For Online Learning, It’s Who You Know

The first Christopher Stevens Youth Network Workshop in Yemen

The first Christopher Stevens Youth Network Workshop in Yemen

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 Chris 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.

New York-Cairo High School Science Exchange

iEARN US-Egypt Young Scientist Exchange Program

iEARN-USA is committed to dramatically increasing access to meaningful virtual exchange to all schools in the United States, regardless of socio-economic background, age or geographic location. This vision is shared by President Obama, who championed online learning and cross-cultural exchanges in his June 2009 address to the Muslim world delivered from Cairo:
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 documentSucceeding 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.
In November 2009, iEARN-Jordan worked with iEARN-USA to host a video conference on climate change moderated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Waleed Al-Ma'ani, the Jordanian Minister of Education.

In November 2009, iEARN-Jordan worked with iEARN-USA to host a video conference on climate change moderated by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Dr. Waleed Al-Ma’ani, the Jordanian Minister of 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.

At Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, students connect with peers in Yemen and several other countries to get an insight into these cultural differences — and think critically about their own daily lives — through some innovative virtual exchanges in Chris Baer’s photography and graphics classes. [photo credit Ivy Ashe, Village Gazette]

At Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, students connect with peers in Yemen and several other countries to get an insight into these cultural differences — and think critically about their own daily lives — through some innovative virtual exchanges in Chris Baer’s photography and graphics classes. [photo credit Ivy Ashe, Village Gazette]

Christopher Stevens Youth Network Participants in Syria

Chris Stevens Youth Network Participants in Syria

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3 responses to “For Online Learning, It’s Who You Know”

  1. Samah AlJundi says :

    When I see the open eyes of my students, I feel that I want to do more. When a photo is posted, I ask myself what’s next. Thanks iEARN for making my dreams come true and people are getting to know Syrian youth so we are approaching peace and reconciliation, slowly but surely..

    • David Potter says :

      Thank YOU! Samah. We visit your Facebook page often to see what the media is missing about Syria. iEARN-Syria shows us a hopeful future. America teachers and students are well advised to connect with your participants right now and learn with Syria, not just about it.

      • Samah AlJundi says :

        Thank you David…hope to see you in Qatar…You will enjoy meeting a motivated youth worker, Hiba…I wish I were Opera Whinfery to invite all the team…

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