I have been reflecting on global collaboration and what it means for teachers, students and the wider community. I have also been reflecting on sustainability of online spaces and how much of what we are 'producing' in terms of creative output has not been preserved over the past 15 years. Let me be more specific.
For the past 12 years I have participated in online global projects with my students. In 1996, my school in Australia, Eltham College, received an Honorable Mention in the Environmental Awareness section of the International Cyberfair project (organised by the Global School Net). This project had an amazing affect on our school community. To be able to publish images, sounds (yes, we even got up at dawn and recorded the Australian bird song as the day begins to upload), ideas and thoughts from our part of the world and share them internationally was an amazing achievement in the early days of he Internet. In fact many of us got up at 5am (pre-dawn!) to come to school and listen to the Cyberfair awards ceremony that year (at a reasonable time in the USA of course) that included an opening address from Al Gore. Those were the days. Alas, the website for this project is gone, changes in school server and ISP hosting etc etc have deleted it long ago.
In my first 5 years as an international educator I ran Learning Circle projects with classes in Zambia and Kuwait as part of the iEARN initiative. These involved grouping 6 or so classrooms from around the world into a 'project' that was self-determined according to curriculum section. The outcome from the interaction was often a hard-copy publication or a website. I still have two of the 'books' produced during these years with students writings and ideas from the various international locations. I am excited to see that iEARN are now in Qatar and promoting collaborative projects in this region.
When I moved to Bangladesh and International School Dhaka we participated in the 2004 international School's Cyberfair and won the Platinum (first prize) in the Environmental Awareness section for Poribesh Bachan (Bangla for being aware, taking action). Once again this was a community project and we had great fun compiling images and records of the current environmental state of Dhaka and initiatives that were moving it forward at that time. Alas, this website is not available online anymore.
In the past 18 months I have been a co-founder (with Vicki Davis) of the Flat Classroom Project and Horizon Project and global collaboration as I knew it suddenly took on a whole new dimension. I have written about this new 'Global Collaboration 3.0' earlier however let me make some salient points here as to why we now have a whole new focus for online collaborative projects and what that means for education.
- Web 2.0 has changed the online world making interaction and collaboration easier. Instant publication via a wiki, social networking via a Ning (see flat classroom Ning) have brought people (teachers and students) together as they have never been before
- A 'flat classroom' is able to connect, collaborate and create products with other 'flat classrooms' anywhere in the world and as well as the already tried and true organisations such as GSN and iEARN there are also many wonderful educators out there internationally making this happen. This is not a definitive list but a starting point: Global education collaborative, Many Voices, Voices of the World, Global Collaborations, Taking IT Global (you have to check this one out!), Thousand and One Flat World Tales, Global education resources, Life 'Round Here. I also recommend you look at the work of Kim Cofino and A Step-by-step guide to global collaborations, Developing the global student.
- In global collaboration 3.0 here are high expectations for connectivity and communication with a true 'flat classroom' setup where teachers and students are on the same level and with the focus on student-centered learning
- Global collaborative projects need to be embedded into the curriculum. We need to be looking at how students can have experiential learning opportunities at all levels of education. As a middle and high school specialist I expect my students to have had at least one global project experience before they leave Primary school, and then to have at least one global project experience each year of middle and high school. I do not think this is unreasonable or unrealistic
- We need to continue (or start) to foster technology integration as part of what we do in schools. Gone are the days where students come to the computer lab. to do IT. Moving towards 1:1 mobile computing programs is a start, providing professional development for teachers in embedding IT into their curriculum is even more important, providing the support via integration facilitators is also essential. Facilitators must have a no-class load within a school and could be IT and/or library/media specialist or strong curriculum specialists comfortable with online tools and Web 2.0
- We need to be unblocking viable connectivity tools so that digital access and participation is available for all classrooms around the world. Can we get governments and school organizations to talk about this at the same table? Can we develop a set of essential tools that ALL schools around the world access in order to communicate?
- We need to be developing digital citizenship skills and courses within schools, starting once again at the Primary/Elementary school level. It is so important to be able to work professionally online and to understand the dynamics of online communication. This does not come easily to most beginners. Students who are perhaps used to being online via Facebook or MySpace have a perspective of how to be social but not professional online communicators. There is a difference and we need to highlight this.
- We need to be investigating sustainability of online spaces and archiving successfully projects and collaborations. Currently we use wikispaces and ning (amongst others of course)....will these still be around in 5 years time? If not, what happens to the amazing content and productivity from classrooms all around the world? Will it be lost for ever?
I have a strong belief in the power of online connectivity and global collaboration (in all of it's many forms) at the school level to make a difference to the world we live in through fostering better understanding and cultural awareness. These are not just words. I have seen this happen through the projects I have run with my own classes.
What is your 2020 vision for global collaboration? Do you have a global collaboration on your horizon?
I invite you to join our Flat Classroom Ning, Horizon Project Ning and also to have a look at our current project just starting, Horizon Project 2008, where we have 11 classrooms and over 250 students from Australia, Austria, Japan, Spain, Qatar and the USA.