Global Projects begin with Globally-Minded Educators

Or does it??

That thought just came to me as I was putting together a presentation for teachers in New Brunswick next week. I had been at it for hours – collating way too much material for a one-hour session. How can one share the rationale, the experiences, the opportunities, the tools, … the great benefits of global projects in just one hour?? How can I adequately describe my daily experiences with global educators through the tools of the web? On a day-to-day basis, it is quite typical for me to communicate with an average of 10 other teachers or educators from around the world. I just realized this the other day. In my world, this is the new normal – most of my online peeps would probably say about the same. Is this an echo chamber? I don’t think so. I am meeting new teachers (often very enthusiastic about these emerging technologies) every week and it is encouraging to see new faces and hear new voices.

It has been suggested that the global projects might come from the students. In fact, I was going to show my audience next week, how my three children use online environments and tools to communicate with friends from around the world. What do you think??

This past week provided a feast of experiences for me as I communicated, collaborated, shared and socialized with other educators from around the world – all from my backyard patio, where I sit now, writing by candlelight on a beautiful summer’s evening.

First of all, it was just plain wonderful to catch up on my blog reading this week. Since NECC and BLC, I have come across some bloggers who have shared solid insights and chewed on issues that I have often wrestled with – or offer new ones. It has been a particular treat for me to read Dean Shareski‘s blogs. I kick myself later, many times, for not leaving comments on the blogs I read – I should teach myself to do it right then, because I never seem to get back to it.

While the blogs have been stimulating, it has been twitter that has been the highlight of most of my days. While others scratch their heads over twitter, I try to point out that it is not the tool, it is the QUALITY of the network of users that makes this work. The educators that I have linked with in twitter are exceptional, dedicated, innovative thinkers who freely share resources, offer feedback, provide emotional and intellectual support, pose thoughtful questions, stimulate interesting discussion, and, very importantly, often make me laugh. We are an inclusive community.

The real treat for me this week, though, was participating in the chatcasts to augment Darren Kuropatwa’s conference sessions in Denver, CO for a group of public school teachers. Darren was introducing the tools and pedagogies of web 2.0. He invited other educators (open invitation on his blog and twitter) to come along for the ride by participating in a skype conference chat during his presentation. Many of us had “backchanneled” like this at the Building Learning Communities Conference earlier this summer (where I had the pleasure of meeting Darren). I was unable to listen to Darren’s live presentation, but I did participate in the chatcast which he later posted on his wiki to the presentation. Once again, the chat was lively, interesting, relevant, supportive, reflective, and helpful, I hope, to the educators who were present there watching the chat emerge live on a projected screen. Talk about being risk-taking by a presenter!

Yet here was another example of globally-minded educators sharing, engaging in discourse, supporting, and collaborating with their peers – what a wonderful example for our students! What a privilege it is to hang with such innovative, boundary-pushing, articulate and creative educators (who are still learning)!

On the topic of backchanneling, I mentioned to Terry Freedman that my own daughter had used that technique a bit during her grade 12 math and science classes last year (even backchanneling her own father for help with math!), and he requested an interview with her which she granted. Her 18th birthday was celebrated just a few days ago and I am very proud of her articulate and intelligent responses to Terry’s badgering….. I mean… interview techniques. Just kidding, Terry! You and Elaine were very good interviewers!

Dr. Cheri Toledo and I had a skype conversation earlier this week which turned to this subject of backchanneling (instant-messaging during a lecture or presentation) as well. We decided it was a topic worthy of academic research and will start soon collecting data about it, possibly for publication in an academic journal. So many of us see some value in exploring this technique with our students – even in K-12 education. Unlike Miss Manners, I think it is not boorish behaviour second only to heckling. Please certainly add your comments to this discussion. Worthy of academic practice and study… or opening a Pandora’s box?

I have also been in contact, this week, with Noble Kelly, of Teachers Without Borders Canada, and hope to be able to provide some global partnerships to classes in Canada and South Africa. As well, I am trying to find partnership opportunities for some teachers who are looking for global collaborative opportunities in the upcoming academic year. If you are interested, or know of some opportunities, please contact me!

4 thoughts on “Global Projects begin with Globally-Minded Educators

  1. Hi Sharon,
    I find that I too, do not leave as many comments (or as timely) as I should so I’m making sure I leave one here 🙂 After BLC I wonder about a back channel in the classroom. Would it be disruptive or productive. Or maybe disruptive in a good way. I haven’t nailed that one down yet, but we’ll see this year how it goes!

  2. If you look at the rationale with most of the global elements of BLC, it was nearly always local – to let people in the room talk to each other. The fact people joined in from outside was almost incidental, but a pleasant surprise.

    Every one of the 40 or so international projects I’ve done, and all of those I judge for the European Commission’s eTwinning programme, involve starting local and then, serendipitously, falling into some international work. The rationale grows from something which is already close to the local population.

    So, yes, the kids will have ideas but I’d not make them international. I’d encourage them to let you know what they would like to find out and then see how it develops. Also, I’m just about to thrash out two posts covering the two talks at BLC07 that I gave on how to get teachers on board. They might help take things further – I’d love to know.

  3. Hey Kern, Thanks for the comment. Yes, am still thrashing through the backchanneling for younger students (my area is grades 7-9, ages 12-15). I think a few elements need to be in place: 1) accountability of chat behaviour 2) someone to anchor (or focus) the chat discussion 3) lecture or class discussion that lends to this format. To some degree, there has to be a fair amount of trust between teachers and students and students and students. Those of us in laptop environments have the technology – now we need the approach that would work. I think in many situations, it would be better than just talking or lecturing to students who are passive listeners. It also depends on whether how new the content is to the students. If it is brand new content – perhaps it is too earlier for backchanneling. If it is building on previous knowledge – might be a good Vygotskian – proximal development – scaffolding – approach. Thanks, S.

  4. Hi Ewan, thanks for the thoughtful comment – I have a few ideas of my own to add to yours. Fundamentally, I believe we often learn best through relationships, so the success of the backchanneling at BLC (both local and distant participation) was due to the fact that those relationships existed before the chats began. To some degree, the same principle applies to the success of global projects. I have found through the dozen or so global projects in which my students have participated, that the quality of the relationships between the partnering teachers made a great deal of difference (usually) to the overall success of the project. In the last two years, most of my projects were completed with teachers with whom I already had built a friendship. I hadn’t thought of your approach – will do some more reflecting on those ideas – especially as I get the word out about upcoming opportunities. Cheers, Sharon.

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