Engaging Students in Global Collaboration

This week I’m looking at the ISTE Global Collaboration standard for students. My question this week was, how can students find experts to interact with online in order to expand their perspectives and collaborate with others? Our world is changing. Our businesses are becoming more global. Research, resources and expertise in all fields can come from anywhere in the world. Many companies rely on the cost savings of collaborating with their global partners by video conference or online. It can only be a benefit for our students to have similar experiences during their school years.

Students won’t naturally seek out those experiences and it’s up to teachers to help scaffold that learning and make it relevant and appropriate for students. Choosing the right experts, developing the cultural understanding needed to Skype with students or experts in another country or learning to ask the right questions of an expert or mentor are skills that have to be taught.and the purpose of the experiences need to be considered carefully by the teacher. Not all adult presenters know how to work with students either so there may be teaching needed on both sides.

I looked around quite a bit trying to find something that specifically addressed the issues of teaching students to interact with adults in a situation like “ask the expert.” There really wasn’t a lot out there. There are lots of great resources about developing good questions, however. I really enjoyed this blog post from the blog “Mister Foale is Learning”. He was exploring the idea of Ungooglable Questions and using Bloom’s taxonomy to help students explore how the higher levels of Bloom’s are hard to find answers for. I liked the idea of moving from the fact based questions up to the more difficult questions so they could see the place the facts will play in formulating the answers to their questions. After you’ve developed some background knowledge on your subject, the higher level questions are the ones you’d need the help of an expert to answer after all so this would be good practice for students. In the long run I believe it would come down to preparing your students with the ability to ask higher level questions, giving them opportunities to practice asking them and responding on their feet to clarifying questions and helping them script professional communications. Practice in public speaking skills, if they are going to contact someone by video, would also be helpful. Students background knowledge on their subject and their confidence in asking their questions will be a good first step to confidence in working with an adult.

The trickier part for students may be in knowing where to look to find experts to ask for help. This is an area I think teachers will have to take an active role but I think they need to model their thinking out loud to students if they want to develop the skills in students to look for their own experts later. If we were working on some tricky question in science that we couldn’t find an answer for, for example, I’d want to go through the thinking process I’d use to decide who I might approach. I might show them the search terms I’d use to find people who were experts and show them how look on a website for contact information. I would also model creating an inquiry e-mail and how to frame a question and ask for a response. There would definitely be some practice involved, depending on the age group.

While I was researching, I did find some great resources that could be used to practice interacting with possible mentors. Some are built for students. One of my new favorites is a crowdsourcing website called  https://www.zooniverse.org/ . Not only could students interact with others who had interests in the topics they were participating in but they could contribute real data to a global project. The interest in the new  NGSS standards have brought on a few engineering related websites that are connecting mentors and kids.  https://www.curiositymachine.org/ , http://www.discovere.org/our-programs/girl-day (great site for promoting engineering for girls) and Ask an Expert – Science Buddies  http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/ask-an-expert-intro all have mentoring components. A classmate also introduced me to a project by Educurious (http://educurious.org/solutions/expert-network/) which is also building a network of adults who are interested in mentoring students.

In addition, there are also a number of sites like http://www.twice.cc/ that will help teachers hook up with other teachers for collaborative projects between classrooms and projects like the Landmark Games (http://www.kidlink.org/drupal/project/landmark) and Mystery Skypes that can bring students from all over the world to play and learn together.

Collaborating globally can start small. Even working with another classroom in your district can be a good first step and provides students with a chance to see gain new perspectives from outside of their school and help them learn to collaborate and interact with mentors outside their four walls.

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