The Real Value of Connecting All Schools

This Is Water

“The real value of a real education,” American novelist David Foster Wallace asserts in his now-viral 2005 Kenyon College commencement speech about empathy, “has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness.” Most everyone who has studied abroad, especially those who have lived with host families, understands this concept acutely.

The positive, life-long impact of study abroad on young people is undeniable. Each year, however, less than 2,000 US high school students—roughly 1 in 10,000—travel abroad for a semester or year-long experience. Students younger than 15 years old, students with special needs, and students from geographically isolated and socio-economically challenged areas of the country have few opportunities to have the perception-altering experience that study abroad provides.

The efforts of the Connect All Schools consortium and like-minded programs, such as Flat Classroom, Edmodo, Twitter chats, Global Read Aloud Day, Skype in the Classroom, Microsoft’s Partners in Learning, Global Classroom Scrapbook Project, and the Intel Teach Program, have vastly increased the diversity and number of students gaining global awareness and empathy beyond what would be possible through study abroad alone. Still, only small fraction of U.S. K-12 students currently have access to some kind of international experience, whether physical or virtual.

“It is unimaginably hard to do this,” Wallace adds, “to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out.” It is difficult for educators in the day in and day out of teaching, testing, and trying out new technologies to commit their students to a collaboration with their peers around the globe. We must give teachers the space to do so. We need more than just 1 in 10,000 youth to be aware of what exists and what it feels like—even virtually, even for a short-time—to be outside our country’s borders. We need an empathetic, globally aware citizenry capable of working with their counterparts in other countries to meet the economic and geopolitical challenges of this century.

This is a real value of a globally-connected education.

Only 1 in 10,000 US high school students study abroad

[Source: Council on Standards for International Educational Travel (CSIET)2012-2013 Report]

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Internet Freedom and the Education of Hope

Kids in Lajan Village, Kurdistan, Iraq,

Team Antenna in Lajan Village, Kurdistan, Iraq, cheer a green light on their modem! The group is participating in Touchable Earth, the first digital world book for kids where kids in each place explain all the facts about it. The Christopher Stevens Youth Network will support efforts like this in 20 countries.

[Thanking @craignewmark for mention of this post on @HuffPostTech]

One day, the “globally connected classroom” will simply be known as “the classroom.”

January 18th is Internet Freedom Day, and we’re celebrating the Connect All Schools Consortium. The Consortium is a leading the effort to move our country closer to the goal that every school in the United States have global connections so that every student have an international experience to gain critical skills, knowledge, and hope for a prosperous and secure future.

Fifteen years ago, Dr. Ed Gragert saw the Internet’s potential for teachers and students:

The power of the Internet is in its human connective potential. By connecting us as global citizens and local community members, we learn better. We open ourselves to new ideas and in turn shape the thinking of others through diverse input. We and our students become empowered to apply learning within our societies and in the global community in ways that can impact powerfully and positively on lives and environments.

In short, the Internet has the potential for creating an education of hope.

If we want to nurture a critical mass of young people who trust and respect each other, we need an Internet that fosters freedom of expression. If we want to empower future leaders to work together towards a healthier and safer planet, we need an Internet that supports an open and fair exchange of ideas. If we want our efforts to promote peace and conflict resolution through programs like the new Christopher Stevens Youth Network, we need an Internet that encourages empathy, meaningful collaboration, and an education of hope.

If we want every young person to believe that his or her voice matters, we need Internet freedom.

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.

Connecting US Classrooms Globally for National Security

Connecting US teachers and students with their peers worldwide will lead to a more prosperous and secure United States. But how, exactly?

This blog has made the case that connecting US classrooms to partners around the world bolsters US public diplomacy, an essential component of national security. Many others have made similar statements to the effect that global awareness among K-12 youth is needed to prepare future leaders who will help mitigate environmental, financial, and global health crises that will impact national security.

The US Departments of Defense, State, and Homeland Security have stated that US K-12 educational system isn’t meeting their needs for its current national security challenges. Still, policy-makers rarely address the need for international education in US schools, and programs that help teachers and students learn about the world are not funded at the level of other national security priorities (not even close). Here are four recent articles for policy-makers that explicitly link US national security to our students’ global competencies. Are these compelling arguments? Are there more for this list?

  Enhancing Foreign Language Learning
“The promotion of foreign language instruction should be a national priority. “
Terrence G. Wiley, Sarah Catherine Moore, and Margaret S. Fee, Center for Applied Linguistics
  Supporting Education Reform
“Educational failure puts the United States’ future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk.”
Joel I. Klein and Condoleezza Rice, Council of Foreign Relations’ Sponsored Independent Task Force
  Promoting Study Abroad
“I believe that our national security rests upon the foundation of a well-educated electorate with a broad and sophisticated worldview.”
Rick Steves, Travel Writer
 
Improving Access to Education Worldwide
“Could the effort to build global competence in young people in the US be one tool to expand quality education globally?”
Dr. Ed Gragert, Director, Global Campaign for Education, US Chapter

Occupy Globally Connected Learning

As a kick-off to the badge competition at last week’s DML Conference, UC Irvine Professor Mimi Ito and her team launched the Connected Learning research initiative with a snazzy infographic, a video, and a provocative Ignite talk, where Professor Ito exclaimed that connected learners are “the 1%.”  With a nod to Occupy movement, the research network aims to address:

“… this historical moment where we see the rise of social media, the Internet, and a growing disjuncture between formal and informal learning. We suggest a new paradigm for considering the promise of sociality and media and learning, centering on hybrid learning networks which support interest-driven learning, cutting across school, home, after-school, and peer cultures.”

