Embarking on a new project is always a scary thought, jumping in at the deep end is another story all together! A few months ago in the July school holidays we attended the EdTechSA State conference at our school, Immanuel College South Australia. Jolanta and I presented at this conference (as blogged about in 'EdTechSA State Conference - Debug Digital technologies' on July 24th 2015) and were also there to hopefully gather up some more ideas to take back into our classrooms.
The first Keynote speaker for the 2 day conference was Julie Lindsay, founder of Flat Connections. She spoke to the eager crowd about the growing necessity for global education in our schools, and for providing the opportunities for our students to connect and collaborate with people from all over the world. Although everything that was spoken about made perfect sense, we couldn't help but leave feeling completely out of our depth!
We couldn't help but become quite intrigued by the idea of global collaboration after Julies Keynote, and with Julie now working more closely with Immanuel College, we had eagerly (and perhaps a little blindly) signed up to be part of the Flat Connections pilot project "Connect with China", an attempt at bringing students from all over the world closer to their peers in China, a country renound for being somewhat 'locked' behind the Great Firewall of China. The program aims to bring students together to work on a community project, based purely online and completed through a series of synchronous meetings and asynchronous communication using apps such as Edmodo, WeChat and Skype.
Fast forward to Friday morning of Week 2 Term 4 and this was the day we jumped into the deep end and made our first global connection! After spending the first two weeks of term getting our students to create 'digital handshakes' to introduce themselves to the students from the rest of the world they would be connecting with and joining them up to the Connect with China Edmodo group, it was time to see if we could make this synchronous connecting idea actually work. We had been given the invitation of a Skype meeting with Nitin Dani, founder of "Green Initiatives" a Not for Profit Organisation whose mission is to:
To minimize or reverse the environmental degradation in China brought about by economic growth, and ensure that economic development and a better standard of living do not come at the cost of the environment.
We were aiming to meet at 9:30am Adelaide time and the hope was that one of our partner schools in Victoria would also join in this meeting. There was lots of backwards of forwards communication between myself, Anne from Victoria and Nitin in China via WeChat as we attempted to share Skype names and determine exactly what time and who would be making the initial contact. Eventually we managed to connect, this was one of the highlights of the morning. WeI had 40 students sitting in a theatre eagerly awaiting this moment. They had had to wait a little longer than expected, and not surprisingly they were getting a little restless. But the moment Nitin's voice came booming through the speakers the reaction of the kids was priceless! Unfortunately on this occasion we couldn't get the video link to work, so Anne decided to be a silent participant just listening in, and Nitin and the Immanuel classes just felt our way through the process a little blindly.
In preparation for our inaugural Skype session with our students, we had undertaken a short session on "netiquette" and the appropriate way to interact. We asked the kids to do some basic research on Nitin's company Green Initiatives, so they had an overview of what his company was, from there each of the students wrote some questions to ask him during the session.
As a teacher every now and then you have one of those moments where your students just blow your mind, the "wow" moment. I think we had a few of those during this session. Some of the questions the students asked where really thought provoking and created some interesting discussion with Nitin. The one that resonates the most was "What can we do in Australia to help you in China look after the environment?", collaborate, build community and continue to make connections to help each other share ideas and resources was Nitin's general answer... what a great answer given that we were having this Skype meeting to start doing exactly that!!
For a first experience we certainly weren't put off this idea of global collaboration, in fact quite the opposite happened, it made us even more excited! We had on a few minor gliches, the video not working was certainly a major one. I think it took away from the experience somewhat as the students couldn't really interact with Nitin, it was more of a group phone call. From reading their reflections that is something they would have liked. We also ran into some bandwidth issues at the end with the audio breaking up in the last 5 minutes of the call, however we were grateful this occured later in the call rather than earlier.
I felt strange about this because we couldn’t see him but he could see us so it was kind of awkward. Other than that I was really excited because it was the first time I had communicated with someone that was from Australia. Rainer Year 7 StudentWhen we were connected we could only hear each other. We thought it would have been a video call but it wasn’t so that was kind of disappointing. During the call the connection was great and we could hear each other quite clearly. When we were trying to wrap the call up, the connection between us and him was really bad so we decided to stop it there. Otherwise really the only other challenge was that we needed to speak up a bit more but as people got more confident they spoke louder so he could eventually hear what we were saying. Overall there were a few challenges that we encountered but they were easily fixed and weren’t a big problem. Amelia Year 7 Student
Overall the first connection was a great success. It provided our students with the opportunity to connect with someone a world apart fro m where they sat, someone who offered an insight into what life is like living in China, but also what people can do when they have passion and work together. I think having made the first connection all the students are much more excited to start their community projects with the students and to see how great a project such as this can be.
We already have our second Skype meeting setting up for this Friday, a meeting with a recently graduated student in China, who is Australian but has lived overseas for most of his life. Hopefully we can manage video with this call and an even greater amount of student participation. Flat Connections... really not as big and scary as I thought!!