Adventures in 21st Century Learning: Exploring Collaborative Learning On-line Remix

Note: This is a rewrite of a post made earlier; as, due to a single click of an update button on my IPad app I managed to erase over half the content of the post.

This video conference helped me to understand the views of ALL involved rather than only what is considered important or acceptable by the media. In the news we almost never hear the whole story and it is impossible to see every point of view. Broadcasting shows one opinion and one opinion only, the one the government wants us to see. These conferences are important to younger generations, perhaps this will give children the understanding that not everything they see on TV is real.~R.W. Gr. 12 Student St. Andrew’s School~

This comment is reflective of some interesting work that my students, my colleague, Miss Bronwyn Kierstead and I have been engaged in over the course of this year. After several years of experimenting with the use of a virtual classroom I began to cast around for other ways that I could leverage technology to enhance learning opportunities of my students.

Through our use and participation in the Taking IT Global Virtual classroom experience I stumbled upon The Center for Global Education (CGE) and its program of connecting classrooms to each other and the larger world as a whole. In the fall of 2011 we participated in our first virtual international conference entitled: The Middle East in Transition; with students from across Canada and the US, who, through CGE were provided with an opportunity to speak to people who participated in the revolution in Egypt, and peaceful protests in the Palestinian territories in Israel. These two hour and a half sessions allowed our Grade 11 students to speak to those where actually on the ground during the revolution and who were able to provide firsthand accounts of what it had been like to topple the government of Hosni Mubarak.

Photo courtesy of J. Jorquera

“I got to understand a new point of view [from] someone who was going through the content that we were learning about in the textbook. Also gave me a greater understanding of the world and the countries inside of it.” ~J.B. Gr. 11 Student St. Andrew’s School~

” I found that the group work that lead up to the conference (with the videos, articles, etc..) was extremely helpful in getting to know the situation that was going on in the Middle East.” ~B.S. Gr. 12 Student St. Andrew’s School

To ensure that students had a background in non-violent protest movements, prior to the conferences, each participating classroom had a series of readings and posts that needed to be completed prior to the actual conference. This was achieved through CGE’s partnership with Taking IT Global. Each student from each school was given an account in a Global Encounters classroom where they were provided with a series of videos and articles that they had to digest prior to the conferences in order to make the most effective use of the sessions. The articles and questions were complimented with a series of discussion board posts that students were required to respond to; their responses were in turn responded to – creating a discussion between the students both before and after the actual event.

“I enjoyed the discussion, the clash of conflicting opinions coupled with heated debates.” ~M.J. Gr. 11 Student St. Andrew’s School~

The first conference was so well received that Miss. Kierstead and I began planning for one during the second semester and the minute that the offering list was posted by CGE we jumped at the opportunity to participate in a second two part session on Voice, Agency and Democratic Values in the Middle East. This session exposed our Grade 12 classes to an examination of the rights of women in the wake of the Arab Spring movements that have swept North Africa, and the Middle East.

“… you learn a lot better, seeing something and you are not likely to forget it afterwards – like somethings you do sitting in a desk at school.” ~unknown Gr. 11 Student St. Andrew’s School.”

The sessions that we prepared for were a learning curve for all parties concerned. While, as the lead learners in the classroom, we were familiar with the background to the situation in the Middle East we were faced with a variety of challenges when it came to the actual set up of the conference. There was a steep learning curve with respect to the setup of the physical space as well as the integration of social media into the classroom. Much of the leg work for the conferences was completed after buses had left for the day. In the set up and incorporation of technology and the integration of social media we encouraged our students to acquire a twitter account so that they would be able to participate in a real time discussion with students from the other schools participating in the conferences.

“The Twitter feed allowed students to discuss with each other what it [was] they were hearing without interrupting the speakers.” ~J.S. Gr. 11 Student St. Andrew’s School~

To this end we had to tackle the on-going battle that faces educators in a classroom; to what extent should one permit the use of social media and electronic devices? Here again we had to be the risk takers initially. After getting students to sign up to twitter accounts we reminded them to have their devices present in the classroom on the days of the conference; like the would attend without them. Once in the classroom, with the conference up and running, students were asked to post to either the hashtag for the event #globalencounters, or to post to a live discussion board that was hosted through the Global Encounters Classroom provided by Taking IT Global. Students  involved in both sessions, perfectly comfortable in posting their status updates to Facebook, were a bit hesitant initially to post to a site where their comments were up for scrutiny by their peers; though on the second days of each conference students increased their participation as their comfort levels increased.

The days of each conference were veritable whirlwinds for me as an educator; truly removed as the repository of all knowledge instructing from the front of the room. Having to relinquish control of most aspects of the teaching for the period and turning over to the students the decisions as to what to learn, how to learn and how to prioritize what it was that was important to them was a sizable risk. They rose to the challenge and performed brilliantly. We observed that by and large most of our students maintained a high level of engagement in the entire project; from the lead up activities to the actual conferences. In one instance a presenter referred to the Muslim Brotherhood. One student, using the technology available to him, searched out the information on the brotherhood and during one of our breakout sessions gave a quick report to the rest of the class on the organization.

“At some points the audio was terrible. but its understandable, we are video chatting with people around the world.” ~J.J. Gr. 12 Student St. Andrew’s School

As with all things technology driven there were a few glitches to the system. Some of the video feeds were a bit choppy and not all enjoyed the same level of connectivity. While this may be viewed as a detriment by many it also served as an excellent teachable moment. It led to discussion about the differences that exist between us and the rest of the world – it was a real life case study in the Digital Divide. Conversation turned to the issues that this highlighted like sporadic internet access, lack of advanced technological equipment, absence of a stable electrical system etc. This allowed us to turn what was indeed the down side of the sessions into a positive discussion on the realities that the global, interconnected world faces.

So, where to from here? Well I am continuing to work on the integration of technology and social media into my daily instruction. That will have to be the subject of another post as it is time to reduce our family’s environmental footprint with a trip to the recycling depot.

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