Technology as a Tool for Global Learning

Table of Contents

The Why:

Before starting to integrate technology into your classroom and use it as a tool to facilitate global learning experiences with students, it’s important to think through why this might be a valuable addition to your classroom.

A few of my favorite reasons for using technology as a tool to create and facilitate global learning experiences are:

  • To foster the idea that tech can be used for more than just consuming information (e.g., it can be used as a tool to build relationships and connections)
  • To prepare students to be comfortable using technology for (global) collaboration, communication, and creative expression
  • To enable students to connect with people in different countries and cultures
  • To facilitate the creation of meaningful projects with other students about global issues, such as climate change or poverty
  • To prompt discussions about stereotypes, beliefs, and assumptions students and others might have and the ways they can affect other people

What are other reasons to integrate technology into your classroom for global learning and collaboration?

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The How:

There are almost endless possibilities when it comes to how to integrate technology and use it as a tool in your classroom to create and facilitate global learning experiences! More ideas and projects are being created each day by educators around the word. I encourage you to develop a global Personal Learning Network (PLN) who you can connect with and learn/share with and from to continue exploring ways to integrate technology in your class.

To make the idea of tech as a tool for global collaboration more concrete, I want to share some examples of tools and projects that have already been used for this purpose.

Twitter: a microblogging platform that allows people to send  and receive messages of 140 characters.

I wanted to start with Twitter because I have found it to be the best social network to build my own PLN and be exposed to ongoing professional develop that’s tailored to my needs and interests – which of course includes global collaboration!

Twitter can be used personally and professionally and it can be used as a tool for you and for your classroom to connect with others. Before using Twitter with your class, I would recommend starting a public, professional account of your own that you can use to begin building a network of other educators and exploring the Twitter platform. Once you’re comfortable with Twitter terminology and writing in 140 character messages, then you can move on to creating a (private? check what would work best at your school!) class account that your students can use to connect with other classes and educators/experts. Check out Getting to Know Twitter: New User FAQ to learn more.

Key Terms: Followers, Mention (@), ReTweet (RT), Modified Tweet (MT), Direct Message (DM), Hashtag (#), Follow Friday (#FF)

Example classroom accounts: @TheKinderKids @mscassidysclass


Ideas for collaboration:

  • Connect with another class in another part of the world, make tweeting with them part of your morning meeting
  • Use Twitter to reach out to subject experts (e.g., tweet questions about the butterfly life cycle to a scientist)
  • Cultural exchange: Find a topic and ask classes in other parts of the world to tweet pictures of what that topic is like in their location (e.g., lunch around the world)
  • Go on a scavenger hunt via Twitter (@avivaloca has tried this)
  • Tweet with a class that speaks another language to practice
  • These connections can allow organic discussions about time zones, different cultures and holidays, languages, and other aspects of multiculturalism to begin in your classroom. For example, if you’re tweeting with someone in Canada, they can talk about celebrating Thanksgiving in October and your students could research/learn about why they celebrate it then and why the U.S. celebrates it in November.

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Voicethread: a collaborative, multimedia slideshow tool with 5 commenting options.

Voicethread is a great collaboration and presentation tool for almost any age because of the range of commenting options it provides. You (or students) can upload photos, images, slides, and video as various slides in a presentation and then students can add audio, video, text, phone, or drawing comments. This means that younger students can easily use the tool before being literate or knowing how to type and older students can add more detailed or diverse comments using the whole range of tools.

The power of Voicethread is in the ability to collaborate asynchronously with other groups who can leave a comment in response to your presentation at any time. This means time zones are not a problem and with the phone option, they don’t even need to have a good Internet connection. You can also create and comment on Voicethreads via their mobile app, so it’s very portable.

Key Facts: You can make 3 Voicethreads as a free, registered user. After that, you can purchase a Single Educator License for $79/year.

Example of a Voicethread used for Global Collaboration:

Ideas for Collaboration:

  • Make an ebook and have children “read” or add both written and audio comments in two languages
  • Have children make a photo tour of their school and use Voicethread to annotate, explain, and share it with another class
  • Have students post their own or professional artwork and collaborate on critiquing each piece
  • Create a how-to presentation for a recipe, science experiment, or other project and see if another class can do it just by following the directions

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Google Drive: A place where you can upload, edit, share, and create files online. Google Drive also allows you to access your files wherever you are, from any device. There are five types of files you can create with Google Drive: Documents, Spreadsheets, Forms, Presentations, and Drawings.

