Sometimes, I feel a bit envious of my 21st Century students. They have such amazing opportunities to deepen their learning with the help of technology. My own education was comprised of years of textbooks, lectures, writing prompts, and worksheets, with a few diorama and poster projects thrown in to keep things exciting. While I certainly appreciate all that I learned from my “old-school” education, there’s a part of me that wishes I could have had access to all the amazing resources available to students today. Today’s students can research and self-learn and find answers to their questions in a way that I never could at their age. The digital world has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for helping them engage in learning which is relevant and personally meaningful. It’s enabled them to make global connections and gain insights from others around the world. Education as I knew it back in the 70’s and 80’s has already been transformed, and it will continue to transform dramatically in the coming years.
Where are We Headed?
The Horizon Project identified 28 international megatrends, which are important in considering how we will prepare our students for the future. I think the most important of these is the reality that “the world of work is becoming increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.” Our students need the ability to communicate and collaborate, both in person and online. They need to be adaptable. They need cultural sensitivity. They need critical thinking skills which will enable them to problem-solve, create, and innovate. As another megatrend states, “The Internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education, while refining our notion of literacy. Institutions must consider the unique value that each adds to a world in which information is everywhere. In such a world, sense-making and the ability to assess the credibility of information and media are paramount.” There is still so much work to be done in helping students develop this new literacy online. Digital citizenship skills, online communication, effective search skills, knowing how to evaluate information, and how to organize and synthesize the information they find. If their future work will rely on an ability to communicate and collaborate online, then we need to create plenty of opportunities for them to build these skills at school.
It Can Be Done
And it’s already being done. Over the summer, I joined in on the EdmodoCon 2016 global conference. It was a great opportunity to learn from other educators around the world as they shared how they use digital tools to collaborate and deepen student learning. I particularly enjoyed a presentation titled Learning Together, in which two teachers shared how they created meaningful global collaboration between their classrooms in Poland and Pennsylvania. Through Edmodo, Padlets, Videos, Skype chats, etc., their students had powerful learning experiences together. I found their presentation very inspiring. They showed me what is possible when we make a concentrated effort to provide these opportunities for our students to build skills in global communication and collaboration. It all started with a teacher simply asking if anyone wanted to connect with her, and another teacher who was willing to give it a try. I realized that if they can do this, so can I. As Ved Sinha mentioned in opening remarks at the conference, no teacher should be an island floating on their own. We need to be connected to all the people and resources that can help us help our students learn.
Last year, I made my first attempt at global collaboration by participating in The Global Read Aloud. I managed to make a couple of brief connections, but for the most part, they fizzled out. Immediately after EdmodoCon, I determined that I would try the GRA again, and that I would do better at sustaining those global connections this year. We’ve been underway with GRA for a couple of weeks now, and while I still wish our schedule allowed us to do deeper collaboration, we’ve definitely been able to do more this year. After establishing connections with several teachers on Edmodo, I created shared Padlets where our students can discuss various topics from the book, Roald Dahl’s The BFG. My favorite so far is our Appearances Padlet, where students are discussing why we need to be careful about judging by appearances. It’s been great to see students from around the world sharing their thoughts on an important global topic. In addition to the Padlets, we’re working on some student videos to share, and we’re planning a collaborative book in which Grade 3 students will submit stories, essays, poems, and pictures on the subject of dreams. Exciting stuff! While it’s just the beginning of what I hope will become deeper global communication and collaboration between students, it feels good to be making progress towards that goal.
It’s a Small, Small World
Growing up in Southern California, I had the opportunity to go to Disneyland regularly. One of my favorite rides was “It’s a Small World.” I was enchanted by those animated figures, all dressed-up in cultural clothes and singing about how “there’s so much that we share, and it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.” Now, with technology that enables us to connect with others across the globe in an instant, it’s an even smaller world. I really do believe that the most important thing we can do to prepare students for the future is to harness the power of these global connections. As we cultivate opportunities for students to share and learn from others around the world, we help to break down barriers and replace them with bridges of understanding. We prepare students to do a better job than we have done in creating a world of greater peace and cooperation. As Dan Pink reminds us, “We want to be part of something larger than ourselves,” or as Steve Jobs put it, to “Put a ding in the universe.” The beauty of the century in which we live is that we don’t have to be alone in our efforts– we don’t have to be an island. We just have to have the courage to reach out, network, and establish partnerships that will allow our students to learn from one another.
There are many great resources to help us get started in preparing students for a future of global collaboration. Here are a few you might find helpful!