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Grad in Rwanda and IU East prof work like family on global class

August 10, 2023 |

It’s only natural that Denice Honaker and Bekah Williams are working together on Indiana University East’s newest global classroom project. They are a revered professor, and a recent graduate from the School of Education.

They feel that learning and teaching are always in their blood, always close to their hearts.

The same sentiment goes for their personal relationship: They are mother and daughter.

Honaker is an assistant clinical professor at IU East, while Williams is a 2020 graduate who is serving as a Peace Corps volunteer at a teachers’ college in Rwanda. They think it’s a dream come true to share resources with future educators who live about 7,200 miles apart.

Bekah Williams
2020 IU East Graduate, Peace Corps Volunteer 

“It’s amazing that IU East has that reach,” Honaker said. “It’s a beautiful connection for me.”

Williams agrees: “The most amazing thing of it all is that I get to do this all with my mom.”

“This all” encompasses the extensive work needed to develop the project at IU East and the Teacher Training College in Nyamata, Rwanda. The main topic is an exploration of movement by elementary-school students as a positive in the classroom. Simply put, how can that natural movement be used for educational purposes?

Honaker explains that she encourages her college students to take breaks in classes by doing stress-reducing actions – such as desk drumming with pencils.

Denice Honaker
Assistant Professor & Coordinator of Early Childhood Education,
School of Education, IU East

“It’s been really fun,” she said. “Kids will ask: ‘Can we do that drumming?’” They can laugh and get their minds in a place to learn.”

She further explains: “We understand more and more that regular movement lowers stress and promotes blood flow. The more senses we use, the more we learn. That remains true even as adults.”

Williams received her degree in elementary education. She is developing the international connection with Principal Alphonse Munyaneza at the TTC that prepares elementary teachers.

Students in both countries will connect face-to-face through platforms such as Zoom and WhatsApp – and they will work together on a class project.

Time zones and languages are often barriers to global classrooms. Rwanda’s time zone is six hours ahead of Indiana, so that is something that has to be accommodated.

But language isn’t as much of an issue because English has been Rwanda’s language of instruction since 2008. “One of the main purposes of Peace Corps education volunteers in Rwanda is to help improve English usage in schools,” Williams said by email. “I support pre-service teachers in teaching practices as well as the English language.”

Honaker is developing the Fall Semester class at IU East with the help of a $3,000 fellowship grant from the Global Classroom Initiative. Funding is provided through the Vice President for International Affairs (OVPIA) for Indiana University and its eight satellite campuses. Honaker expects about 22 IU East students to take part in the six-week global classroom experience that will start in September.

The student numbers in Rwanda are likely to be 50 to 60, Honaker said: “Their classes are much bigger in general.”

Online engagement is the cornerstone of the OVPIA-sponsored initiative that encourages instructors to add an international element to classes that are already being taught. The new project is the third global classroom supported through the School of Education – and the seventh in total for IU East.

– Last spring, Amanda Shufflebarger’s students connected with peers at the University of Hamburg in Germany for her course Writing for Teachers.

– Last fall, Josh Tolbert’s students connected on Methods for Teaching Students with Special Needs with the Viikki Teacher Training School from University of Helsinki in Finland.

Honaker said the successes of Shufflebarger’s and Tolbert’s classes – and their advice – gave her impetus to propose the new one.

“I found out about the program from Josh and Amanda,” Honaker said. “Our small education department is having a global impact. That is amazing.”

Her daughter was in a unique position to present the idea and to help implement it.

“This is a newer trainer position in Rwanda,” Honaker said. “As she (Williams) developed that … we’d shared that, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we collaborated.’”

The combined classes will delve into “creative ways to incorporate movement in the classroom,” Honaker said. “They will learn how they perceive movement in their own cultures. We’ll research ways they could use that movement.”

Children have a lot of energy and often are on the move. “I don’t think fun and learning have to be opposites,” Honaker said.

In that realm, working, studying, learning and moving can work together.

Williams said she has faced some cross-cultural and resource challenges: “When we were selecting texts to share with our learners, I had to reflect on the resources available to my students and the relevance of the material we were planning to share. We had to change texts and rethink questions we were going to ask many times.”

The limitation reinforces her belief that American students and educators are blessed with resources. “I am constantly reminded how blessed I was as an educator in the United States with the resources I had available so easily, and I hope the pre-service teachers who get to interact with my students in the fall reflect on that reality as well.”

Williams said her mother inspired her: “I would not be the teacher I am now without her guidance and support,” she said. “She has been really helpful in finding learning materials that are relevant to my students … She is also extremely patient and flexible when I reflect on why a resource may not work. We have worked together well to find new solutions.”

Global Classrooms are separate from study-abroad programs, but they can be complementary. IU East students are often inspired to travel by working with international classes. In fact, Shufflebarger is putting together an education-based visit to Germany.

Honaker is aiming long term with the collaboration – long distance, too.

“My plan is to travel there in December and meet the teachers (at the end of their term). We are hoping we can continue the partnership in spring.”

Williams said she has wanted to teach in another country for a long time.

“Rwanda is a beautiful country, but what’s more beautiful is the people I get to interact with. Everyone here is so kind and hospitable,” Williams said. “I would have never guessed I would make such rich relationships with the people around me.”

How to apply for grants
IU East instructors are invited to apply for the $3,000 OVPIA IU Global Classroom grants. They can be used for expenses such as travel, course design and supplies.

For more information, visit IU Global. IU East also offers its own grant program for developing new classes, which can be combined with the OVPIA grant. For more information on IU East’s grant program, please contact Julien Simon, director of study Abroad, at jjsimon@iu.edu