From Digital Potential to Real Action

The possibilities that now exist for students (and teachers!) to leverage digital technology to foster change is one of the most exciting and promising emerging frontiers of education in the 21st century.  I wrote a bit already about this topic in my previous blog post, where I focused on the “citizen” aspect of “digital citizenship”.  I believe that the possibilities are practically endless, limited only by creativity, time, and the passion of the students and educators taking part in these projects.  I will highlight three projects that I have personally witnessed, or been a part of here, but there are certainly countless other inspiring examples of student-driven change.  I found Scott McLeod’s Tedx talk to be full of particularly great examples.  

A current colleague of mine, Andrew Grover, (@GroverAndrew) who teaches in the primary school is now in his 2nd year of participating in the “Global Book Project”.  In this project, students are asked to create a page in a virtual book (using the book creator app) about their home country or community.  The classrooms that have participated in this project have come from Canada, France, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, Columbia, Ghana, Bahrain Switzerland, the United States, India, and Cambodia.  Students from all over the world, each producing a page of content, quickly adds up to quite a cultural journey for the reader.  During the process, participating classrooms are in contact with each other, sending messages and videos, and building virtual relationships. Hearing Andrew speak about his experience being involved in this project, and others like it, is part of what inspired me to join the COETAIL program.  

(Global Book Project.  Photo credit: Andrew Grover)

In my own classroom, my Grade 8 science class will be kicking off our Climate Change unit in January by reaching out to other classrooms around the world to talk about how climate change is affecting their communities.  Each participating school will provide evidence of how climate change is altering the environment and/or society in their area of the world, and also talk about what is being done (or not) to address this.  We also plan on using Skype to connect with other classrooms to have live conversations, if time-zones allow for the possibility.  I’m very much looking forward to this opportunity to share and learn, and hope that this is the first of many such projects that I can start to incorporate into my teaching.  

However, the most powerful example that I have witnessed to date of the merging of global connectivity, student empowerment, and a desire to improve the world, comes from my experience working with Global Online Academy.  For two years I taught a course with GOA, entitled “Energy”.  It was a symposium style course, and integrated elements of science, policy, economics, sociology, and history into an online course that took students from the Industrial Revolution to the forefront of energy technology today.  For the final project of the course, my class joined GOA’s “Catalyst Conference”.  

The Catalyst Conference (#GOAndChangeIt) was put together by GOA’s Emily Hamlin (@EmilyNHamlin), and aimed to be an online version of an actual physical conference full of presenters and posters.  Students would present their final course project not simply to their own course members, but to the members of every other participating GOA course as well.  (I believe that there were about 12-15 participating courses that year, and this number has grown.  This past year, over 300 students from around the globe participated.)

But here is what made the Catalyst Conference truly powerful – the purpose of the project was to spark local, actionable change in the real-world.  The premise is simple, but almost limitless in possibility.  The question asked of students is: “How can you apply what you’ve learned in this class to catalyze change in your local community?”  You can read more about it here.

Students taking classes in Game Theory, Abnormal Psychology, Music Theory & Digital Composition, iOS App Design, and others participated in this event.  This led to over 300 student project ideas in which students demonstrated their learning about the course content through the lense of sparking local change, while sharing the whole project globally.  Common feedback from participants was that they were introduced to, and educated about, issues that they were previously unaware of, signalling that learning opportunities like the Catalyst Conference are good at spreading awareness to a global audience.  

The projects that students came up with are truly inspiring, covering a wide range of topics.  You can check out the 2017 project page here.  These are the five projects that won the “Catalyst for Change” Prize.

Projects like GOA’s Catalyst Conference are truly transformative for the students who take part in them.  Not only do they learn more about a subject/issue in which they are already passionate, but they plant the seeds of change that could result in big impacts, locally and beyond.  Additionally, students learn about project management, communications, digital presentation tools, and perhaps most importantly – the perspective of other students who are equally passionate about their own projects.  

Please post your own thoughts below, especially if you can share an additional example of a globally collaborative effort started by students to inspire and/or facilitate positive change!  Thanks for reading.  

One thought on “From Digital Potential to Real Action

  1. Hi Brian,

    I enjoyed reading this post and found it very inspiring. You’ve really embraced the ideas of global connection and fostering that connection with your students. I find myself still in the theoretical stages of global connection. I see all of the benefits it has offer but haven’t quite made the leap to try anything with students yet. I’m very interested in the global book project you mentioned in the beginning. I see a lot of teachers still doing the traditional research a country and present about it project and this is a new fresh idea for how to make it more global and innovative. I love your climate change project proposal. I think it will be really powerful for students to see how climate change is not just a topic you discuss but how it is really effecting people in different parts of the world. I can’t wait to see how it turns out if you blog about it later.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s