The national conversation about online learning has focused on what and how, but has given with whom short shrift.
In his remarks this week to the Foreign Service Institute Overseas Security Seminar, US Secretary of State John Kerry underscored the importance of “with whom,“ highlighting virtual exchange as a key US government strategy to provide educators and youth with a meaningful cross-cultural experience:
… today we also have digital bridges to connect different cultures – and I don’t just mean Facebook and Twitter. The State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau runs a virtual exchange program that connects teachers and students in the United States with their counterparts in the Middle East and North Africa. These students are working together online, learning from each other about their cultures and history, and they’re forging lasting relationships.
iEARN has worked closely with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since 1998 to develop immersive online professional development courses and project-based virtual exchanges worldwide. iEARN is pleased to be helping launch the Christopher Stevens Youth Network, which Secretary Kerry believes:
can lead to the largest ever increase in people-to-people exchanges between the United States and the Middle East and North Africa. And we believe it will also dramatically increase the number and diversity of young people who have a meaningful cross-cultural experience – the same experience that Chris, and I think all of you understand is so important.
On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.
This vision is also shared by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, whom iEARN hosted for teleconference with his counterpart in Jordan. The International Affairs Office of the US Department of Education new strategy document, Succeeding Globally Through International Education and Engagement affirms:
The Department’s commitment to preparing today’s youth, and our country more broadly, for a globalized world, and to engaging with the international community to improve education.
This vision of international engagement is increasingly shared by hundreds of organizations and millions of educators, students, and parents in the United States. A World Savvy survey found that American students are keenly aware that it is their best interests that they understand global issues, engage with their peers worldwide, and gain the skills needed to find employment in today’s global economy.
Yet, while opportunities for international exchange are expanding rapidly in many countries around the world, only a small fraction of American K-12 students currently have access to some kind of international experience, whether physical or virtual. A survey released today by American University graduate student Corey Smith, “Study Abroad in Cyberspace,” showed that American teachers say they are interested in virtual exchange, but are deterred to do so in their classrooms by “lack of formal assessment, work overload, technology issues, and lack of information about virtual exchange.”
These deterrents, however, can be overcome if Americans expand the national conversation about online learning to include “with whom,” and then commit to providing our teachers the support they are asking for. The outcomes of a national commitment to increasing cross-cultural experiences will be a critical mass of American youth with empathy, trust, and respect for their peers abroad, who are committed to social justice and human rights, who have college and career-ready skills, and who have the passion to work together towards a healthier and safer planet.
This is an online learning conversation worth having.
For the past 25 years, iEARN educators, like Deanne McBeath from Trenton, New Jersey, have helped create an alternative to the “us vs. them, online vs. face-to-face, virtual vs. physical” construct.
Perhaps the zero-sum framing of online vs. face-to-face learning and virtual vs. physical exchange is inevitable. Resources are constrained. Our education system is not designed to change at the rate that new technologies are changing our lives. We are warned: Facebook can ruin study abroad. Evidence of the positive impacts of technology on teaching and learning and study abroad have been viewed skeptically for decades.
This zero-sum framing also extends to our government’s rhetoric that we must “out-educate” other countries and prepare our children to “out-compete” their peers around the world.
There are other ways to think about education, exchange, technology, and how we want to engage with people in other countries to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. Deanne shares her thoughts about her journey from an online course to Nyahururu, Kenya:
A quick report on an incredible journey to Kenya.
During the summer of 2011, while taking an online Global Collaboration course through iEARN, I met David Ngare. David is Head Teacher at Igwamiti Primary School in Nyahururu, Kenya. He was taking the course as well and although we had different objectives overall, we did decide to collaborate on the Teddy Bear Project through iEARN. Together we wrote up a project plan, involving 1st and 5th graders. The purpose of the Teddy Bear Project is to foster tolerance and understanding of different cultures through the exchange of teddy bears. The students compose diary entries, as if they were the bears, describing experiences in their new culture, which are ideally shared through the iEARN Teddy Bear Forum. It wasn’t long before it became apparent that David would not have the resources to obtain the bears. My dear friend, Ann Osborne, who already had a love of Kenya, purchased and shipped to Kenya six teddy bears sporting t-shirts with “Igwamiti Primary” emblazoned on the front.
Unfortunately, the first lesson was in the difficulty of sending parcels to a developing country. Though the U.S. Postal Service estimated delivery would take ten days, after two months, the package still had not arrived. After another two weeks, when we were just about to give up hope, we received an email from David that the bears had finally reached their postal destination. However, we were sadly informed that the Kenyan postmaster would not release the bears to David without his paying $30 in customs’ fees, a large sum for a struggling school.
