Are You Ready for a Connected Learning Year?

The Connected Educator Month theme is “Network to learn, collaborate to innovate.” Throughout August, educators have been participating in numerous networked learning opportunities. As this month-long initiative comes to a close, it seems appropriate to ask ourselves, “Now what?”

Now that we’ve experienced networked learning for our own professional development, how can we extend this kind of globally connected authentic learning opportunity to our students?

Three years ago, my colleague Cassie Allen and I began teaching 21st Century Global Leadership, a high-school course we designed to help students develop global competence. And while we accomplished much in the first semester, we soon recognized there was a key component lacking. Students were investigating the world, weighing perspectives, communicating ideas, and taking action, but only within the limited context of our school in San Antonio, Texas.

What was missing? The opportunity to not only learn about the world, but to learn collaboratively from and with others in world.

We joined the Flat Classroom Project and it transformed our class. Students were not only investigating the world, they were doing so collaboratively with peers around the globe. They were not only recognizing different perspectives, they were interacting with their colleagues to compare different worldviews on the subject they were studying together. Ultimately, our students took action by communicating their ideas to a truly global audience in a virtual summit. And in the fall of 2010, we gained an even broader global audience by participating in the first annual Global Education Conference.

Fellow global educators often ask me for advice on finding other classrooms to partner with or global collaboration projects to participate in. The first step is to become a connected educator: establish a connection with other teachers who will become your virtual colleagues. There are two key networks I recommend for connecting with potential partners: the Global Education Conference Network and the Classroom 2.0 community, especially the Distance Collaboration Group.

My best advice is to tap into an existing project. There are lots of them! But before you begin your search, take a few minutes to define what kind of project you’re looking for.

  • What are your project goals? How will you incorporate your content area standards in addition to giving your students opportunities for developing global competencies?
  • What time frame do you have in mind? Are you looking for a long-term project or a short-term one?
  • What scope do you have in mind? Are you looking to connect with a single teacher/classroom/school or multiple partners?
  • What kind of partner(s) are you looking for? Grade level? Subject area? Location?

If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, or you’d like to see some examples for inspiration, you might start with the networks I mentioned above. Or take a look at Connect All Schools whose goal is for all U.S. schools to connect internationally by 2016. They are collecting stories to document how this is happening (here’s a link to mine).

Once you’re ready to begin your search, here are some recommended resources.

There are several non-profit organizations working to help connect schools and students globally. iEARN boasts a network of 130 countries and offers an array of projects across all grade levels and content areas. Visit their Collaboration Centre to browse more than 200 existing projects or design your own. TakingITGlobal brings together young people to collaborate on concrete projects addressing global problems and creating positive change. You can connect with educators from around the world and explore their collaborative projects in the TIGed educator community. And the Flat Classroom Projects provide opportunities for students to engage in collaborative inquiry and multimedia projects around issues of global significance.

ThinkQuest hosts an international competition in which student teams identify a problem and create a website, game, video, or other digital media project to address. Their matching tool helps teachers coordinate to create international teams. Plan’s Youth Engagement and Action program also has a School-2-School Linking program that connects young people in the United States with their peers in developing countries. And the One World Youth Project not only pairs your classroom with one abroad, they also train and provide university students to help you facilitate a semester-long cultural exchange.

One thing to consider in selecting a collaboration project is the kind of technology students will use for connected learning. If you’re interested in video conferencing, Global Nomads Group is an international NGO that offers videoconferences connecting youth with their peers around the world as they learn about international issues. Skype now has Skype in the Classroom, a free online community where you can connect with other teachers, classes and guest speakers, and search projects by age, language, or subject. A great example of a Skype project is Around the World with 80 Schools.

Another effective way to bring two or more classrooms together is through blogging. Each class or student can have a blog, and you can get students interacting with each other via commenting and linking between their posts or by participating in QuadBlogging. Edublogger provides lists of class blogs by grade level and content area and the Edublogs Awards recognize the best class blogs each year.

There are several notable science projects that leverage global collaboration. The GLOBE program (an acronym for “Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment”) engages students in worldwide investigations of the environment. The Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education offers Collaboration Projects on a variety of science and engineering topics. The Journey North Global Study of Wildlife Migration and Seasonal Change enables students to observe, document and exchange seasonal data with a partner class via their mobile app or other technologies.

Arts, literature, and international issues are a natural fit for globally connected learning. The Rock Our World project enables students around the world to create music together, and the ArtLink Program facilitates classroom exchanges through visual arts. There are some wonderful language arts and literacy projects designed for younger students, such as the Flat Stanley Project, the Monster Exchange Project, and the Global Read Aloud Project. And if you’re looking to engage older students in diplomatic discussions of international issues, I recommend the Online Model United Nations community or the ICONS Project.

If none of these projects are what you have in mind, try searching the ePals Global Community, GlobalSchoolNet, or the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration. If you’re interested in developing your own project, reach out to the Global Education Conference Network, Classroom 2.0, or one of the other communities listed in the Connected Educators Directory. Whether you join one of these projects or create your own, be sure to share your experiences with your online networks. Being a connected educator is about continually learning from and with each other. And the best way to model global collaboration is to let your students see you connecting and communicating with other educators around the world.

Let Connected Educator Month be the beginning of a “Connected Learning Year” for you and your students, and let the global collaboration begin!

Image Credit: “Connect” by Honor Moorman, adapted from “you be my witness” CC by Kalense Kid via Flickr


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