Reflections on a Globally Connected Classroom

The final round of readings for course 1 focused on a topic that I have been keenly interested in for the past few years:  the impact that globally collaborative projects can have on learning.  Digital communications technologies are now allowing educators and students to form connections that span the globe, allowing a level of collaboration that would have been impossible even as recently as a decade ago.  The ability to network, collaborate, and utilize emerging technologies to work together across wide distances and time-zones is an increasingly necessary and vital skill for the 21st century.  

From Kansas to Kenya

As I was researching this topic further, I came across an example that I would like to highlight as a fantastic exemplar for the idea of leveraging global connections for both learning and service.  This example also directly highlights how a specific digital resource (in this case, Skype) can be used to make global connections (Kansas to Kenya).  

What I find particularly inspiring about this example is not only the successful outcome of the project that benefitted the students in Kenya, but also the ways in which the students in Kansas were engaged in learning.  This project brought together multiple areas of the students’ curriculum.  The project was bigger than simply one subject area, and went beyond the study of filtration (science) to include readings about Kenya (language arts) and Kenyan society and geography (social studies).  This project also allowed students to be directly involved with a real-world  application of what they were learning.  Additionally, this was all brought together as a wonderful example of service learning, how service can be directly woven into the fabric of school curricula.

Before the advent of digital communication technology, this kind of project would have been possible in theory, but would students in Kansas would have lacked the sense of direct connection and engagement with the community in Kenya.  The whole project would have seemed far more abstract, and less “real” to them.  You can hear from some of the students themselves in the video how transformative this experience was for them, and I suspect that the ability to connect directly with the community they were trying to help was a major factor in that transformation.  

Reflections on my own introduction to a Globally Connected Classroom

From my own personal experience over the past few years, I have begun to also see the impacts that global collaboration can have on student motivation and learning first-hand.  I really began to see the power of global connections while working as a teacher with Global Online Academy.  I’ve written briefly about some of my experiences with GOA in a previous post, but I’d like to talk specifically about the “global” element for GOA here.  

Global Online Academy is a consortium of schools from across the globe that offer students enrolled at these schools to take online and blended courses for credit at their own institutions.  While teaching the “Energy” seminar course in both the Spring 15 and 16 semesters, I was amazed at the global connections that the students were able to make.  My classes contained students from the United States, India, Indonesia, Canada, Jordan, and Mexico, allowing them to connect and engage with each other over a host of issues such as energy policy, technology, economics, and climate change.  

Over my two semesters teaching the course, student feedback was clear: a vast majority of the students found the opportunity to connect with other students from across the globe to be one of the best features of these courses.  Eric Hudson (@ejhudson ), GOA Director of Teaching and Learning, has also indicated that this is true across all GOA courses.  The ability for students to meaningfully interact with peers in other schools, who are also frequently in other countries, creates a powerful learning experience that students cannot get on campus at their brick-and-mortar schools.  

I also taught a course with GOA called “Big History”, which was a blended learning course containing both classes on campus, as well as an online component.  The online component consisted of projects, interviews, posts, and conversations that students took part in with not only their classmates from our school (I was teaching in Jakarta, Indonesia at the time) but also with students from Jordan and the United States who were also taking “Big History” at their schools.  Students used digital communications tools such as Skype and Google Hangouts to have live conversation with students who were sometimes on the other side of the world.  Our class would sometimes Skype live with the Big History class in Jordan, creating a live conversation that spanned thousands of miles.  It wasn’t only my students that were learning about making global connections and using digital tools – I too was working with a team of educators across 4 time zones to construct and manage the course!  (This project introduced me to Slack, which is a fantastic tool for managing collaborative projects.)

Again, as with the fully online Energy course, student feedback was clear – the chance to make global connections with peers from other schools/countries was a key positive feature of the course.  The ability to connect with students from other parts of the world gave them insights into different cultures, perspectives, and ideas in a powerful way.  Sure, they could have read an article about oil production in Jordan, or fracking in Minnesota, but having real conversations with peers from those areas made this understanding far more personal and meaningful.  

Part of the reason that I joined the COETAIL program was to learn and discover more about creative ways to use digital tools for projects such as those described in this post.  Although my own experience in this topic is limited, I’ve made learning more about this a professional priority, and am actively working on increasing the global connectivity of my classroom.  

To that end, if you’ve read this far and are interested in reaching out to collaborate on a project, please contact me!  Thanks for reading!

One thought on “Reflections on a Globally Connected Classroom

  1. Hi Brian,

    I really enjoyed reading about all your interesting teaching travels and adventure. It was very cool to read and learn about GOA – I am sure that must have been an interesting part of your life.
    It is so neat to hear that there are so many different ways students can work collaboratively across the globe. It seems like our word is getting smaller and smaller every year as we gain more technology that allows us to link up with people across the world.
    The video you posted about the students in Kansas coming up with a water solution for students in Kenya was really neat. It just shows how meaningful work is to the students when they feel they are making a connection and a difference. I am so excited to be initiating more of this at our school and pushing for bigger and larger projects that really cover a multitude of curriculum so that students are making connections between math, science, language arts, history, etc. Not only is it meaningful and interesting to me – but is it to the student as well and allows them to dive in deeper and really understand a topic, subject, activity, culture and/or the connections it provides them around the globe.
    A quick online search using the words “connecting students around the world” comes back with a tone of options, some are obvious, some are a little more abstract and some you have to pay for.
    I love all your ideas above and I want to also learn other ways to connect globally with schools. I am wondering if you have a collaborative project in mind. Currently our K-5 grade are working on the Global Monster Project – and our 6-8s are working on Eco-Bottle Brick Program – (this will be a year long project). But we would be looking to start another collaboration with our k-5s starting November! And we love connecting with other students and schools!


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