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How to build your global classroom in 4 steps

Globalization has an impact on various aspects of our lives. We live in an age where global issues that affect us all are pushing us to collaborate and to understand different perspectives. In schools, teaching from a global perspective can be quite challenging.

Growth comes from stepping out of our comfort zones, which classrooms can become quite easily. Most importantly, true growth is about learning from people that don’t belong to the same culture as us — a truly eye-opening experience for students and teachers alike.

Sure, there are many other benefits that arise from teaching with a global perspective in mind. A major advantage is building cross-cultural collaboration skills, which some argue is an essential 21st century skill.

Shifting the paradigm to include a “global classroom” curriculum requires more than theory; it’s actually all about practice. There is nothing that can prepare students for cross-cultural collaboration more than practicing it, especially since there are many challenges and situations that arise in real-life settings. Students that take part in a global virtual team are more likely to develop their teamwork skills, reduce stereotyping and obtain better learning outcomes than their peers who don’t participate in a global project.

The keyword here is “virtual”. Since exchanges are great and should be encouraged in schools, in reality there could be so much more to gain from online collaboration with another classroom. Collaborating online allows your students to connect with other students from all around the world. The frequency of interactions is not limited to a set amount of time, such as one hour or one week.

For this, there are many resources and websites that help teachers make that first step to connect with other educators in a safe and structured environment. Here are just some of them:

  • ePals: an educator can connect with another teacher from any part of the world. Students get to partner up as “ePals” and collaborate on different projects created by teachers.
  • iEARN: a non-profit that empowers teachers and students to work together online. According to their website, “over 2,000,000 students each day are engaged in collaborative project work worldwide.”
  • Peace Corps: while you don’t have to volunteer as a teacher in another country, Peace Corps volunteers have a lot of experience in cross-cultural collaboration — and they are sharing it with all teachers. You can use their educational resources and their World Wise Platform to connect with other teachers in the program.
  • Social media: platforms like Twitter help teachers build their personal learning network and share teaching tips and tricks. Some of them prefer to seek classroom collaborations directly. See #globalclassroom for inspiration.

Sure, this is just the beginning. Once you’ve decided that you want to implement an online collaboration project, where do you go from here?

How to build your global classroom in 4 steps

Having the technology without a solid lesson plan is no better than having a good lesson plan, but poor tech implementation. Professor Jennifer V. Lock from the University of Calgary has developed a four-item framework to help teachers design authentic collaborative learning. Here are some ideas, based on her research:

  1. Nature of inquiry

    Teachers can use the inquiry-based learning approach as a starting point for building the global collaboration project. To find a suitable topic, they must put the right questions such as “What topics do students think are important? What are the problems that they are confronted with each day?”.

    The best topics arise from thinking about a “real life” significance, something that students everywhere can make sense of in their own lives, and that is tied to their communities, and it can help them develop a better understanding of a specific subject.

    For example, there is a much larger global conversation going on about recycling and reducing our use of certain materials. Students from both classrooms can visit a recycling plant in their respective cities. Then, they can discuss the impact of recycling or lack thereof on their areas. Sure, they might need some help at first, such as background information to get things going. Discussions can be synchronous (via video conference) or asynchronous (via an online forum).

  2. Intentional integration of ICT/edtech

    Once you have a good topic, you must carefully consider what tech to use and whether it will truly enable students to connect and collaborate. Teachers have to assess the resources and capacities of both schools before starting a project.

    Fortunately, it’s now easier than ever to collaborate online. For example, you can use your school’s learning management system (LMS), which is a familiar tool for teachers around the world. For asynchronous collaboration, you can use groups and forums, a shared blog, or a wiki.

    For synchronous learning, both classrooms can benefit from one-on-one, small group or whole classroom discussions using video conferencing. It’s also easier to organize the project by having a shared resources library and the integration of multimedia tools for presentations.

    To spark interesting conversations, teachers have also integrated VR tools in their classrooms to show students how they can “travel” anywhere and learn more about other cultures.

  3. Design and facilitation for collaboration

    Learning together with another classroom implies a high level of responsibility and interdependence. Needless to say, both teachers have to be committed to implementing the common project.

    Students learn from the other teachers as well as from each other. Committing to a one time event won’t accomplish this. Instead, you can design lessons around collaboration and plan some fun out of the box activities such as field trips, switching classrooms for one day, bringing in experts in the field to be quizzed by students. Most importantly, students should be able to collaborate with one another, both during classroom activities and for homework tasks.

    Sure, this might seem fun, but it takes some careful planning on both sides. Serious consideration should be given to practical matters: access to tech, time zone differences, different schedules, how to meet the common learning objectives or how to assess the performance of each classroom.

  4. Intentionality of interaction

    All activities should be designed with clear learning objectives in mind and there needs to be a structure in place that requires students to collaborate as well as the opportunities to do so.

    Successful interaction allows students to share ideas, learn from each other, participate in small and large group discussions, use a variety of media to work on a task, and help each other accomplish learning goals.

    Teachers can monitor the progress of students to determine whether they are really engaging in meaningful collaborative learning. Most of all, they can set an example by getting to know each other as educators first and show that they listen to and appreciate each other’s opinions.

    Plus, teachers have access to many activities that can support online collaboration, including digital storytelling.

The world is your oyster

More and more teachers are aware that in order to truly teach students, they need to break the barriers of the brick and mortar classroom. That means finding opportunities to learn together with other educators and students. It means seeking out experts in different fields to share their experiences, as well as an openness to the entire community.

Shifting to a global perspective isn’t the future; it’s already happening.

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