Thursday, August 28, 2014

Who says global collaboration is hard??

We do!! Here at Flat Connections we acknowledge the fact that embedding meaningful connections and authentic collaborations into the curriculum is not fact it is hard! 

We also acknowledge that because global collaboration is hard MOST teachers and schools are not doing it in any form - even the schools who have spent thousands of dollars or RMB or Riyals or pounds etc. on technology resources!

True global collaboration in the classroom needs a shift in teaching that allows teachers and students to 'flatten' the learning experience to bring the outside world in and put themselves out there - to build bridges for global empathy and create workable structures where all participants can learn with and not just from each other. But what does this all mean?

What are some barriers?
We all know what schools can be like, so let's list some of the deterrents to global collaboration:
  • Technology infrastructure - hardware, software, network - Is your school ready to collaborate globally? Do you have a supportive IT person? Can you have the tools you need for connections and collaboration? (e.g. Skype, Edmodo, Wikispaces, Google apps)
  • Technology access - Do you and your students have access to tools regularly so that you can connect and collaborate? Global collaboration does not mean you need to be a 1:1 or BYOD or BYOT school/classroom - many of us have done global collaboration with one computer, 30 students and a weak Internet connection - but you do need access every week and understand the responsibility of connecting with partners
  • Technology fluency - Are you and/or your students able to work with the technology to make your collaboration a success? Can you Skype or edit a wiki without stress? What other Web 2.0 tools can you or have you used that will support the global collaboration (e.g. Voicethread, Padlet). If not, do you have help with this?
  • Global digital citizenship skills - Are you and your students aware of what it means to be learning online? Have you discussed reliable and responsible use of online spaces? Do you have digital citizenship guidelines in place to support this in your school community? Have you met with parents and students to explain the objectives of collaborating beyond the classroom?
  • Non-conformity - Many schools do not encourage 'teacherpreneurs' or 'outliers'. This means, if for example, one grade 3 teacher wanted to do a global collaborative project, the ruling is that unless ALL grade 3 teachers can do it as well, then it is not possible. The usual scenario is the other teachers are NOT interested so therefore the collaboration is dropped....sound familiar?
  • The 'we are already collaborating and don't need anything more' approach - A deeper barrier to why more classrooms and schools are not collaborating globally is the lack of a shared understanding of what global collaboration is. More needs to be written about this, however the typical scenario is a classroom or school who may have a focus on a particular country or project that becomes all-consuming for a few, but in reality is non-involvement for most. Another scenario is a classroom or school who does video conferencing (rich learning experiences of course - includes regular Skype calls) but then never moves to the asynchronous collaborations that are ESSENTIAL when embedding curriculum objectives for global competency
  • No idea where to start - Yes! we really know what this feels like and there are many real solutions to this now. It all starts with teachers connecting themselves to like-minded educators and existing projects already running via places like The Global Classroom, Global Education Conference, Flat Connections....and more....
What are some enablers?
  •  Your PLN - Teachers who build a personal learning network will find other educators ready and willing to support them into global collaborative learning - this is such an important enabling step. Connecting your self as an educator (e.g. via Twitter, Google+, Ning communities etc) and being a reliable contributor to these communities (that doe NOT mean you contribute every day - but when you can, and when you need to) will launch you into 'globalness'
  • Finding a reliable partner(s) - How many of you have started to reach out globally, found a partner and then the project failed? We all know what this feels like - bur DO NOT give up! Learn, reflect, work out what to do better next time, find a more reliable partner(s) and try again
  • Learning standards and framework - Have you looked at these recently? Have you really looked? Don't they say things like 'intercultural understanding' or collaboration with others at a distance'? I am sure they do - so what are you doing about this? The occasional Skype call is NOT enough - meet with your curriculum or learning and teaching coordinator and discuss the possibilities - discussion and combined problem solving within a school is a BIG enabler to move forward globally
  • Curriculum design - To embed meaningful learning experiences into the curriculum takes some redesign and pre-planning. Global collaboration, like any other objective, needs careful design and preparation. This includes connecting and communicating with partner teachers in other places and determining the structure and timeline of the collaboration, the outcomes, the shared knowledge and the co-created products. Of course this enabler - such a wonderful juicy challenge for all educators - is often seen as a barrier (too hard, not allowed to 'change' the curriculum etc)
  • Web 2.0 tools - Yes! It has to be listed here that access to Web 2.0 tools is the bridge to collaborative learning. You will NOT be able to collaborate globally using a school-based learning management system (or Google apps just for your school) without difficulty. The beauty of Web 2.0 tools is they are mostly free. Not sure what these are - see Cool Tools for Schools for MANY examples

At Flat Connections we encourage all readers of this blog post who are in schools as teachers, leaders and administrators to consider how you can take your learning and your students learning global:
  • It is imperative
  • It is one of the major reasons for using mobile and ubiquitous digital technologies
  • It does support global awareness and competency and intercultural understanding - and we believe this is a GOOD thing, so good in fact that....
  • It will change the world - it already has for the many teachers and students who have taken the opportunity to connect and collaborate.

So much more to say......but for now......
We invite you to browse Flat Connections global projects (fully managed and supported projects for all levels of K-12), and  Flat Connections professional development (to learn more about how to take your learning global).

Related blog posts:
Intercultural understanding: Flat Connections meets the Australian curriculum
From this post written in early 2014:
It is with much anticipation that I am exploring the Australian National Curriculum (ANC) documents and becoming absorbed in the 'Intercultural Understanding' sections. As an IB (International Baccalaureate) teacher for 10 years, and a global educator, having taught across six different countries, I may have had more access to conversations and documents to do with intercultural understanding, cultural awareness, third culture kids, international mindedness, and cultural awareness than perhaps the average Australian teacher to date. It is certainly heartening to see a focus and emphasis on exploring how to recognise different cultures and develop respect now embedded into the relatively new national curriculum guidelines.
Collaboration: Concept, Power and Magic (some links are now dead on this older post from 2009). From this post:
The ability to connect, communicate and collaborate with educators and students in all parts of the world using common online tools has changed the way I teach in the classroom, as well as changed the way I work as an administrator. A 21st century educator is connected, communicates in a reliable and responsible way, and 'flattens' the walls of their classroom in appropriate ways to enhance the educational learning experience of all. Therefore, every topic, every unit of work, every opportunity needs to be reviewed in terms of how it can be made relevant through external contact and collaboration. Gone are the days where it was too difficult to bring the world into the room. You, the teacher, are only limited by your imagination!

Beyond the Wow! - Embed the Flat learning experience for sustainability (an even older post from 2008 - but with similar sentiments). From this post:
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.

Julie Lindsay
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