Connected learning, virtual exchanges, and global project-based learning are increasingly recognized as important teaching and learning strategies in classrooms worldwide. Through a global project, students acquire important 21st century skills and global competencies, allowing them to communicate ideas, recognize other perspectives, and take action while connecting their learning to real world issues. Today, David Potter and Jennifer Russell of iEARN-USA share the five most important steps to building a global partnership.
By David Potter and Jennifer Russell
A virtual exchange, or a project done in collaboration with global peers using technology, gives youth an opportunity to build friendships and mutual understanding across countries. Instead of just learning about the world, students learn with one another to contribute to their local and global communities.
Global project exchanges allow students "to see other points of view on a subject and build up online relationships with others," said Marwa, an Egyptian educator. "Through asking questions and discussing them with their peers, they have tolerance to accept the other."
It takes time, planning, and patience, however, to build partnerships for effective global project-based learning. The following five steps outline the most important things to know for finding, building, and strengthening partnerships with global peers to lead to a successful and meaningful project exchange experience.
1. Identify a Broad Theme for a Global Project
To find partnerships for a virtual exchange project, it is important to first identify a broad subject or area of interest, such as the environment, civics, health, or art, in order to start a project that bridges differences in curriculum, education standards, and students' needs from different countries. Mutually beneficial global projects build skills and understanding from a broader perspective and focus on common goals that bring together partners across various educational systems. Instead of planning a specific project idea for others to join, be flexible and identify how general class interests and curriculum overlap with classes in other countries to make an interesting project.
2. Plan for a Collaborative Final Product
In successful global projects, teachers and students build their partnership by collaborating towards a shared end goal, or final product, that students complete by working together. Student products can take many different forms. They may include publishing magazines, creative writing anthologies and websites; letter-writing and social media campaigns; art exhibits and performances; and community service. In all cases, youth take action as part of what they are learning in the classroom.
Rather than report about their individual work, students engaged in a joint product have to interact, communicate, and solve problems to complete it. Collaborative final products give teachers and students a context for their interactions, allow them to identify clear goals, and provide them with a shared sense of accomplishment once they create something together.
3. Prepare and Practice Online Dialogue with Students
It is important for a class to prepare and practice online communication before collaborating with global peers. Teachers should discuss with students what constitutes safe and appropriate online communications, addressing how issues such as privacy, bullying, and language use relate to their online activity. Teachers can work with students to create a list of rules or a buddy contract to hold one another accountable.
In addition to addressing online safety and etiquette, teachers should prepare students to communicate with peers who may have different perspectives and opinions. Students may be interacting with youth from many different countries and cultures so it is important to prepare them for appropriate cross-cultural dialogue by keeping a broad perspective and considering how others around the world may perceive their online behavior.
In order to ensure quality collaboration, it is also important to help students practice preparing thoughtful, appropriate, and substantive online communications. In general, frequent online posting that encourages questioning and critical thinking ensure dialogue is ongoing and students have an opportunity to collaborate on project outcomes and products. A truly collaborative projects involves ongoing, back and forth exchange rather than a series of one-way messages by participants.
4. Spend Time Building Relationships
A key to success for conducting a global project is to spend time building relationships with global partners and for both teachers and students to get know each other personally. To build online friendships, many teachers ask students to create and respond to messages and photos of introduction online or arrange a videoconference with another participating classroom before their joint project begins. As a result, students are more engaged, experience a more enriching collaborative exchange, and are more likely to develop and post thoughtful comments, questions, and media for their collaborative partners.
5. Engage Local and Global Communities
Involving global peers, community members, and other people in the world outside of the classroom makes for a more meaningful and authentic project and will take a partnership to the next level. Students can use community resources or interviews as part of their research, seek guidance and feedback from local experts, and share and present their final products to community members. A global project can include service activities to allow students to contribute to the community by applying knowledge and skills gained in class. When the community is involved with the exchange, students tie their collaborative learning to a real world context and work together to make a meaningful contribution to the world.
So what do these five steps look like in action? Check out what teachers say about starting a virtual exchange and the importance and impact that global collaboration has for their students.
David Potter is Chief Development Officer, and Jennifer Russell is Program Coordinator at iEARN-USA. Follow them on Twitter.