The Power of Social Media and Videoconferencing for Training and Dissemination in Armenia

Mary Karapetian Alvord

Mary Karapetian Alvord

Mary Karapetian Alvord, PhD
Alvord, Baker & Associates, LLC

Many US institutions of higher learning use social media and technology for such diverse purposes as branding their schools, interacting with their students, alumni, community, and faculty, and promoting programs and events. Small isolated countries with limited economic resources must strive to harness or mobilize modern social media to disseminate information and to broaden their network beyond their countries’ borders.

This article addresses the use of social media and technology in Armenia, a country of 3 million people in the Transcaucasia region.  Landlocked, Armenia is bordered by Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.  Although the primary language is Armenian, most people speak Russian, since Armenia was formerly a Soviet Republic.  Many people in large cities, especially those associated with universities, also speak English.   In June 2015, I traveled to Armenia to serve as an External Consultant to review the project Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality in Armenia funded by a grant to the Melikian Center of Arizona State University (ASU) and to Yerevan State University (YSU) from the United States Agency for International Development/Higher Education Development (USAID/HED).

Dr. Stephen Batalden, Director of the Melikian Center at ASU, invited me to evaluate the project as an advisory board member of the Center and as a psychologist versed in the Armenian and Russian languages.  I welcomed this opportunity to visit and work in my ancestral country.  I interviewed faculty members and researchers at YSU (and earlier via video conferencing with ASU faculty) and presented recommendations based on a review of the partnership program.

The ASU/YSU program goals were (a) to develop undergraduate and graduate curricula in gender studies, (b) start a Master’s degree program in Gender Studies and Women’s Leadership, and (c) promote research in gender equality in Armenia. The ASU and YSU collaboration allowed scholars and graduate students in Armenia to spend a semester-in-residence at ASU to develop curricula and translate textbooks into Armenian because textbooks were only available in Russian and English. The 3-year grant had several goals to achieve:

  1. Provide information to promote programs and policies that encourage gender equality.
  2. Launch a platform to train female students for leadership.
  3. Develop working connections with NGO’s and other national and international organizations.
  4. Facilitate outreach to disseminate information on gender studies widely.
  5. Further an international perspective for ASU members.

Harnessing Social Media and Technology in Armenia to reach CGSL GOALS

In this section, I highlight how CGSL (Center for Gender and Leadership Studies) proposes to use social media to meet its program objectives.

Introduce the CGLS to the nation and the world

Established in 2012, the CGLS was charged with communicating its mission and program to potential students, researchers, and the broader community.  From the outset, a controversy ensued over the use of the term “gender,” a term historically associated with homosexuality and “immorality” in Armenia.  The word “gender” continues to be construed in radical terms by the broader community, often triggering hostility.  Nevertheless, the Center has persisted in using the term “gender” to educate its citizens.  According to Dr. Margarete Fonow, a Gender Studies expert at ASU, this controversy is not unique to Armenia.  Thus, the Center’s task is to inform and help educate the society at large—the public, educators, and the Government—to help them adopt a more “accepting” view of gender studies. To achieve these goals, the CGLS has a website that is now part of the website and available in Armenian and English.  The website contains educational resources, publications, announcements, a calendar for upcoming programs, and links to their monthly newsletter.

Establish national and international networks to support important work

The Center’s Facebook page is updated frequently with shared news, research stories, photographs taken at recent events sponsored by the Center, and announcements about upcoming training seminars and conferences.  Most people reached via Facebook reside in Armenia; however, people internationally also view the Center’s Facebook page.  It is hoped that the Facebook page will eventually draw individuals from abroad to the program.

Strengthen Armenian Women’s Voices by Dispelling Myths and Fears

Empower women to seek leadership positions

A monthly blog includes posts on gender discrimination, information about applying to the small grants program, and calls for conference papers.  The recently added Twitter page (@centergender) has had little use thus far.  Using the Internet to provide quality content and including links to current research publications and news are intended to engage readers and build a substantial following.  The hope is that the monthly blog will also spotlight successful women—whether they are entrepreneurs, faculty members, students, researchers or other advocates of the cause.

I attended the European Union Universal Rights Awards on the day of my arrival in Armenia.  The Coalition to Stop Violence against Women won an award for its efforts; the CGLS director was a member of that coalition.  Inspiring!  Both the Center and I tweeted the event, though the “reach” was limited.

Advanced research training

Six Armenian scholars spent a semester in residence at ASU.  Their experience of being immersed in a large research-driven academic setting proved invaluable.  They acquired skills in specialized curricula development, research design, and grant writing.  However, they noted the need for more training and mentorship in research methods, writing grants, and writing for publication.  As a telehealth and video conferencing proponent, I recommended that ASU consider providing video recordings of its research methods courses to YSU faculty and students.  I also suggested a mentorship program via video conferencing (despite the 11-hour time-difference between Arizona and Armenia) to further reinforce and fine-tune essential research skills to increase their chances of winning grants to further their programs.

My review of the program suggested that training is needed in the use of social media for dissemination of information about education and training.  For example, video clips uploaded on YouTube could draw attention to important research conducted locally in Armenia.  The CGLS could create YouTube videos to promote information about gender equality issues where faculty/researchers could present synopses of their research in both English and Armenian.  This could help disseminate scientific information and drive future grants.  Social media can disseminate information without cost, requiring only the faculty and staff time.  The CGSL now has a dedicated staff member to promote the use of social media as part of her position.

The CGSL has made impressive strides and the exciting news is it has admitted its first Master’s Degree class of eight women!

Editor’s Note: Mary Alvord received the 2015 Distinguished Applied Contributions to Media Psychology and Technology Award of the APA Division 46 Society for Media Psychology and Technology.

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