In my studies this week, my classmates and I have been debating how to create community in an online course and how this affects learning both positively and negatively. The discussion has been robust and continues to rage in our discussion forums. I, personally, am wrestling with my thoughts as well and trying to apply it to the courses that I teach (mostly to adults). Many adults seem to have barriers to collaborating online so as an online instructor, I need to develop strategies to help with this.
And then this thought hit me … K-12 teachers and students have been doing this for years using online tools and videoconferencing. In fact, I did this many years ago with students as they participated in the Thinkquest competition in 1997. My students used CUSeeMe (black and white videoconferencing) to connect with other students in other countries. One of my students connected with students in Germany and they created an award winning web site (by 1997 standards) on the Wadden Sea. If you want to take a look at the student’s website, you can still find it here. Back then, my students had no issues with using rudimentary technology to connect with others online, create community, and collaborate on a significant task. So why is it so hard for adults to do this ? Do we need to return to the innocence of our youth ? Do we need to let down our guard a little ?
Now, let’s fast forward to 2010. These types of connections are still happening in K-12 classrooms. There are examples all over the country. I want to highlight one example in particular. The Global Learning Exchange by Troy Tenhet (6th grade teacher and FPU adjunct faculty) and sponsored by the Region 8 California Technology Assistance Project (CTAP). In this project, students in Bakersfield, California are connecting with students in Singapore, Iceland and other places through the use of Skype and other technologies. These students are creating community and connecting with others to enhance their learning.
As their website says … “Effective education for the future must expand beyond traditional boundaries. The Global Learning Exchange seeks to facilitate this expansion, through the sharing, comparing, contrasting and collaborating on learning assignments in a wide variety of subject areas. Educators and students are encouraged to share their work not only to establish communication and understanding, but to give their own work value and perspective by understanding how that knowledge compliments and contrasts with the learning of others.” Hopefully, as Troy and others provide these types of experiences to their students, they will create future adults who are willing to go beyond their traditional borders and create community online. Our ability to solve global problems and facilitate understanding between cultures may depend on it. We will have to see …