Village Charter School used this as an opportunity to teach a middle school Social Studies class the effects of a food embargo and the power of the government and others to halt the delivery of goods and services.
We were able to fundraise the money necessary to “free” the bears and soon afterwards we received an account of the bears’ first night in their new land and were able to share this with all of our students at Village Charter School.
David, myself, and Ann have remained in close contact over the last few years; Igwamiti Primary is the sister school of Village Charter, with a bulletin board in the hall. (see photo). We have had numerous fundraisers for Igwamiti—selling bracelets and having Neon Dance Parties. Over spring break, I traveled with Ann, her-15 year-old daughter Emily, and 15-year-old Leah, to Kenya. David met us at the airport and spent the next 10 days with us. Five of those days were spent at Igwamiti Primary School.
It is hard to put into words the experience of being at the school. I felt as if I were at home. Through iEARN, we had already shared so many experiences, photographs, and stories. I was able to spend a couple of days doing professional development with the teachers. The school has a lab with 20 computers; however there is very limited access to the Internet and the electricity was out more than it was on! We brought a printer and a projector with us as gifts. Our professional development covered iEARN—we did some Skyping, the teachers did “My Name Around the World”, we talked about the Project-Based Learning and how the “Finding Solutions to Hunger” project through iEARN provided Village Charter with an opportunity to do a school wide PBL that culminated in an assembly attended by over 500 people.
Thank you iEARN for enriching my life!
Thank you, Deanne, Ann, David, and your students and families, for enriching ours.
Please join Deanne and fellow iEARN teacher Mary Brownell on Thursday, May 30th for a free, non-zero-sum, webinar, where they discuss how iEARN projects can bring real-life experience and meaning to the Common Core State Standards. Deanne and Mary will be pleased to share inspiring ways to think about teaching and learning with technology and global partners.
The iEARN 25th Anniversary Cake Week Celebration is underway, and we’re aiming to create the world’s largest global classroom sugar high while we recognize the efforts of students and teachers around the globe to improve the quality of life on the planet.
Stayed tuned all week for special announcements, like today’s Earth Day Zerofootprint Youth Calculator Phase 2 Launch:
Today’s youth are taking the future into their own hands in over 100 countries through the Zerofootprint Youth Calculator initiative that engages them in a worldwide network to measure, compare and change their behavior. As both a carbon calculator and social engagement platform, the Zerofootprint Youth Calculator connects young people to one another around the world to mitigate their collective carbon footprint. Already during Phase 1, over 230,000 active users have committed to a reduction of 150,000 tons of CO2 released into Earth’s atmosphere and our Oceans.
On Earth Day, the Zerofootprint Youth Calculator has launched a new platform in English, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Arabic. Through a partnership with iEARN (International Education and Resource Network), Phase 2 hopes to scale up to 1,000,000 active users and achieve a reduction of 600,000 tons of CO2 by Earth Day 2014.
Follow our social media channels for Global Youth Service Day highlights, the 21st Annual YouthCaN Conference in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History, and lots and lots of frosting.
Last fall, we introduced the Christopher Stevens Youth Network, an Exchange 2.0 effort that will offer complementary physical and virtual exchanges for 10,000 students and 400 educators in 20 countries. iEARN will support online project-based learning focused on eight thematic units: conflict resolution and peace education, the environment, civic education, social entrepreneurship, empowering girls and young women, food security, health, and literacy and education.
This spring, four teachers taking the new Christopher Stevens Youth Network online course shared their thoughts:
Even since I became a full-fledged iEARNer, I have discovered that what unites us outweighs our differences and discords. I have found out that we face the same challenges and we share the same aspirations, the same hopes, and the same dreams. My students and I have been stunned by the warmth and generosity of all the community. Now, we refer to a Thai project as though Bangkok is just next door, and when our friends in Islamabad visited an orphanage, we shared their success as though we were there.
I was truly amazed that iEARN was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Why hadn’t I heard of you before? … Seriously? I feel like I have been under a bushel basket!
I really liked some of the projects on the Imagine section of the board. I have shared the cookbook idea with our foods teacher and the mural with our two art teachers. I will be using the ZeroFootprint [Youth Calculator] with my classes as soon as we return from spring break.
Global collaboration, aside from the obvious importance of globalizing our students, is important because it sets the tone that will carry our students into successful careers, which will incorporate all the components of our global society. Our students need to learn the tolerance that is essential in our current world and they need to understand that they are not the center of whichever universe they are currently focused on. In addition to that, learning about and with people from other places is just exciting and fun!
