Lives Without Limits

11191674463_78ef62dac1Today, December 3, 2013, in recognition of International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) is launching the “Lives Without Limits” campaign to promote the importance of including persons with disabilities in international exchange programs. The includes stories and features video testimonials from alumni and current students.

President Obama has made disability rights a core part of U.S. foreign policy. The partners of the Connect All Schools Consortium are committed to making all of their virtual and physical exchange programs inclusive and accessible. Join us this month and share stories #WithoutLimits!

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Mapping a Nation of Global Connections

Is the U.S. ready for a global future?

Answers to that question may be found in a fascinating new free online resource that was introduced yesterday by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the U.S. Department of Education as part of International Education Week celebrations. “Mapping the Nation: Linking Local to Global,” is the new state-by-state, country-by-county visual resource from Asia Society, the Longview Foundation for Education in World Affairs and International Understanding, and analytics leader SAS. Created with “nearly 1 million data points,” that “tell a cautionary tale,” the mapping project has set out to “prove what parents, businesspeople, and policymakers already know: American students must be globally competent to succeed in the interconnected 21st century.”

A quick click on the “California” link resulted in an infographic that gives a quick snapshot of the state’s global connections, including a rather surprising (and dismal) fact about the number of California students who take part in study abroad programs:

The “Global Competency” section concludes with a clear and urgent message:

Learning about and with the world occurs within and outside of school, and it is the work of a lifetime. Globally competent students are life long learners. They are able to adapt and contribute knowledge and understanding to a world that is constantly, rapidly evolving.

Global competence is a crucial shift in our understanding of the purpose of education in a changing world. Students everywhere deserve the opportunity to succeed in the global economy and contribute as global citizens. We must fashion a more creative and visionary educational response to the interconnected world of the 21st century, starting now.

The entire site is worth exploring, especially for educators, parents, and students seeking information, tools, and visuals about why we should connect all US schools to schools worldwide, starting now.

Knitting the World Together a Million Relationships at a Time

Two global education champions, Asia Society’s Tony Jackson and Soliya’s Lucas Welch, have published blog posts this week that go to heart of the mission of our Connect All Schools consortium. Both posts are stark reminders of how little US and Muslim relations have changed since September 11, 2001. Both posts, however, are also optimistic in how much more capable we are—with new tools, resources, and knowledge—to positively affect these relations.

Both Tony and Lucas zoom in on the recent Libya tragedy and importance of young Americans understanding their peers worldwide. In his Education Week blog, Tony focuses on empowerment and taking action in our communities:

The most promising approach to changing this is to make the need known. Students, parents, businesses, communities, national security, and every other stakeholder should identify education as a primary means to greater global competency, security, and stability. Specific focus is needed on integrating into the curriculum, knowledge and skills that further understanding of the world and how it works. Find models that work for your communities. Demand that decisions and investments are aligned toward goals that include global competence.

Let’s take what we know about the world today and create opportunities for the next generation to make it better.

On Huffington Post Religion, Lucas begins his eloquent post on the death of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens with a focus on building respectful long-term relationships using new technologies. He asks: 

Chris has shown us the power of relationships, but we need to translate that power into the age of social media. We need to determine how we can leverage the power of these new technologies to emulate the way he interacted but at a vastly larger scale, so the hateful bile of fringe Americans is not what defines us, and so our actions as a society are more informed by a respect and understanding for the people they affect.

What if all of the Arab youth who have taken to the streets in recent years had an American in their life who listened to them, showed respect for their values and cared about their rights? And what if our next generation of policy-makers, journalists, and religious leaders had Arab friends and worked to ensure our policies and pronouncements genuinely lived up to the ideals we espouse for them?

The Connect All Schools consortium was formed to assist schools build the relationships and global competencies Tony and Lucas write about in their posts. Since 9/11, consortium members have led the development of hundreds of new programs and projects to foster strong relations between the West and the Islamic world, efforts that focused on building trust, mutual understanding, and a commitment to shared goals.

In the weeks following 9/11, organizations and relief programs with strong global communities—People-to-People International, NetAid, Sister Cities International—joined with programs using new technologies to connect classrooms worldwide—UN CyberSchoolbus, ePals, Global Schoolnet Foundation, Worldwise Schools, iEARN, Schools Online, World Links, Global Nomads—stepped up their support of virtual and physical exchanges with countries with Muslim populations. A priority was helping primary school-aged youth to share their stories and to take action at a traumatic time of national shock and mourning.

