“Wait, a student from Japan commented on my ideas? That is awesome!”
With these words, my American History students were hooked on that week’s activity. We had been reading some primary documents from Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the “New World” and then analyzing it with comments on a shared Google Doc. My goal was for the students to communicate their critical thinking in a collaborative manner, using the concept of the 4 C’s found in 21st Century Learning (Article Link). Yet, as they started collaborating within the class together, I wondered if we could take it to the next level… Global Collaboration! So what I decided to do, without informing my students, was to connect this activity with another history class in Japan. Luckily, my Google Innovator Mentor, (Nathan Gildart – Google+ Link – Twitter @nathangildart), taught history in Japan so it was an easy connection. Through the Columbus activity, my students not only got a greater understanding of who Christopher Columbus was as a person (which dramatically impacted their view of the man), but also better understood how Japanese students interpreted history through their own cultural lens.
“How Do I Start Doing This In My Classroom?”
There are a various ways you could get your students collaborating with students around the world, including: Mystery Skype/Hangouts, MyMap Projects (Global ConnectEDU For Google MyMaps Ideas), Old-School Letter Writing (No tech is just as awesome sometimes), to name a few.
“How Does One Connect With Classrooms Globally”
With my first globally connected student activity, I was blessed to have an already established connection with an international teacher. So what other ways could you connect with international teachers/classrooms? The easiest way is via social media, such as Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. Those connections can happen through Twitter hashtags, Google+ Communities, or Facebook Groups. Another way I recently learned was for U.S. schools to
contact the “Office of Overseas Schools” through the U.S. Department of State (Website Link). They can get you into contact with other schools, which could provide you with other educators from around the world.
“How Does One Design A Globally Connected Activity?”
When designing, or considering, doing a globally connected activity, it is imperative that you have an understanding of your own curriculum standards. Are there any standards that would easily translate into a global activity? With the Columbus activity mentioned above, I identified two standards that could be collaborative: Analyzing primary documents and Identifying the impact of the European Discovery in the Americas.
Then, start contacting educators from around the world to see who you can connect with on the activity (As detailed above).
Once you have started connecting with international educators, begin brainstorming ideas for the activity, most likely through a shared Google Doc and/or Google
Hangout/Skype. Through the brainstorming, the activity will most likely meet everyone’s curriculum needs, and also proactively help identify any possible struggles that could develop.
Tip – If this is your first time participating in a globally connected activity with your students, try focusing on questions or activities that demonstrate the cultural similarities/differences between the various classrooms.
When you are ready to take the globally connected activity to the next level for the students, then it is important for educators to create activities, as identified by Researchers Sears & Reagin (Link to 2013 article), that require relative levels of “complexity of the task” (p. 1170). Therefore try to design questions that require “higher-order thinking, depth of knowledge (DOK)” and “substantive conversation” according to researcher Beeson et al., (Link to 2014 article, p. 125) when designing collaborative work (meaning DOK Levels 3 & 4). According to researcher Yi-Jeng Chen, this helps students to “gradually become more collaborative” (Link to 2015 article, p. 166) which allows them to answer increasingly complex questioning. Not only does this collaborative culture produce greater results of learning from students, it also depends their understanding of the content.
“What Technology Tools Should I Use?”
Really there are a slew of tools available, but I personally have had success using web based tools such as G Suite (formerly Google Apps). When considering ease of use, and their synchronous (real-time) nature, it is hard to beat Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Drawings, etc. Those are great, not only for the planning process, but also for students collaborative work and commenting together from around the world.
Tip: When the Doc (or whatever product you use) is ready to be used collaboratively, share it with the setting “public, anyone with the link can edit” to the other teachers.
Then consider creating videos, or organizing a Hangout/Skype with the students participating in the global activity. If time zones prevent that from effectively happening, consider using YouTube (as private videos that have links shared between classes),
videos in Google Drive shared with the cooperating teacher, or even better: FlipGrid (recently learned about this tool)! It allows students to do short (no more than 3 minute) videos. The cool part is it allows students then to ask follow-up questions (via another video) to the other students!
If possible, you could also use social media (depending on grade level and school board policy), such as twitter, to expand the learning outside of the classroom.
“What Are Some Obstacles I Could Face?”
Probably the two biggest obstacles I faced in doing these globally connected activities was the time zone differences and language barriers. Most of the students involved in this collaboration from around the world lived in time zones where it was nearly impossible to work at the same time. Because of that, it was necessary for these activities to have a loose timeline for completion. After that discovery, I planned a more expansive time window for collaboration to ensure quality work could be accomplished from all involved.
To deal with the language barrier, I mostly connected with schools where the students possessed the ability to speak English. For example, the schools in China, Australia, Japan and Turkey were all American International Schools (or the equivalent), so there were no translation issues.
If you are afraid that the activity will be a bust, whether it be because your students will not be interested or other reasons… Don’t be. Give it a try, and see if it doesn’t provide another cool avenue to help your students to learn.
“What Are Some Benefits Of A Globally Connected Activity?”
How many times in your life have you spoken to individuals from other countries? In my school district (Ash Grove, Missouri: Small-Rural-Lower-Middle Class-98% Caucasian-95% of the population will never leave the U.S.) it provided a unique involvement that most of my students may never get the chance to experience otherwise. Not only did they learn about the curriculum content I was going to have them learn anyway, they also learned various cultural differences between the different classrooms that participated.
Had I used FlipGrid (which I did not have available at the time), my students could have also seen these students face-face (via video) to interact in a more active-personal way.
Give it a try! If you are fearful, then consider doing a collaborative activity locally, as in within your own state/province/country. Provide students the opportunity to tackle
bigger questions through the collaborative process in order to help them develop those 21st Century Skills. Also, have your students be reflective in their learning (true whether during a globally connected activity, or any other learning opportunity). Research has consistently demonstrated the power of reflection in helping learners master content.
Finally, plan future collaborative opportunities! As mentioned earlier, the more collaborative activities students participate in, the more effective they become at mastering complex problems!
My questions for you:
How are you going to challenge your classroom (and yourself) to learn globally in the school year?
What steps should you take today to get a globally connected activity started/designed
What other ideas/steps have you taken to do things like this in the past?