“Stop teaching, let them learn” this statement summarizes my week reflection. Being connected with iEARN community, i realized that we are living a wonderful, interesting, unique but achievable experience that i called “iEARN-D”. “D” refers to my dream, my students’ dream, everyone in iEARN dream.
DREAM to make teachers from different parts of the world join and make a whole community express and share their ideas, hopes and expectations of a better world.
DREAM to link our students regardless their differences via technology , make them know about each other while working collaboratively.
DREAM to enable the new generations put hand in hand beyond the existing barriers to create a wonderful world.
DREAM to plant knowledge, peace, and tolerance buds in their spirits.
DREAM to be stronger than the world leaders to live and make a world completely different from the horrible one we are living in.
So, let the new generations, not only learn about and with the world , but teach the whole world that they are better prepared to change the WORLD, simply because YOUTH can.
This week I learned a great deal about iEARN and feel that I have a better understanding of the foundations of the program and its goals. Of the new insight I gained the most meaningful moment came from the first video, on the anniversary of iEARN. I learned about the first ever iEARN project, the teacher-student exchange between Russia and the United States. I was taken aback by the teacher who described her first encounter in Russia, after all the polite pleasantries of first meeting one another, when she was asked: “Why do you want war with us?” The teacher said firmly, “I do not want war, I have a son.”
This exchange truly captures the philosophy behind everything iEARN does. That moment was powerful for the individuals on that first exchange trip, and it still holds power for me today, as someone who was not even born yet when it happened.
Every day the leaders of our nations partake in a never-ending ballet, where everyone has a part to play. They battle each other for the staring roles and do their best to trip one another up when the audience is watching. They are careful, elegant, and practiced in their movements, following the laws, the codes, and the ethical outlines they have written on their own behalf. Yet, for all that grace and delicate balancing they are in their own show, and we are the audience.
… The greatest changes happen when a small group of people take on something greater and more powerful than they are; like those teachers who bravely faced their nations’ enemies, only to find that they shared more than words could ever say.
It is important for us, as teachers, to pass that idea on to our students. We must be ever mindful of generalizing, oversimplifying, and putting words into the mouths of the millions of people across the world. We must be ever vigilant in reminding them that they have a voice and a say. By participating in iEARN they have a forum in which to share those voices, and to hear the voices of thousands of other students across the world. It is by sharing those voices that we can truly learn about our world and build bridges where they most certainly need to be built.
In honor of Michael Graffin’s first international trip abroad to Doha, Qatar this July, it seemed timely to suggest that the April #GlobalClassroom Chat theme be, A Journey of Many Firsts.
My iEARN colleagues around the world have spent the past 25 years focusing on helping teachers and students begin their first journeys into global classroom collaboration. The iEARN annual conferences and youth summits are attended by many, like Michael, who have never traveled abroad or worked on global online projects.
The Lesson for All is a set of two units focused on the right of education and the barriers that youth around the world experience when trying to access that right. Written by teacher Donna Roman, each unit (K-3 and 4-6) has four lessons with multimedia, discussion and modes of assessment. Each lesson is mapped to the Common Core State Standards and the Global Competence Matrix.
When Dr. Gragert asked if I would be interested in working on a project he was involved with, I didn’t hesitate. He is a man that I have respected and admired during his leadership as the Executive Director for iEARN, and although I wasn’t familiar with The Global Campaign for Education, United States, I jumped in with both feet.
As I wrote The Lesson For All units, I began to understand the gravity of this issue. What I learned gave me faith in us as human beings. It gave me hope in a more peaceful planet. It brought me fear for girls and women of our world. It pulled me through sadness and grief for lives unable to be fulfilled. But mostly, it filled me with pride to see what we as global leaders, educators, and caring citizens are doing to make this a more stable and humane place for all people of our ever-smaller world.
Here are a few facts to get you thinking:
- In 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of a Child, giving children the right of a free education, among other things.
- In 2000, the United Nations developed The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the world’s biggest promise – a global agreement to reduce poverty and human deprivation at historically unprecedented rates through collaborative action by the year 2015. Universal free primary education is among the goals.
- Significant progress has been made toward the MDGs but has stalled in some areas of the world.
Universal education is an issue that affects all of us on this small planet, and it is one that cannot be ignored as caring and pragmatic human beings. I hope that you too find what is real and possible in your corner of the world as you work through these units with your own classroom.