These school-to-school programs were widely publicized and generally praised at time when post-9/11 anxieties and the hangover from the dot.com bust led to a number of polls that showed Americans engaging in more online communities, but feeling both ambivalent by online interaction and disliked by their peers in the Muslim world. George Packer writing in the April 2002 New York Times Magazine captured the mood:

The globalization of the media was supposed to knit the world together. The more information we receive about one another, the thinking went, the more international understanding will prevail. An injustice in Thailand will be instantly known and ultimately remedied by people in London or San Francisco. The father of worldwide television, Ted Turner, once said, “My main concern is to be a benefit to the world, to build up a global communications system that helps humanity come together.”  These days we are living with the results – a young man in Somalia watches the attack on the south tower live, while Americans can hear more, and sooner, about Kandahar or Ramallah than the county next to theirs.

But this technological togetherness has not created the human bonds that were promised. In some ways, global satellite TV and Internet access have actually made the world a less understanding, less tolerant place. What the media provide is superficial familiarity – images without context, indignation without remedy. The problem isn’t just the content of the media, but the fact that while images become international, people’s lives remain parochial – in the Arab world and everywhere else, including here.

… But at this halfway point between mutual ignorance and true understanding, the ”global village” actually resembles a real one – in my experience, not the utopian community promised by the boosters of globalization but a parochial place of manifold suspicions, rumors, resentments and half-truths. If the world seems to be growing more, rather than less, nasty these days, it might have something to do with the images all of us now carry around in our heads.

Contrary to Packer’s assertion, however, the images of that young globally-connected children were now carrying around in their heads were images of hope and caring, in the forms of drawings, quilts, and photographs that were shared by tens of thousands of their peers. Furthermore, new curriculum materials were developed and professional development workshops and courses were provided for thousands in the US and countries with significant Muslim populations on how to integrate international collaboration in their classrooms. Online interaction and collaborative publications flourished, and US educators and students began to visit Muslim countries for the first time. Schools in the US began to teach Arabic.

At a time before social media fundraising platforms, US students used new technologies to mobilize their communities to provide humanitarian relief to Afghan schools and Iran earthquake victims. The World Wide Web was an important tool to both share information and enable teachers and students in the US and countries with significant Muslim populations to identify programs fitting their interests and needs. The 9/11 attacks were the most intensive online event in history, and organizations like iEARN became key “exchange 2.0” resources to which teachers turned for information on how to link with and learn about countries with Muslim populations. The growth of connected classrooms hasn’t slowed since.

The success of this burst of post-9/11 classroom connections was amplified a year later when Congress introduced legislation to support programs focused on traditional high-school and university-level exchanges and language programs. In early 2002, Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) introduced The Cultural Bridges Act to fund new exchange programs with countries with significant Muslim populations. The bill died, but informed subsequent legislation that funded the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) Program, the Global Connections and Exchange Program, the National Security Language Initiative (NSLI) and the Foreign Language Assistance Program (FLAP), which focused on “critical languages” such as Arabic, but also Urdu, Farsi, Hindi, Pashto, Russian, Chinese, and Korean.

Today, the influence of all these post-9/11 programs continues to be felt at the White House and the Departments of Education and State. In April 2011, at the first Exchange 2.0 Summit, former Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale remarked:

We need to explore more ways to strategically and consistently incorporate connective technologies into our exchange efforts. As President Obama has said, we need to “create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.” With the help of many of you in this room, we have already started down this path at the State Department. Our Global Connections and Exchange Program has been in operation for ten years. This landmark public diplomacy initiative connects students who may never share a lunch table or walk home together. But with online classrooms, there are no limits on sharing their ideas. Together, they learn to be positive forces for change in their local communities.

Last week, eleven years after 9/11, Newsweek (and Twitter) reminded us that we live in a world of Muslim Rage. In that eleven years, though, much has changed. The number of organizations connecting classrooms worldwide has increased ten-fold, as has international funding for educational technology. Mobile learning, open data, cloud computing, social media, MOOCs, and other tools and resources are evolving and changing teaching and learning at a remarkable pace in both developed and developing countries. More than 6,000 YES program scholars from 40 predominately Muslim countries have returned from a year of high school in the United States, and they are inspired to serve their communities. Thousands more US teachers and high-school and university students have traveled, studied, and lived abroad in these same 40 countries, and they too are inspired to make a positive difference in their communities.


Still, Lucas explains, we need to do more:

Exchange programs are the primary way we have traditionally sought to foster these relationships. But in our hyper-connected world, vastly more people can directly influence relations between our societies, and the costs and logistics of study abroad make it inaccessible or unappealing to all but a select few. (Approximately 2 percent of American students in higher education study abroad, for example, and less than 2 percent of those go to the Middle East and North Africa.) Even if we were to vastly increase the number of students studying abroad, which we should, it would still only be a drop in the bucket of public opinion.

