Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Collaboration: Concept, Power and Magic

This blog post is in response to an invitation from Jeff Plaman at International School Beijing's 7 Steps Towards 21st Century Education Ning, to write about global collaboration in order to raise awareness of possibilities and to share my enthusiasm for making connections and working across boundaries and borders. I often write about connective living as an educator, eg A Day in the Life, and try to emphasise the need to develop a personal learning network in order to make these connections happen. It is through connections and communications using Web 2.0 and other tools that collaboration opportunities can emerge.

I am often asked how I got started in global collaborative projects, and I am then asked how others can come on board as well. My history in classroom Internet-based, global goes back about 12 years with Global SchoolNet and Cyberfair, iEARN, and now more recently co-developing Flat Classroom Projects. However let's not drag up the past, let's focus on NOW and how the reader of this blog (You!) can get involved by joining and/or creating a 21st century global project, and all that entails!

Please note this is written specifically from my point of view and includes the work and projects I have been involved in so is therefore fairly narrow, but at the same time I think progressive.


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! With tools such as Skype, wikis, blogs, Elluminate etc there is no excuse for not staging a real-time or asynchronous link-up to support your curriculum objectives. There is also no excuse any more for not participating in a global project, a more deliberated, designed, planned and executed approach to collaboration via the Internet.

I have written many times in the past about the concept of global collaboration.

Power and Practice

I equate practice with power. If you are practicing collaboration you have the power to change the world, one classroom at a time. The power of learning in a social and extended context, yet in a safe and supportive environment is achievable. I think sometimes schools and teachers give up too easily, put this in the 'too hard' basket too readily. Some blog posts about this include:

  • My 2020 Vision for Global Collaboration, where I give more of the history of my involvement in global, collaborative projects, and talk about the ideals of embedding this into the curriculum, develop digital citizenship skills, unblock tools etc
  • The Year of Global Collaboration 3.0, where I talk about the evolution of global collaboration to the 3.0 status. Let me copy the main points again here:
Global Collaboration 3.0
  • Fully engaged teachers who communicate with all participants (other teachers and other students)
  • Use of Web 2.0 tools for communication and interaction (networking) and for creation
  • Different global classrooms work together on a theme/project and become one classroom
  • Common assessment objectives
  • High expectations for connectivity and collaboration on teachers and students (it is not enough to email once a week!)
  • Extended community partners included in the project (other educators, experts)
  • Output may be individual or class/school based but includes input from others
  • Output uses multimedia and attempts to make a difference to the immediate or extended environment
  • Teacher and/or student initiated, student-centered learning

Further to the idea of practice here are a list of resources for the Flat Classroom Projects over the past 2+ years

Also, here is a current presentation showing the 7 Steps to a Flat Classroom


The magic of collaboration comes from seeing students and teachers find their own voice and take charge of their own learning. It comes from being given choices and ownership and empowerment of their learning path. In the blog post "The conference that changed lives" I share the amazing power of bringing together people from around the world, students and teachers who came to Qatar for a face-to-face gathering and the magic that occurred before, during and after this event. This post also shares the 4 student videos that came from the winning teams, and is witness to the power of collaboration of strangers. The video that opens the Flat Classroom Conference, found on the Ning, details the development of a collaboration between myself and Vicki Davis that has changed our lives, created a pedagogically significant body of work, and encouraged others globally to reach out and make this happen.

Finally, I think the recent blog post "Take One Hour to Go Beyond Reflections", comes towards sharing the impact and true magic of global collaboration, when it shares artifacts and responses to the Flat Classroom Conference event.

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Create the Future: 21st Century Learning in Practice

Do you ever get the feeling that you want to change the world? Change it now? Those educators who some to the 21st Century Learners group meetings at Qatar Academy do, and yesterday decided to take action to try and share ideas, stories and solutions via video to try and encourage others to re-think their educational practice, take risks, change mindset and tool-set and foster creative student choices. They did this while meeting for breakfast, yesterday, on the first morning of our weekend, with Kim Cofino as mentor to share her journey into 21st century learning with us.

