Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On International Projects

English: blank world map
English: blank world map (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I obviously do not consider myself an international connections expert or a global projects "guru" or anything like it.  However, with my short experience on global collaborative international projects with students from other countries, I think I have picked up some ideas that I would like to share with you.

As a connected educator you are, you are also fostering such connections between your students to build up in them global awareness and turn them into responsible world citizens.  The following are some aspects to consider before getting yourself into such endeavor.  There might be more that I have not mentioned here.  But I hope these ones help.

1. Build rapport with teacher.  

I truly believe this is one important aspect.  Before you connect your students with another teacher´s students, establish a solid connection yourselves.  At first, when you meet someone through a platform, you might start on small talk.  As time passes by, you might be able to verify how willing and how available your potential partner is.  Strengthen that professional relationship and even take it to the personal level, if possible.  In other words, try to become "buddies";  you are partners in arms after all.  This will also help you detect if your partner is like-minded.  If your connection is hard to get in touch with, takes a while to answer your mails, or never seems to be online, consider the difficulties this might pose when you want to sharpen details on the next step to student projects.

2. Agree on evaluation rubrics

All right, so you are set and ready to go.  Get together with your partner(s) and agree on the rubrics you are going to be evaluating (please note that by evaluating I do not necessarily mean assigning a number).  This does not mean that you will be grading with the same score.  Grading aspects may vary among districts in your country, let alone between countries.  If your international project is also cross-curricular, that poses the extra challenge of trying to get your colleague from the other subject in your school involved.  So, if it is your first time, maybe you want to keep cross-curricular on standby.

3. Keep parents informed and, if possible, involved

Parents must be informed about every aspect of their kids progress on such projects.  This is part of your plan of action for the school year after all.  In the measure of the possible, send them a permission note before starting your project.  Get their consent.  Keep in mind that parents enroll their kids into your school and they expect their kids to have a certain profile of classmates.  Try to imagine their feelings when you tell them you are bringing down the walls of the classroom and now their kids are going to be working with other countries´ pars.  Unless your school has a firm "Flat Classroom Policy" (I just made up the phrase, if it is already used, I promise it is coincidence.), this might come as a shocker to some folks.

4. Do not impose on students

Flags representing the home countries of the s...
Flags representing the home countries of the students at the Monterey Institute (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Ok, so you are excited about all the international activities you have planned for your students.  You are so thrilled at all the possibilities that you have lost your sleep.  You spend long nights creating the wiki, pimping the Facebook page in which your new international and local students will interact.  You try to get some sleep but ideas are rushing through your head.  You are picturing students excitement when you tell them they will be working with some students from New Zealand!  Woohooo!!  Well, either we like it or not, that might not be the case for all of our students, so please be psychologically prepared.  Not all students might share your excitement.  The whole class might cheer of excitement when you tell them;  however take into consideration that not all your kids get excited on the same things.  So my advice to you is, have students "sign up" for your project or projects.  Don´t just impose it unto them.  Discouraged students might feel that this is something they did not sign up for and therefore you have no right to shove it on them.  Plan alternative local activities for those students who decide not to participate.     However, keep an eye on those who do get involved out of excitement but turn out being not too responsible about it.  I mean, one thing is when you have a student in a team which does not perform appropriately and another one is embarrassing yourself internationally!

5. Consider level of demand for your students

Especially when it is students´ first time on international collaborative projects consider the level of demand you are going to give them.  Be prepared to for the worse but be understanding.  Consider that, for your students, getting together with their international classmates for planning is already challenging especially when time zones are considerably far apart.  So you might want to "tune down" your grading and expectations a little bit, when it applies.  Of course I do not mean that you should settle for students´ mediocrity.  Guide and inspire.

6. Give your students a voice

If you consider it appropriate, sit down with your students and create activities together.  Or bring up several ideas and have students choose or vote on their favorites.  Have your international colleague do the same with their students.  Or, if possible, do this together through a Skype session, or  Google plus Hangout.  Imagine, an international brainstorming across Skype.  Cool, huh?

7. Safety issues

Take into consideration all the safety aspects involving your students.  Be open to respect your other school´s policies even if they do not match yours.  You think it is cool that your students load up their videos on YouTube for the whole world to see?  Well, that might not allowed at your counterpart´s school.  Be respectful of that.   Also, make sure parents are well informed in case your students have to get in touch with their international classmates through social or IM platforms at home.

8. Consider time availability

When I mean this, I am also talking about your availability withing your working day.  If you have decided to jump into this boat, then you are assuming an extra responsibility that involves time consumption and alittle extra work.  This is especially relevant when time zones are very far away from each other.  Yet another reason to suggest you to keep this time zones jazz short at least for your first experience.  

Or, to have an extra motivation, you could go to your administrators and on the basis of you having more work through international projects, demand a salary raise or a class load reduction... Ok, that was a bad joke, I know.  Plan for your international activity as you do for your local activities.  Establish moments and time spans you will assign to the planning of them.

9. Do not plan for last weeks of school

I don´t think I need to remind you how crazy things get in school during the last weeks.  These weeks are scientifically proven to be the most encouraging, motivational, and hard-working spirited of the whole year...NOT!  On the contrary, they are mostly full with lots of work, stress, preparation activities, filling in grades and charts, etc.  You will probably get the I´m-sorry-I-could-not-make-it-to-our-Skype-session-today-but-it-is-crazy-at-school-since-we-are-planning-for-end-of-year-activities mail.  You might even have to send one yourself.  Be wise.

10. "Our" students

Get used to saying "our" students, instead of "mine" and "yours".  True, you will evaluate your students work and your connections will grade theirs.  But think of your foreigner students as your own, they are working with the students inside your classroom after all.  I think semantics is important here, even if it is for the mere sake of it.

11. Global collaboration is not a synonym for Skype session

Or Google+ Hangout...  I don´t think having a class video chat with your sister class is indispensable;  that is not what makes a project international.  It is the interaction, collaboration, and learning that your students will have.

12. Be sensitive to cultural aspects

Last but not least, be sensitive to cultural aspects of your foreign students when planning projects.  Believe it or not, not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas, so probably your students sending their mates from Saudi Arabia Christmas cards might not be seen as a loving gesture.  Don´t send digital carved pumpkins to your classmates in a Christian school in Guatemala for Halloween!  Maybe you don´t want (nor your students´ parents) a 14-year old from a far country talk to your teen girls about her marital life.  How cool would your local students think their classmates from Amsterdam are since many illegal drugs for us are perfectly legal over there?  Agree with your colleague, the one you´ve built a rather close relationship with...rapport, what are the things that might be considered "taboo" in your countries;  what words, expressions or cultural practices might be found offensive or insulting to the collaboration counterpart.

Maybe some of the points expressed above might sound to you unlikely to ever happen or do not even apply to you, but at least promise me you´ll keep them in mind, you know, just in case.  Have a great time at bringing down the walls of your class and bringing in the world.  Kudos to you and trust me, your students will love you for it...or not hate you that much...

As usual, your ideas and comments here are more than welcome.  Please collaborate with me!
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