Abbi and Natalie, ten-year-old students from Bradford, Ontario, use the class “talking stick” to ask a question of Ayalet Shahak, a teacher in Israel and mother of the author of The Bat-Chen Diaries. They ask “Why did you decide to publish Bat-Chen’s diaries after she died?” During a web conference with several classes in other parts of the world, students are able to meet their global peers with whom they have been working over several months.
These students are participating in a global collaborative project called The Bat-Chen Diaries. Bat-Chen Shakah was a young Israeli girl who wrote diaries to express how she felt about living in a conflict zone. She wrote about peace, her wish to become friends with Palestinian children and her dreams for the future. Together with their peers from five countries around the world, the students in the collaborative project are discussing the issue of war and how it affects children in many countries and conflicts that are happening today. They write and share their personal journal entries that they have written based on the writings of Bat-Chen. This project is supported through the organization iEARN: The International Education and Resource Network (www.iearn.org). This non-profit, international organization includes over 25,000 school and youth organizations in over 120 countries with over one million teacher and student members who work together online using the Internet and other Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).
Global collaborative learning is not about the technologies; however, it uses the technology as tools that build relationships with others to collaborate, communicate and share with others throughout the world. Through organizations such as iEARN, collaborative partnerships are formed with classrooms, students, communities and other educational partners from around the globe. ICTs are used to foster collaborations and relationships while students work through meaningful tasks. Problems are solved together, allowing students to learn and view different perspectives from their peers. Critical thinking skills are fostered through creative processes that allow for grassroots styles of learning and questioning. Problems are posed from the students who are stakeholders in many of the issues. What better way to learn about war, natural disasters, child soldiers and segregated education than from the students involved?
Projects that are based in a collaborative framework prepare our students to become literate and responsible members of the global community. Research indicates that the jobs that will be available for the students in today’s classroom do not yet exist, but we do know that they will involve working with technology to communicate and collaborate with others throughout the world. These projects allow students to work with others who are outside of their classroom walls, whether they be within their community or in communities around the world. These technologies also provide innovative ways for students to engage in projects that are meaningful and relevant to their lives, as opposed to using the computer to do the same activity, just in a different way. As a teacher who is passionate about embedding technology effectively into my curriculum, I look at how new tools and programs can enhance collaborations and online relationships between classes.
In 2008, I (Mali) was the fortunate recipient of a technology award, which included the Pro Digital classroom amplification system from FrontRow. At first, I was not convinced that a classroom sound system would be necessary in a junior classroom and could be used within our collaborative framework. However, once it was installed, it literally opened up the world to my students. My classroom became accessible for all. In addition to using the system so my students could hear me from anywhere in the room, we connected it to our classroom computer and projector and were immersed in a rich multimedia environment. Students who were previously too shy and self-conscious to participate in live sessions with other classes, confidently asked questions using the “talking stick”—FrontRow’s child-sized, pass-around microphone—and shared their work with others from around the world.
The students in the projects also meet each other through web conferences. These live sessions allow students to share their thoughts, stories and songs and have the opportunity to ask questions of each other. The system enables the students to hear their peers clearly, as the borders of the classroom are extended. We have been fortunate enough to be involved in many live web conferences including a session sponsored by FrontRow with freestyle skier Kristi Richards. These collaborations open up dialogue about issues that are normally not discussed or available within our classrooms. The impact of these discussions and friendships reach well beyond the walls of traditional learning; real children and real-world issues are brought into the projects, allowing for engagement and actions that are truly inspiring.
Students are intrinsically motivated to work to their fullest potential knowing that the results will be showcased or published for a global audience. For the first time in history, students, and teachers can provide feedback to their global partners by using wikis, blogs, forums, socially responsible social networking tools such as Taking it Global (www.takingitglobal.org), and other 2.0 tools. Peer-to-peer feedback is very powerful, and much more meaningful than the traditional way of editing, where the teacher provides the feedback, usually in a less personal way. In many situations, the students become the project leaders and facilitators and the teachers become learners. Students are growing up in a world where these tools are part of their life. As teachers, we can provide the opportunity for our students to use these skills and tools to collaborate with others in authentic and meaningful ways and encourage their participation in the global learning community.
Active student involvement in global collaborative learning projects offers students real opportunities to work and learn with their global peers. Students can publish their work to an international audience while developing a better understanding of global issues, appreciation of cultures and developing tolerance and empathy for other cultures, while preparing them for their role as active and passionate global citizens.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mali Bickley is a Grade 5/6 Teacher at W. H. Day Elementary School in Bradford, Ontario and Jim Carleton is an ICT Consultant for Simcoe County District School Board.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2011 issue.