Side by Side, Unconditionally

Last month, for the first time in 24 years, the iEARN Global Assembly hosted its annual leadership meeting completely virtually. Representatives from 24 countries across many time zones joined the three-day meeting both live and asynchronously, through a wiki and Blackboard Collaborate. Voting continued for three more weeks to give the opportunity to everyone to participate fully.

One may think that a pioneering community like iEARN would have held an all-virtual Assembly meeting before now. Like most successful international educational communities, however, iEARN is built on a foundation of in-person interaction. And, like most international (and domestic, for that matter) online communities have discovered, virtual meetings are both difficult to pull off and quite often challenging: it is very difficult to engage in critical cross-cultural community decision-making without the benefit of being able to read faces and body language, or to look into a colleagues’ eyes to show empathy or to share a spontaneous chuckle.

Yet, no matter how challenging, participation in iEARN requires at all levels—students, teachers, staff, volunteers, government representatives, funders, Assembly members—constructive, functional virtual collaboration. Fortunately, iEARN attracts people who have learned how to learn, who patiently cope with technology mishaps, who like to fiddle around with stuff, and who are passionately committed to inclusiveness and fairness. Practically, this can mean working with peers with few resources, with low, little or no technologies, access or electricity; with only local language ability; with special physical, intellectual and emotional needs; in single-sex schools, elite, marginalized, and religious schools; and sometimes across countries whose one’s own governments are not on good terms. iEARN challenges its participants to move beyond their comfort zones and, within a culture of respect and trust, engage in an unconditional global collaboration.

You’ve probably noticed that something pretty awesome is happening in K-12 education right now. The awesomeness really isn’t about new technologies, onlinein learning, and social media, although there are a lot of new fun tools and resources to play with nowadays. For us, the big change has been a major embrace of “connected” learning.  As our Director Emeritus, Ed Gragert, remarked a couple of decades ago, the true promise of the Internet is in its “human connective potential.” Earlier this year, MacArthur Foundation launched its Connected Learning initiative. We are super excited to see our colleagues catch the bug for connected learning.

One of our goals this month is to have everyone think “globally” whenever the phrase “connected” is used. We’ve said before that not using technology in your classroom to connect with peers worldwide is like going to the beach and not dipping your toes into the water. This August, we hope that everyone headed to the beach for the inaugural US Department of Education-sponsored Connected Educators Month gets wet feet and discovers what iEARN members and supporters already know: global connections make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of our children.

This August, we invite you to celebrate the iEARN global community and our growing network on partners that enable young people worldwide, working in collaboration and dialogue, to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of the planet and its people. Through your support and encouragement, iEARN and our partners have engaged young people throughout the world who would not otherwise have contact with one another. From Kansas City to Karachi to Kampala, we are helping young people to collaborate, to take action in their own communities, and to understand themselves as part of the larger world around them. Your support is critical in our efforts to ensure that ALL of our young people, regardless of socio-economic backgrounds, ages or geographic location, have the opportunity to experience respectful and meaningful international collaboration as part of their education.

Something awesome is definitely happening in K-12 education right now.

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