Over the last year, a coalition of organizations has formed to advance exchange 2.0 – a next-step in international education that leverages the power of new technologies to vastly increase the number of youth who have a profound cross-cultural experience as part of their education. Each of these organizations … has developed “virtual exchange” programs, which are integrated into curriculum and have demonstrated significant impact cultivating relationships and developing cross-cultural respect and understanding. Based on the cost-efficiency of these programs, it is conceivable that such programs could become a fundamental part of education in the coming decade and literally millions of new relationships could be fostered across the divides where they are most needed.

 It may seem from the protests and violence of the past two weeks that there has been little progress in increasing trust and respect among people in the US and in predominately Muslim countries. But we have made progress, and we will continue to do so, led by young people using new tools and resources to connect us closely and help us build enduring relationships, as the examples above show.

 

 

 

Debunking the Global Education Canard

Connect All Schools consortium partner World Savvy released its 2012 Global Competency Survey yesterday, and the results are both timely (there is a Libya question) and contradictory to the assumption that young people in the United States are not interested in learning about the world. Rather, young Americans are keenly aware that it is both in their best interest and in the national interest that they understand global issues, engage with their peers worldwide, and gain the skills needed to find employment in today’s global economy. For decades, the lack of global competence of US youth has been an easy mark for ridicule. A bevy of books, reports, academic studies, and surveys from National Geographicand others have assumed (and alleged) that US students are not only globally unaware, but also are not interested in learning about the world. Yesterday’s survey results, for example, show that after nearly eleven years of the United States at war, only 28% of US high school graduates can identify in which region Afghanistan is located. Disinterest seems a reasonable assumption. The World Savvy survey results, however, contradict this assumption:

The young adults polled in this survey overwhelmingly report an interest in, and professional need for, global literacy in their lives today. In fact:

  • 86% of those surveyed say they agree that a solid foundation in world history and events is crucial to coming up with solutions to the problems in the world today.
  • Nearly 9 in 10 believe that developments abroad can have significant implications on the US economy.
  • 79% say that it is important in today’s world to be comfortable interacting with people of different cultural backgrounds (on par with the perceived importance of writing skills (78%), technical skills (76%), and math skills (77%)).
  • 80% believe that jobs are becoming increasingly international in nature.

Yet, the gap between what youth seek for their education and what they receive remains wide:

  • While the vast majority of young adults see the importance of global literacy, only 12% of respondents say that they “agree completely” that in their 6th-12th grade education they received instruction that helps them to understand the roots of global issues that affect their lives today.
  • … [T]he majority of the young adults surveyed (63%) indicated that they did not discuss world events in their high school classes.

So why don’t American adults prioritize global competence as a valued outcome of an education as much as American youth do? If the national security argument is so strong for youth gaining global competencies, why do policy-makers demur encouraging classrooms to connect globally? If the economic casefor youth gaining modern job skills is that compelling, why don’t philanthropists, entrepreneurs, community leaders, and the media increase coverage and support for international issues, cross-cultural exchanges, and new global education tools and resources? The next American generation, perceiving what is in our national interest, are asking us to help them engage with their peers worldwide. It is time to listen to what youth want to learn, rather than to criticize them for what they haven’t learned. It is time for all sectors of our society to help our schools to enable all of our youth to experience international collaboration as part of their education.

Optimizing for Professional Generosity

This August, the US Department of Education is sponsoring Connected Educators Month to highlight “online communities of practice in education.” The Connected Educators site now features more than 80 online education communities to peruse, a blog, a draft report to comment on, and a no-doubt-depressing-for-many K-12 Internet Broadband Speed Test to try. Kudos to the US Department of Education for walking the walk with this online community of online communities: building these communities is not easy. A good way to understand promising models and practices in the field is real-time, hands-on engagement.

Another person trying to understand promising models in ed-tech is Audrey Watters, who has a timely Hack Education post about GitHub. Setting aside for the moment the fact that the $100 million investment by Andreessen Horowitz model is, indeed, a fine model for ed-tech start-ups; there is an informative quote by investor Peter Levine in the press release: “GitHub organizes projects around people rather than code.”