I will let my class of 10-11 year old students tell you what they thought:
“The United Nations has set a goal of an Education For All by 2015. Well that’s sort of a problem for it already being 2013. I think what needs to happen is to look more closely at the research of places that need the most help.” ~Sophia
“When looking for the reasons some kids are not in school, we have to stop and ask some questions.” ~ Kaylee
“If you didn’t go to school you would feel powerless.” ~Ian
“When people feel powerless and less protected, they join gangs so they can feel powerful. That’s why some wars start.” ~Ally
“We should educate all kids by not ranking people and thinking that boys need an education more than girls.” ~Kate
“I think education should be free because many families do not have money. Some people have to spend their life in a dump looking for scraps to sell and for food.” ~Justin
“No child deserves to live in a dump.” ~Savion
“THANK YOU SO MUCH UNITED NATIONS!!!!!!” ~Ethan
“An education is a wonderful thing to have, because the place won’t have poverty, people won’t think that they are powerless, everyone will have a stable life, the environment will be good, and the spread of disease will stop.” ~Megha
“So far they are getting way more kids in school than they were in 2000, but there are still millions of kids not in school.” ~Griffin
“I think the goal is possible, actually I know it is possible, but it will be hard work. Some people are stepping up to help. These people are life savers. I hope more people will feel to help. I really hope this goal comes true. The world needs it, and the suffering kids need it to happen ” ~Ally
“Together, everyone can make a difference” ~Griffin
Click here to find the Lesson For All to use in your classroom.
We’re excited to announce today that Daniel Rosenblum is our new Executive Director. Daniel, who will assume the role on May 1, was welcomed by Mona Eraiba, Chair of the iEARN-USA Board of Directors
We are delighted that Daniel will be joining the iEARN-USA team to lead the organization into the next 25 years. His wealth of experience and passion for international exchange and intercultural understanding will help iEARN-USA to expand its impact and reach throughout the country and the world in the years to come.
The selection of Daniel from a pool of nearly 100 top-notch candidates involved hundreds of hours of meetings, interviews, discussions, and research from every member of the staff and Board during the past six months. Daniel, who fielded several gazillion questions from us during that time, was the consensus choice among many fantastic candidates with whom we hope to work with in the future.
Daniel, a former journalist with broad international experience, comes to iEARN-USA from Japan Society, where as Vice President of External Relations, Daniel directed annual fundraising operations of $6 million, and was responsible communications, new media, board management and strategic planning for the organization. Daniel helped create and launch the U.S.-Japan Innovators Network, a multi-disciplinary network of emerging and established social entrepreneurs, business people, artists, educators and other leaders from Japan and the United States. Daniel has facilitated exchanges that have explored issues such as community revitalization, building essential skills for social innovators, new models for entrepreneurialism, crisis management and natural disaster recovery, and the role of play in fostering creativity and innovation.
Before joining the Society, Daniel worked as a journalist for 16 years, including 13 years as a financial correspondent and television producer with Reuters in Tokyo, Hong Kong, London, Washington and New York. A graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, he holds a BA in Japanese language and literature. Daniel spent his first 12 years abroad, living in Mexico City and Tokyo, where he attended the Nishimachi International School. He is an award-winning fiction writer and has published his works in numerous literary magazines as well as online. He currently lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife, Tamima Friedman, and two daughters, Beryl and Hannah.
The core of iEARN-USA’s mission – creating opportunities for dialog and collaboration among young people around the globe to enhance mutual understanding– is critical in an increasingly interconnected world.
It is a great honor to be chosen to lead iEARN-USA. I look forward to building upon the strong foundation of the past 25 years.
The honor is ours, Daniel. Welcome to iEARN and thank you for bringing your creativity to our global community.
Last week in our NewsFlash, we put out a call to iEARN teachers to ask their students to contribute quotes to a new mobile game called, Get Water!, which was launched today on World Water Day. A big “thank you” to developer Decode Global, a Montreal-based startup that specializes in mobile games for social impact, for inviting iEARN students to contribute to this effort to engage their peers with water issues.
Maya, the fictional main character in the game Get Water, has bigger problems. “Maya loves going to school, but she keeps getting pulled out of class to fetch clean water because the water pump is always broken! They never seem to make the boys get water though. What’s up with that?“ And right away, halfway through reading the description on the itunes download page, I realize it is not just a question of thirst and purity, but also an issue of education and gender.
These are some big human rights issues that Get Water drags out of the invisible shadows and brings into the light of discussion. I’m now having surprisingly sophisticated conversations with my two sons (five and seven years old) about the privatization and commodification of water rights while we swap devices and controllers on the living room sofa…all because of a video game.
We hope you’ll give Maya a hand and try out this free game by the folks at Decode Global, who, like our friends at Touchable Earth, won the Create UNAOC 2012 Challenge, a global competition co-organized by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, the Learning Games Network, and the MIT Education Arcade in search of mobile apps and games that can enable new avenues for intercultural dialogue.