Thank you to Clay Burrell for his kind words about our Flat Classroom Projects and for starting the conversation about 'Does Flat Fall Flat for Teens?' The comment responses to his blog post many and interesting to read, as is Vicki Davis' response via her blog.
Essentially Clay is asking to what degree are global projects working, given the often intense work needed by educators to set them up and propel them, as compared to local projects, and whether the benefits justify the costs.
In response, as I gaze out to the Pacific Ocean on my 20th last day of summer holiday ;-)......
1. Getting beyond the 'Wow!'
I firmly believe in moving away from the 'wow' factor and embedding good practice into everyday teaching and learning. Therefore, even though the 'hook' for many classroom activities is the 'wow' e.g. meeting and learning with others who are not face to face in the same room, the aim is to make this mode of working normal so that an 'unflat' classroom becomes unusual. Yes, it can be a lot of work for teachers, it can be intimidating for students, it can also not be the most comfortable way that students/teenagers want to learn (initially) given other demands in their lives. However we are talking about a win-win situation here. We are talking about providing choices for learning, local and global interactions that are meaningful and support authentic problem solving.
In order for students to be fully engaged, creating and sustaining collaborations and friendships on a global basis, teachers must also be engaged and model best-practice for this. Clay asked if any of our Flat Classroom students still communicated after the projects finished. To be honest I do not know for sure. There is a lot of pre-project and post-project research we need to do to determine what is going on and to be able to measure how learning is improving. I do know students have created alignments that have sustained throughout the projects and been meaningful not just for the immediate project topics or work. I do know that my class in Bangladesh, the very first Flat Classroom and Horizon Project group of students, were eloquent in their reflections (I have podcasts on this blog) about communication issues, collaboration difficulties and cultural differences that challenged them to the point that they were enthralled but at the same time not sure if all the work was worth it. However, it is this group of students that I still hear from, even after being out of Bangladesh for over 12 months.
3. Pedagogical shift - Making a difference to the world as we know it today
I am also a firm believer in providing opportunities for interaction and learning that will ultimately change the world. I am not trying to be high and mighty about this, or over philosophical, but I do not see the point in school for school's sake. We collaborate to 'create' better understanding of each other and of what is happening in the world. We collaborate to find better ways to do things that can make a difference to how others live, learn, communicate etc.
Another thing.....learning is not a one-size fits all situation. Does everyone like Geography? or Mathematics? No? Well then not everybody 'likes' local or global collaboration, or for that matter group work as opposed to working alone. I empathize with Will Richardson's comment to Clay's post when he says, "I think there is a residual learning about simply the process and the complexity of creating and working in those connections that will benefit the kids you worked with a great deal."
I am reading a great book called 'Three Cups of Tea' that is affirming in it's simplicity, that by reaching out and providing multi-modal opportunities for learning and by joining together people from different backgrounds with a common purpose we can raise awareness and be a catalyst for change. Greg Mortenson's drive to open schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan is an inspiration to us all.
So, I say let's get beyond wondering what the average teenager is thinking or doing as most likely it will be something self-centred, but let's continue to reach out and provide experiential learning opportunities that are confronting and challenging knowing that by starting with a spark a fire is sure to follow and that the process and practice of global interaction is pedagogically sound. So Clay, I think the benefits, albeit intrinsic in nature, far outweigh the costs on teacher time. We need to wake up our fellow educators and students to the advantages of cultural diversity, collaborative learning and online tools to support this pedagogically and embrace flat learning experiences as the norm. We need not be 'disappointed' if our students are not changing their work patterns immediately or at all, the residual knowledge gained from flat classroom experiences will ultimately shape the way they approach the world, as it has for educators.
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