Like many of the thoughtful participants at conference, the MacArthur Foundation-supported Connected Learning team is asking important questions around peer and multi-generational learning, civic engagement and social justice, including:

How effective can the exploding sector of open learning and peer-to-peer learning be?

 In what ways can digital media boost learning for marginalized communities?

Can social media and digital technology improve the impact of after-school programs, especially for disadvantaged youth?

 Does learning that is connected to a learner’s interest help produce young people who are more civically engaged and more active 21st-century citizens?

For those of us who have occupied (small “o”) the “connected learning” space for a couple of decades, it is good to see a major foundation fund this research and give classroom civic engagement and social justice issues a higher profile. Conspicuous by its absence, however, is any reference to teachers and students connecting with their peers worldwide. In fact, global classroom collaboration researchers and practitioners in many countries for many years have asked and answered many of these same questions: Does global classroom collaboration boost learning for marginalized communities? Yes. Support peer-to-peer learning? Yes. After-school programs? Disadvantaged youth? Civic Engagement? Yes, yes, and yes.

We hope that the omission of globally connected learning in its launch is not an oversight, and will be an area the team will move into soon.  Other teams have found globally connected learning a rich subject to study. Under the guidance of Professor Margaret Riel, for example, graduate students at Pepperdine University, for example, have used Learning Circles each year since 2002 to support and organize action research as part of their online Masters of Arts degree program in Educational Technology. If Professor Ito’s team intends to look at the many superb global classroom programs run by the Connect All Schools partners, it will undoubtedly benefit the research. To launch this research network without any reference to the impact or increasing capabilities of classrooms to connect worldwide seems to miss a key aspect of connected learning.

Furthermore, to launch this research network about connect learning without connecting with research teams in Tunisia, Egypt, Uruguay, Australia, India, Iran, Korea, Russia, Kenya and other countries where social media and digital technology is having a significant impact on teaching and learning, seems a missed opportunity, especially since most mobile learning innovation is happening outside the United States. To study Occupy it makes sense to study it alongside Arab Spring. Why not research the impact of social media and youth civic engagement in collaboration with Tunisian and Egyptian education researchers? Or why not work with Korean researchers to examine if games can used to address social issues? When it comes to connected learning, it makes sense to research with the world, not just about it.

The goal of Connect All Schools is to give every US school the opportunity to connect with an international partner by 2016. We’ve made the case that globally connected learning is both a national security issue and good foreign policy strategy. Connecting classrooms globally is also an issue of social justice. We invite the Connected Learning team to learn more about how relevant, engaging, and empowering globally connected learning is for children around the world.


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.

Too Big to Scale?

Similar to how the international development field obsesses about “sustainability,” the educational technology field obsesses about “scalability.” When these two fields intersect—exemplified by One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), Sugata Mitra, and now m-learning—big questions are asked.

Just as The Walking Dead is not really about Zombies, the recent post by @mathalicious equating Khan Academy with McDonalds is not really about the perils of video instruction. It’s about the fear of scaling teaching and learning, and what happens when we disregard the important bond between student and teacher. Why on earth do we want tech messing with this bond? Isn’t teaching and learning just a too big and complex and intimate human endeavor to try to scale?

Although @mathalicious raises some good points, the following worry seems far-fetched:

“On another level, though, Khan Academy and its donors may preclude better products from coming along: products built by experts that actually can improve how students learn. And ultimately, this may be the most dangerous thing about Khan Academy: not that it exists, but that it’s the only thing that does.”

Leaving aside the issue of what defines an “expert” and the idea that everyone in a community—even coders!—can and should support teachers and students improve teaching and learning, Khan Academy is not going to preclude new products from coming along, nor is it the only thing that exists. In fact, one of the exciting things about Khan Academy is not Khan Academy, it’s MathTrain TV, and what’s to come in the next few years as youth worldwide create, teach and learn with their peers, with and without their teachers, schools or Khan Academy.

The big question of sustainability and scalability in teaching and learning is, therefore, not about which platform or technology exists; it’s about how youth worldwide are going to work collaboratively to address critical global concerns to help future generations be healthier, better educated, and more prosperous. Effective global collaboration requires care and nurturing by teachers who commit to build trust and respect among their students. It’s a long-term investment that so far has been resistant to scaling.

Maybe meaningful cross-cultural collaboration is too big to scale, but we’re expecting our Connect All Schools consortium and other national partners and policy-makers to change that. President Obama remarked last week, “We’re going to keep on trying to engage as many countries as possible, mainly because it’s good for our national security.” It’s good for our teachers and students, too, and new technologies can play a role in supporting this engagement.

We shouldn’t expect an e-mail message or a Skype call to immediately transform teaching and learning overnight. So, let’s give US classrooms plenty of opportunities and encouragement to reach to partners around the world. Connections between classrooms may take years to develop, and may affect teachers and students differently over time. This will include a changing relationship between teacher and student. We shouldn’t fear this new world of globally connected, mobile, social, “anytime, anywhere” teaching and learning. Zombies, on the other hand, …