Audrey explains further why GitHub worth a look and its “people-centric” structure is more than token ed-tech talk:

I heard GitHub co-founder and CEO Tom Preston-Werner speak at Y Combinator’s Startup School back in 2010, and the message he delivered was profoundly different than that of many of the speakers at the event who told tales of seed funding and “super angels.” While I refuse to believe that everyone in the tech industry “does it for the money,” it’s sometimes hard to see otherwise in the exuberance and the mythology that Silicon Valley perpetuates.

In lieu of what he identified as the pressures on startups to “optimize for money,” Preston-Werner’s talk — and his philosophy for running GitHub — focused on “optimizing for happiness.”

Audrey sees two cultures needing to come into better alignment:

I do wonder how VCs’ demand for that “quick success or quick failure” works (or doesn’t work) for education startups. It isn’t simply that educational institutions are slow to adopt new products and/or slow to change; it’s that the education of each and every one of us is a slow process too – a lifetime of learning.

And I fear if we choose to “optimize for money” – something that the latest flurry of interest in ed-tech startups is starting to look an awful lot like – we will neglect to optimize both for happiness and for learning.

There is a parallel lesson to be learned between those building tools and platforms to connect educators and students, and those in the international education and exchange community. Our shorthand for the place where new technologies can enhance, deepen and expand world history, geography, current events, world music and dance programs, study abroad and language programs, among others, is “Exchange 2.0.”

A model Exchange 2.0 community that may be a promising model for ed-tech start-ups is the Global Education Conference, which Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon launched in November 2010. It’s now 11,000 strong and is featured on the Connected Educators site. Like GitHub, the Global Education Conference community is organized around people rather than tech or content. Although happiness is definitely part of the community, the better description might be that the community is focused on “optimizing for professional generosity.”

Lucy describes professional generosity in her TEDx talk, but mostly she and Steve just live it. Professional generosity drives Twitter chats, from #edchat to #kinderchat, as well as community like Steve’s Classroom 2.0, Edmodo, and most online educator communities. It acts as the antithesis of the outcompete-the-world, zero-sum message US educational system promotes at all levels. Also like GitHub, Steve and Lucy have a bootstrapped community built for an “infinite runway” for teaching and learning, rather than quick success or quick failure. Although it may not seem like a community that will garner much attention from super angels, Lucy and Steve’s 365/24/7 “anytime, anywhere” global teaching and learning community is the right model—scalable, sustainable, impactful, and with a killer ROI, if you want to wait a generation to measure it.

Audrey is correct to refuse to believe that everyone in the tech industry “does it for the money.” There is much professional generosity in the industry and many who would love to work more closely with NGOs, universities, foundations, and state and federal partners to build tools to support teachers and students connecting with their peers around the world. The professional generosity DNA that entrepreneurs and coders share with connected educators worldwide might be the hub though which to optimize education and technology collaboration going forward.

A Shared Global Norm

Last week at the NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle keynote speaker Bill Gates suggested several “Education 2.0” tech tools for the crowd of more than 4,200 independent school leaders, including Skype and ePals. Gates also highlighted the Global Online Academy, a group of 16 independent schools that:

connects students from all over the world and allows them to offer their local perspectives on global issues. Classmates in Washington, D.C., and San Francisco work on projects with peers in Madaba-Manja, Jordan, and Portland, Oregon. Students in Hawaii and Chicago discuss global health issues with students in New York, Seattle, Boston, and Jakarta, Indonesia. These connections and interactions are becoming the norm in today’s society; it is essential that we prepare students to do this now.

The Connect All Schools consortium shares Global Online Academy’s core values that emphasize respect and empathy in its global community, and invites the students and teachers of Global Online Academy to join 120 other partners to share its stories and help global classroom collaboration to become the norm for all US teachers and students.


A Strong Second-Half Team

Clint Eastwood’s “Halftime in America” Super Bowl commercial was focused on Detroit and the auto industry, but it could just as well have been describing our country’s international exchange programs. In a new globally connected, mobile, social, “anytime, anywhere” DIY world of cross-border connections, does the exchange field have a team ready to play the second half?

A young Dwight D. Eisenhower (front row, second from right) during backyard football practice, Abilene, Kansas. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

The first half began in earnest on September 11, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower launched the People-to-People Program to:

… enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences directly among peoples of different countries and diverse cultures. President Eisenhower felt that creating understanding between people was essential to building the road to enduring peace and envisioned programs such as city affiliations, pen-pals, stamp exchanges, international sporting events, musical concerts, hospitality programs, theatrical tours and book drives as the means to achieving that goal – a critical goal in the existing Cold War climate.