Here is the resulting video, modeled on the 'talking heads' idea found in "Learn to change, Change to learn"

We have been very fortunate to have Kim Cofino, 21st Century Literacy Specialist from International School Bangkok, with us here in Qatar for a few days, running "Create the Future" professional development workshops in the Qatar Academy Senior School.
Presentations Kim shared with us:
Kim has a clear vision and a passion for what learning should look like in today's classroom and beyond. I admire her tenacity and energy in conveying this vision and share her frustration when the message is misunderstood or worse, ignored as not having value. In a school as large as Qatar Academy the 70+ senior teachers are a microcosm of educators in a typical international school. Or are they? Over the 2 days of presentations, workshops and a final 2-hour department-based activity there was a gamut of reactions and comments from participants. The road to 21st century learning, where 1:1 computing and online learning modes are readily accepted and where fear of change is replaced with a shared passion knowing this is the way to go, was a bumpy ride. This is hard work!

One result, I feel, of our carefully crafted plans for the immersion into 21st century learning for teachers in the senior school at QA, was that we still have not managed to change the mindset. Yes, new ideas have been explored, new tools introduced, everyone now has a better idea of what they need to plan and prepare for when all students in Grade 7 and 8 arrive with laptops next year. However, true 21st century learning is more than that. It requires fundamental but complete change in the way we access, store, share and refer to information. It requires complete re-thinking in the way we connect, communicate, collaborate and create. These are not just words, these are realities. ALL participants in the learning process today must take this concept on board and CHANGE, one step at a time, one idea at a time, one tool at a time, one approach at a time. This means teachers when they prepare learning environments; this means students when they construct knowledge; this means parents when they interact with the learners and are learners themselves; this means administrators when they structure timetables and calendars and access to physical and virtual resources; this means IT support when they provide infrastructure (hardware and software) for learning.

Then again, how do you change a mindset? How do you effect change so that everyone feels non-threatened? I believe it is possible by providing carefully chosen resources and steps to take, while supporting these baby-steps with technology facilitators and progressive curriculum designers. I also believe that all schools globally are grappling with this issue. Colleague, Judy O'Connell from Hey Jude fame, shares her recent presentation, via blog post Connect and Inspire...oh Yeah! with the presentation 'Finding the Path to 21C Learning' available on Slideshare. Judy states, "Some of the ‘push’ of the conference was ICT, PD, and the horrors of cyberbullying. For those coming new to new media, they needed to hear about the power of personal learning networks - but I’m afraid I might have been the only one to mention this."

Connectivism, personal learning networks, sociability of learning, flattened digital learning environments...these are all so important! Judy goes on to say, "This is not a new outcome at conferences - we are starting to see a digital divide emerging in that some people believe they can talk about and research digital learning environments and social networking without actually being active participants in that world! I like to see keynote speakers who can share their online digital identities with us, and prove to me that they really do understand the architecture of participation that is learning in our new century."

Where do you stand on professional development and 21st century learning? How do we really effect a change in education, we all know we need one....don't we?

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Generation Finding its Way to New Success

Don Tapscott, on a the Net Generation Education Challenge asks "Is this the dumbest generation?"

As part of the conversation of the NetGenEd Project, the 300+ students and teachers involved in the online project have a chance to respond the video Don has uploaded recently.

In this video Don talks about the 'misconception' that the youth of today are Internet addicted, narcissistic, mooch off their parents, and made 'dumb' by their constant worthless online activities.

Here is my short response:
"Don, my first reaction to this, as part of the 'baby-boomer' generation, is wasn't the same sort of criticism leveled at the child of the 60's? Weren't we accused of being 'TV zombies'? Brought up on Gilligans Island and I Dream of Jeanie while we waited (I come from Australia) for better quality educational content to filter through to our screens, which it did eventually. Weren't we accused of spending far too much time passively entertained to the detriment of our brain cells and our physiques? As for mooching off parents......once again this is an economic and generational divide debate, and also a cultural divide. In many societies it is considered appropriate to live as an extended family and combine income. The American or western model is not replicated or desired everywhere.
In support of students today, they have the opportunity to create their own learning spaces, and they do with great confidence. They have ownership of their own digital content and the power to make connections that will ensure they can change the world that we as the mature adults have tinkered with.
After being witness to student-motivated outcomes through projects such as Net Generation Education, after seeing the determination to connect, collaborate, problem-solve and create through an opportunity such as the Flat Classroom Conference recently, I have complete confidence that given a chance the youth of today will find their way and show us all a better way of life. They have the motivation: to make the world livable for all. They have the tools: networked resources that allow them connections and collaborations we have never had until now."

