Students question virtual diplomat

March 3, 2000

American studies and politics students from ten United Kingdom institutions have had a virtual seminar with the United States ambassador to the UK, Philip Lader.

Mr Lader initiated the experimental chat link as part of the embassy's drive for outreach to non-governmental groups.

Most of the participating students logged into the debate on individual computers, but Hull University used a lecture theatre with large screen for the online debate.

Jenel Virden, head of Hull University's department of American studies, said:

"There was a benefit for the students to feel there was someone they could approach about political issues from the US government's point of view as opposed to a bunch of academics. It enhanced the classroom experience and showed that technology can play a big role in bringing players closer together."

Michael Turner, senior lecturer in politics at Paisley

University, said there had been some frustrations with the system crashing.

"But there was a great sense

of being part of a wider event, with questions coming in from all over the place," he added.

Mr Lader had time to answer only 13 of the 28 questions posted to the chatroom during the hour-long seminar, which focused largely on the current presidential election contest.

Dr Turner said the students had gained insights they could not have found in textbooks.

"But they thought he was a bit too diplomatic in some of his answers."

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