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Friday, November 20, 2015

Can Online Exchange Programs Really Help Kids Learn About the World?

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Chris Berdik, freelance science journalist and author of Mind Over Mind: The Surprising Power of Expectations writes, "They help American students connect with students across the world to build solar-powered lights, take virtual walking journeys, and learn about Syrian genocide."

A student in Uganda communicates with her learning partners in New Orleans.
Photo: Theo Niyirinda

This fall, after getting to know each other in online video exchanges, some Ugandan high school students told a group of students in New Orleans that most Ugandans have no reliable electricity and use candles or lanterns after dark. Over the following weeks, the students worked together to build solar-powered lights. An education technology startup called Level Up Village supplied both schools with solar cells, batteries, and LEDs, along with 3-D printers to fabricate the housings, tutorials on electricity and computer-aided design, and an online workspace for posting notes and swapping ideas.

Global learning initiatives like this are booming, because the technologies that long made our world seem smaller are finally at the point where they can seamlessly make classrooms that much bigger. For years, educators have wanted to teach “global competency”—meaning a grasp of international issues and the ability to work with people around the world. Until recently, however, virtual border crossings were typically one-time extravagances pulled off in a handful of elite schools.

Now, growing computing power, accelerating broadband, social media, and virtual reality are bringing global education to the masses. Schools are connecting and collaborating globally in all sorts of ways, ranging from Tweets and Skype sessions to full-blown online global learning platforms, most of which will be up for discussion in the webinars and keynote speakers of this week’s online Global Education Conference

“Kids will be global with or without us. They have contacts around the world, and they’re using social media to connect about things they’re passionate about,” said Brandon Wiley, founder and president of the consulting firm GlobalEdLeader.

This kid-first vision drives The Wonderment, a free app enabling students around the world to creatively engage with each other, which the Salt Lake City nonprofit Kidnected World launched in 2014.

Wonderment users, students from 25 countries, post written and multimedia responses to creative challenges within a certain topic, such as “water saver,” and those responses are linked with and commented on by other students. From this base of cultural sharing, ideas bubble up for things like community gardens and multicultural music festivals. Kidnected World plucks some of these ideas, such as making a mobile library for Guatemalan schools that lack books, and solicits funding to make them happen.

Source: Slate Magazine

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