Complemented by US government-sponsored programs such as Fulbright and Peace Corps, the “citizen diplomacy” that President Eisenhower championed increased cross-cultural understanding and bolstered America’s image abroad through the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the United States Information Agency, which had nurtured the people-to-people movement since its inception. The end of the first half for international exchange was not a result of a changing world or national politics, however. It was technological, as teacher-librarian Anne Lambert recounts:

 

I grew up fifteen minutes from the US-Mexico border in the ‘60’s, and I was always interested in people and cultures. As a teacher I arranged day trips to Tijuana, Mexico, worldwide pen pals, and student exchange programs in Ensenada, Mazatlan, and Europe. By the 90’s I saw the Internet as an opportunity for students to travel virtually and to learn languages…

I found iEARN to be welcoming and empowering, reaching across distance, language, ethnicity, wealth, and academic achievement. Student by student, the worldwide classroom of each iEARN project broke down stereotypes and invited our whole community to experience the power of communication.

Lumaphone link between Walworth School, London and Foster High School, Wa. USA, 1990

What Anne describes is what we now call “Exchange 2.0,” which is defined as “the use of new media and communications technologies to expand, extend, and deepen international cross-cultural exchanges.” Exchange 2.0 is not a new idea, as iEARN’s Ed Gragert outlined in his white paper for the US Department of Education in 2000 as a precursor to the inaugural International Education Week:

 Through the Internet, significant opportunity exists for human-to-human interactions, experiential learning and direct curriculum applications. Our students have the opportunity to both learn and teach through direct interaction. Further, students have the opportunity to observe, learn and address the serious global issues for which education is designed to prepare them as adults. Technology now gives students the means to directly interact on these issues. …

During the past 15 years, there has been a general progression in on-line international education, characterized by the following over-simplified steps:

1) In the late 1980s, foreign language teachers (and ESL teachers in other countries) were some of the first to recognize the potential for this technology to bring authentic interaction and materials into their classrooms.

2) In the 1990s, global studies and world affairs teachers learned that they could heighten interest in the issues being discussed if their classes were interacting with real students and teachers in the countries that were in the news or were part of the curriculum.

3) In 2000, international collaborative education is on the threshold of being integrated into all aspects of a teacher’s curriculum and we are fortunate to have educators who now have 5-10 years of experience to help with professional development

Twelve years later, international collaborative education has not been integrated into most teachers’ curricula, but the recent explosive growth of social media and mobile phones worldwide has created opportunities for students and teachers to connect at a scale unimaginable just a few years ago. The entire concept of “exchange” is being redefined, and as Tech Change’s TJ Thomander notes, virtual exchange will play more than simply a supporting role for traditional exchange:

Digital intercultural conversation is meant to be a complement, not a replacement to face-to-face interaction. But for most of the world that doesn’t have the means to travel, this will be the only option that they have. It won’t be a complement [or] a replacement; it will just be the only way that they develop relationships with others across borders.

It’s “game on” for virtual exchange; is it “game over” for traditional travel-based exchange programs?

The power of physical exchanges is undeniable. Yet, in 2010, only 1,979 US high school students traveled abroad for a semester or yearlong exchange experience, at an estimated cost of $15,000 to $20,000 each. At a fraction of the cost classroom-powered diplomacy already dwarfs all travel programs combined, while allowing the very young, boys, those with learning challenges and physical disabilities, and others not able or inclined to travel to engage with peers abroad. For the vast majority of students around the globe, short codes are more likely to offer future employment and English language learning opportunities than a one-in-a-thousand chance to be selected for an exchange program. Furthermore, virtual exchange is an option that empowers participants to facilitate, monitor, and assess their own cross-cultural interaction. Teachers need not apply for a J-1 visa to coordinate Skype calls between kindergarten classrooms or create their own Twitter hashtags to collaborate with their peers worldwide.


The knowledge and experience gained from the first fifty-five years of citizen diplomacy and international exchange is not irrelevant, however, in this new era of global connectivity. Quite the opposite: Face to face still trumps Facebook to Facebook, and a J-1 visa for the YES program is much more likely to transform a young person’s life than a hashtag. Just like the US education system is experimenting with “blended” models of classroom-based and online teaching and learning, the Connect All Schools consortium is experimenting with blended models of virtual and travel-based exchange programs. Partners such as American CouncilsAFS-USA, Mobility International, IREX, Teachers without Borders, TakingITGlobal, Plan International and Youth Service America are helping to create an entirely new field of social entrepreneurship and community service-infused programs, including professional development for supporting teachers to integrate international exchange into their curricula.

It’s important work, and a talented, passionate team of tech-savvy international exchange professionals is ready to take the field.