Sunday, June 05, 2011

An International Journey

This is a narration of my journey as an international educator. It has taken a couple of different forms and I am sharing these via this blog post.

From the book co-written by my friend and colleague, Vicki Davis and me, 'Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time'
Written in Beijing, China June 2011.
“Come and teach in the real Africa,” was the advertisement that inspired my husband and me to apply for and finally accept our first international teaching positions in Zambia, January 1998. Our daughter, Violet, was three. We sold up most of our worldly possessions in hometown Melbourne, Australia and left for Africa on our new adventure. We are still out there, over fourteen years and five countries later (Zambia, Kuwait, Bangladesh, Qatar and now China), experiencing in addition to Australian, also British and International Baccalaureate curriculum while exploring and embracing diverse cultural differences.
Zambia was also my first position as a computer teacher. Yes, before that I was a music teacher, dabbling in technology for performance and composition. However, this book is not about my journey alone, it is about the journey of many who are willing to ‘push the envelope’ or be pushed into learning experiences that significantly alter personal perceptions of how the world works and how we can work together to make it a better place. 
The Internet changed everything. As an early adopter I still remember, in the mid 1990’s, organizing my school community at Eltham College, Melbourne, to arrive at 5am to hear via live broadcast the outcome of the International School’s Cyberfair (website design to unite and take action) competition. Our school had been shortlisted for the Environment award, and we gained an honorable mention, as announced personally by Al Gore at that ceremony. This was an exciting achievement for the school and on that day I reflected on the looks of incredulity when I announced weeks before in the staffroom I had entered the school in a global project, ‘But do the students know how to create a website?’, ‘What does it mean to share online?’ ‘What do you mean ‘global’’?
Other memories include running an ‘Internet Club’ as an after school activity at Simba School, Zambia where around the change of the millennium we participated in iEARN learning circle projects. This was an environment where the only computer allowed on the Internet at that time (by directive of our school head) was in a locked room in the library, with the non-networked computer lab being a good 5 minute walk away. This did not deter us!
My life changed again when Vicki Davis and I started the Flat Classroom® Project. I was in Bangladesh in a 1:1 school with wireless Internet access and with students who were studying the impact of technology on society. In addition Web 2.0 was emerging as a platform for communication and collaboration. The time was ripe to embark on something new that could be scaffolded by the new online technologies and could join students across the globe in meaningful learning experiences. As we joined our classrooms we shared audio introductions, posted images, instant messaged, and connected in real time via Skype. The challenge of working through time zones and cultural differences were often subliminal but omnipresent. Conversations, both synchronous and asynchronous took place during the intense project working time. Like boring a hole right through the center of the earth, students reached out, desperate for connection and confirmation that there was someone else on the other side willing to respond and work with them.
Very early on we saw the concept, power and magic of connecting with others globally and the difference it was making to learning, including stereotypical attitudes and behaviors. Not only did we keep developing new projects but we had a dream to bring students and teachers together face-to-face to cement collaborative relationships and work on action ideas. If the impact of global collaboration was evident in an asynchronous project, we imagined the opportunity for growth if we could get students and teachers working together in the same place at the same time. Our dream came true in Qatar 2009, when the first Flat Classroom Conference changed lives and cast a vision for the future.
Being an international educator, and having a daughter as a ‘third culture kid’ (with educator parents), I selfishly want others around the world to experience what we are privileged to live. I want them to be confronted with different religious and cultural beliefs and be immersed in an environment where English (or their own language) is not spoken and where simple communication can often result in highly creative sign language. I want them to acknowledge and respect differences and learn how to use their personal strengths to create a bond of understanding with new friends. I want them to question, doubt, be amazed, experience alternative lifestyles, treasure similarities, and learn how to get on with other people globally. I want them to be able to do this without losing their own identity and sense of belonging to a country or to a culture, and without feeling superior or inferior to any other person.
Through Flat Classroom® we are building bridges, forging new pedagogies, and questioning current education systems that place value on content above process and individual output and gain rather than on collaboration and community learning for understanding. This book is a part of the bridge and we encourage you to learn from the stories and apply it in your own learning situation. I encourage you to embrace your our own global journey.

As a presentation at the ISTE 2011 Opening Ceremony, June 2011.
The video excerpt:

The images from the presentation as a slideshow:

My annotated presentation slides:


Lennox said...

Great stuff, Julie! Keep on inspiring!!

Lennox said...

Great stuff, Julie! Keep on inspiring!!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

Great to "meet" you. We (wife, 2 children and I) are in Oman, but started in Tanzania, in the "real Africa". I am a 2nd grade classroom teacher, using more and more technology to try to redefine the learning that happens in my room.
Your post is very inspiring. We seem to be on a similar path, albeit I am a few contracts (and many achievements) behind you!
I look forward to reading your blog in the future.

Marcello Mongardi (@pigacompyuta)

Sharon said...

Thanks for sharing your journey, Julie! I have pushed those boundaries myself by making the move to Mozambique and embarking on my own trek into international education. Hope to see you at ISTE and hope that my students can come on board to Flat Classroom. These are exciting times to be an educator, aren't they?

Anonymous said...

Julie, I hope you keep this blog post. It is a fascinating recount of the amazing work you do and where you have come from. I loved reading about it and am proud to say that I was present at that amazing and memorable Flat Classroom conference at Qatar.
Your vision is 'way out there' and one that I want my students and me to be part of. Thank you again. I am still always amazed to hear the student voice in the student summits for the netgened project. The value, the knowledge, the experiences they have gained from these projects, means your vision is being achieved. said...

Great Julie! You have both inspiring and entertaining write ups of your journey. And I adore how you managed to make every details to be alive in the mind of those reading.

Jumping Castles Sydney said...

Julie you have an outstanding love and passion to teach children and that what makes every journey and work of yours remarkable. Keep it up!

Business Coach Sydney said...

Your post regarding international educator is very inspiring in such a way that I am now dreaming of becoming to be one of the great educator.

home soda maker said...

Hi julie! You always have had some wonderful and heartwarming journeys that always leave us a trail of inspiration. Keep it up!