As the world becomes increasingly connected, so should our schools. It’s a matter of bringing global collaboration experiences to the classroom and getting comfortable with handing over the reins of learning to students.
Exposing students to global collaboration builds cultural understanding, communication skills, and knowledge and awareness of the wider world, experts say. And while global learning isn’t new, it is reaching a new level of maturity as more educators come to understand the value of learning in a global context.
Plus, today’s free and low-cost videoconferencing tools, including Skype, Zoom and Google Hangouts, make it easy for students to collaborate on research, tackle an issue of concern and solve problems with their peers around the world.
“My kids see me once every 12 days and they ask if we are Skyping today. They love the learning experience, and I can’t replicate it in any other way,” explains Karey Killian, library media specialist for Milton Area School District in Milton, Pennsylvania.
But there’s more benefits to global collaboration than just engagement, say Killian and colleague Erin Dowd, a global education specialist and consultant.
“It encourages students to look at themselves, their communities and their own culture and ask ‘who am I and where do I fit in this world?’” Dowd says.
Killian and Dowd point to other benefits of global collaboration they’ve seen firsthand:
Showing students we’re more alike than different. You might think meeting kids in a classroom in another country would lead students to identify differences. Not so, says Dowd. In her experience, students focus on similarities, like singers they all know or enjoying pizza. “It humanizes the whole situation and they connect to another person they would never be able to talk to otherwise.”
Giving students the opportunity to learn through inquiry. When students are given the opportunity to ask experts and other students questions, they’ll come up with some doozies. Some questions might even seem silly at first, like What kind of shoes do you wear? Or, what do you like to eat? But the little questions lead to bigger ones and send learners down exciting paths that can lead to global project-based learning opportunities or social justice projects.
Allowing students be the experts. When students work with learners in other classrooms, they can become the teachers. Killian saw just that when high schoolers in another state taught her third graders about STEM fields and 3D printing via videoconference.
Introducing students to careers they have never imagined. Imagine Skyping with a park ranger who works in a castle or talking about STEM careers with employees at Microsoft. Killian’s students have done just that and used the opportunity to ask questions that go beyond what they can learn on the internet.
Teaching empathy. When American students Skyped with students from Africa who had gathered in a traditional hut, they saw firsthand what real students and real teachers looked like in a faraway place. And they learned that their distant peers needed books. Just like that, the U.S. kids decided they wanted to send books to Africa and they spent a year gathering enough books for every student in the school, not just the kids they had met.
“It just makes the world real to them,” Killian says. “It opens their eyes to the world out there and helps them realize they can do and be so much.”