Google files are a great way for students to learn how to collaborate and work in teams, whether those teams involve three classmates that are sitting next to one another or a group of students from three different classes around the world. Google allows for real-time and asynchronous collaboration, which means that multiple people can view and edit a file at the same time or at different times and every person who is involved (shared) with that file will be able to see any changes.

If you have used Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, then you will probably be comfortable using Google Documents, Spreadsheets, and Presentations since the purpose and interface of these platforms are fairly similar. Google also adds Forms, which are similar to online surveys and Drawings, which allow students to have a Paint-like shared canvas to work on posters and other art creations. Students can also try working on tablets or other mobile devices to collaborate without being tied to a computer.

Key Facts: Your school can register for a Google Apps for Education account so every student can have their own sign-in and data can be stored securely (plus you can separate your personal and professional Google files). There’s a limit of 50 collaborators at a time in Google Docs.

Example: Kinderpals and KC Collaborative Fiction Google Doc

Ideas for Collaboration:

  • Have two or more classes collaboratively write a story using Google Docs
  • Create and run a survey  in Google Forms about students’ interests, height, or other basic information that they can then graph in Google Spreadsheets
  • Have students create collaborative presentations in small groups about community helpers or other curriculum themes that can be shared with family members or classes via the Internet
  • Use Google Docs to have students collaboratively write a poem or lyrics to a song

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Skype: “Calling, seeing, messaging and sharing with others – wherever they are.” It’s a free, video conferencing platform that allows you to share audio and video with another Skype user.

Skype is a great way to collaborate with other classes in real-time and really make the connection you build with another class authentic and tangible. Skype allows you to share either audio, video, your computer screen, or all three with one other Skype user at one time. Skype also has a website to help educators connect and find partners for Skype collaboration projects. At that site you can learn about how other teachers are using Skype, find projects to join, or submit your own project. Skype is a great way to invite other classes, experts, and family members into your classroom, regardless of how near or far they are. As long as they have a webcam, they can “visit” your class and share something about their culture, customs, ideas and experiences. You can also Skype on-the-go via the mobile app.

Key Facts: Skype must be installed on both computers/devices and both users must be signed into Skype on a device with a microphone and speakers (and ideally webcam) for a conversation or video call to work. If you want to use Skype to call landlines or call/video chat with multiple people, you will need a premium account.

ExampleSkypeplay and Skype partners with NASA & other organizations

Ideas for Collaboration:

  • Join the SkypePlay project so your students can free-play with other classes around the world through Skype
  • Invite experts to join your class for a morning meeting or other discussion to deepen your students’ exploration of a topic
  • Have visiting authors join your class via Skype and read a story to your class
  • Use Skype to have a parent or other friend read to students in another home language
  • Ask families to use Skype while traveling so they can still be a part of your class and can share what they are learning while away
  • Have two or more classes give digital presentations to one another through Skype about a topic they have been exploring in class

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The When:

It can be challenging to figure out when is the best time to integrate a collaborative project into your classroom, especially if technology and global projects feel like an “extra.” The first step involves taking a leap and just trying a project, even if you’re not sure you’re completely ready or prepared.

As much as I would encourage you to take that leap, I would also caution that it can be helpful to have clarity about what your goals are for a project and what resources you will have available before you start. Figure out what type of technology tools you/your students have access to, what type of support you will have from other colleagues or tech faculty, and what you think your students will gain from the project. By figuring these pieces out first, you will be better able to explain the project to your students and better able to adjust when tech pieces don’t work or changes need to be made.

Once you’ve decided you want to try a global collaboration project, take a look at your lesson plans and think about which unit or project could be enhanced by bringing a global lens or expanding students’ discussion about that topic to include broader perspectives. Next, find a partner class, teacher, or expert to collaborate with that is intersted in examining that topic with you and your students.

Things for each class to consider: time zones, broadband capacity, access to a webcam and other tech resources, school schedules/holidays

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Making it Meaningful:

  • Make it meaningful, make it personal
  • Don’t rush it
  • Go beyond technology (snail mail is still fun!)
  • Remember tech is always a tool. Start with an idea or a goal and then find the best tool to accomplish or support that idea/goal
  • Be transparent, talk about the “why”
  • Make time for reflection
  • Provide language (e.g., assumptions, diversity, etc) so children can start to name their experiences and develop schema around these concepts
  • Document your collaborations, share them (pass them on!)
  • Ask students what to do next, which tools to use to connect – make them active agents in the collaboration process

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Tools and Resources:

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