m looking at a cross-cultural curriculum through the lens of my own cultural understanding. Much better would be to have many people of different backgrounds openly collaborating on such a project. I’m considering making the suggestion that we move the material online to a Wiki. This would (if we made the material Open Source):

  1. Expand the contributorship to a global scale.
  2. Potentially be the biggest thing this organisation has ever done in terms of broadening its reach and notoriety.
  3. Essentially make this a standardised and recognised cross-cultural youth curriculum.

Atlantic Bridge would continue to coordinate the clubs and organise their International Youth Festivals. The curriculum would propagate itself…hypothetically; that’s going to take some more thought.

I believe we are at the beginning of what could become a very useful and life-changing concept here in Europe and beyond. It is certainly the right time to train youth to build bridges and become cross-culturally competent. The doors are opening across borders; we have a common language with which to work; and there is a hope in the air about the possibilities of the future. At the same time, as we can read in the news and see on our televisions, there is still much work ahead to help people understand and tolerate one another. It is programs like Bridgebuilders that can help the youth of today become people that will avoid conflict in the future.

If anyone has experience specifically with curriculum development through a Wiki (open or closed) or can point me to a resource, I’d greatly appreciate it.