What do you think??

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Across My Desk (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Take One Hour to go Beyond Reflections

How will we remember it? How can we even start to put it into words that capture what really happened and how we all felt about the Flat Classroom Conference? I recommend you take 1 hour to absorb this blog post and everything it contains.

It all started with.........

Then it continued for 2 and a half days.......

Jeff Utecht, presenter and flat classroom colleague talks about empowering students, Paul McMahon, facilitator and flat classroom 'newbie' talks about the right people in the right place at the right time, while Anne Mirtschin, flat classroom teacher who brought her class to Qatar, talks about Doha through the senses.

Meanwhile on the Flat Classroom Conference Ning, student and teacher reflections from real-time and virtual participants are coming in, as blog posts, as comments and as multimedia.

I think the opening shot of this FlatConf_wrap, co-produced by media and film expert and conference consultant, Frank Guttler, and the Film Studies students as a taster for what will emerge in the next month after they have worked through the 38 hours of video footage taken over 3 days!, starts the reflection....with a juxtaposition of 'old' and 'new', a traditional mosque with the modern Aspire tower.

Find more videos like this on Flat Classroom Conference

Meanwhile, I continue to contemplate the students and how they seized the opportunity to overcome differences and unite for a common cause, and how their example in attitude and practice has now set the standard for future flat classroom events. I remember the tentative greetings on the first day, the shyness and awkwardness seen so often in young (and old) when they first meet. I remember the last dinner where we took them to TGI Fridays (very traditional !) and how we struggled to get them all back on the buses to leave, how they had bonded, became friends in 3 days through the unique set of experiences they had shared. I was told the next day that rousing choruses of national anthems took place during the bus trip back to the hotel...I wish I had been there.

I wish also I had not been quite so busy during the event and able to spend more time with the students, getting to know them as you get to know your own class. I will not forget the polite and fun-loving Omani's, the shy yet determined Pakistani's, the confident and diverse Ethiopians, the wide-eyed Australian's, the welcoming Qatari's, the intrepid Indians and the excited but wary Americans. (generalisations of the groups/classrooms from each country....in fact we had over 20 nationalities represented by the students alone). I admire this video put together by Yaqsan as it starts to show the fun, the camaraderie, the variety of experiences, and the personalities!

Find more videos like this on Flat Classroom Conference

Then there is the teacher from Houston, Estie, who worked so hard to bring as many of her students to Qatar as she could. You MUST watch her video reflection in which she says, "These students stand on the brink of implementing real change through collaboration and creation" amongst other gems of wisdom and experience.

Find more videos like this on Flat Classroom Conference

And then there is this video made by Keith, a teacher from Ethiopia, with the student Edgar pre-and post flat classroom. This is one of my very favourites! Edgar exudes a certain maturity that we all aspire to when he talks about, "....connecting......bridging..different people in different communities...being able to discuss real issues...eg the school from Georgia, after being exposed to other people and other cultures they really opened their eyes..learning is not necessarily learning about 1+1, learning about different cultures and about the world as a whole is really important and helps to make the world more of a global village"

Find more videos like this on Flat Classroom Conference

What else to include here?
We have teachers who were
awed, overcame their fears, reflected on returning to a mono-culture, shared encouraging comments and ideas for improvement, loved the Souq, celebrated being a community of learners, encouraged embedding best 'flat classroom' practice in the future, are inspired to take baby steps to get there, were inspired by Thomas Friedman.
We have parents
inspired and proud.
We have students who
wished the conference was longer, had a great time, presented virtually, gained confidence in public speaking, say you just had to be there, experienced being a minority, were amazed by their own generation, described, shared and documented.

In the words of teacher Heather Davis from China, "How four days can change a person's viewpoint and comfort zone. I leave with a understanding that no stereotypes actual exist but are created by the media and by fear. I leave with an understanding that people all over the world are the same though the clothes and cultures may be different. A love of family, country, and friends exists in all nations. A desire for a better world, a desire to solve our global problems together, a desire for information and education and a desire to share openly and willingly exists. I leave with an appreciation of the elegance of the traditional dress. I leave with memories of laughter as we all shared common experiences. I leave with the memories of the beautiful friendly eyes of the Qatari woman who were veiled, of their help and their willingness to help. I have memories of an incredible sense of fashion, beauty and a love of family. I learned to appreciate the flowing scroll of the Arabic language as I saw it written beside trademarks such as Carrefour, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Mercedes, Valentino and Gucci."

and later Heather says, "I also learned to begin to hope again. To see promise in the future. The students who came to Qatar were not just a part of the conference but led the way. It gives me new focus and a determination to move forward and create authentic global connections with and for myself and my students."

In the words of Salim Al-Busaidi, the teacher from Oman, "I think the students have proved that they are real leaders and the teachers have successfully contributed to preparing these leaders for the future."

So, reader of this blog post, if you have taken the hour that I recommended to read through reflections, watch videos and continue to explore the Ning, I am sure you have also gone 'beyond reflections' to find a depth and a set of experiences that are unique in the world as we know it today. Maybe you will join us for the next Flat Classroom Conference?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Eracism: Accolades for student visionaries

After a week of international voting we are pleased to announce the results of the student project from the Flat Classroom Conference held in Qatar last week.

As a background to this, the Student Summit participants at the conference (40 from all parts of the world) were given the challenge of envisioning the next Flat Classroom Project. Very briefly this is what they went through over the 3 days:

Day 1: Meet and greet team members (4 students per team), exchange cultural ideas and start to brainstorm ideas for their project.

Day 2: Worked in teams all day with 2 sessions where teachers and students joined for project idea feedback and final voting of the 'winning' teams.
- Group session 1: Teams pitched their ideas to tables of teachers who then provided feedback via a rubric. Time allowed for 3 x rotations so each team had 3 lots of feedback ontheir project ideas.
- Group session 2: Each team presented their ideas via a multimedia and vocal presentation. Supporting material had also been put on a wiki, some created PPTs, some even got a rough video together. All team memebrs spoke about their ideas in an attempt to convince us theirs was the best.

Day 3: The 4 winning teams had until 2:30 to create their multimedia artifact to try and show what their project was really all about. These were then played at teh conference closing session, put on the Ning and international voting encouraged.

Now: The results!
Congratulations to Eracism and students from wiki team 4 Nastassja, John, Yaqsan, Antonia
In their words: "Our aim is to give teenagers all over the world an opportunity to express their opinions and ideas about issues in the current world."

Students - although one group officially "won" - you are ALL the winners. We are both so thrilled with the amazing work you've done - your engagement on the Ning and belief that we can build the bridges today through the Internet that society of tomorrow can walk across!

The Eracism group has officially won the competition and we will be working through the details to begin this project probably in August/ September of 2009. Stay posted on the Ning as we work with this - if you'd like to volunteer to work with this project, all students who attended this year's conference are invited to be a member of the "Advisory Board" for Eracism - we will create a group on the Ning - just join the group.

Additionally, Face Poverty and TechTrust have elements that we are currently incorporating into the 2010 conference and hope to announce within the next few months - we hope that the students on this project will consider being involved in the Student Advisory group for the 2010 conference. Artistmatic has some math teachers thinking about how this idea can help math education and we are discussing and searching for some math teachers around the world to help implement an educational network around using creativity to teach math.

Whether you realize it or not, each student group has fundamentally contributed to the ideas of what CAN be done to flatten classrooms in meaningful ways that improve our world! The conference has transformed all of us who saw just what students could do in a project based conference environment and we are working behind the scenes to improve and include more classes in the future.

Right now, we encourage all students to submit videos for the Net Gen Education Challenge with Don Tapscott and we are still looking for more teams to be involved in the Net Gen Ed Project to kick off in two weeks. Please encourage and ask your teachers to join in the project.

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