This page includes several practical suggestions and tips from many different educators to help you and your students as they connect with their peers in projects across the globe.
- Do not assume that other students will know if you are male or female by your first name. If you want them to know that you are male or female, tell them.
- Almost all other countries use the metric system for measurement. A temperature of 30 degrees may seem cold to you but warm to your partners. (30 degrees Celsius is 86 degrees Fahrenheit.) Convert your measurements to metric in your communication. Most often the other student will have to translate the rest of your communication into their first language. Science Made Simple has a metric converter that is easy to use.
- If you use slang or colloquial expressions be sure to explain what they mean.
- Remember how tedious it is to look up words in a dictionary. Use simple English words. Consider how phrases are translated literally. Can you imagine what someone would think if you wrote you had dirty blond hair?
- Explain abbreviations when you use them.
- Remember that most of the world uses a 24 hour clock. Three in the afternoon would be written 15:00. (You add 12 to the number for the P.M. hours)
- Most other countries will write dates with the day, month, year (e.g. 21/09/2010) or even year, day, month (e.g. 2010/21/09) rather than our system of writing month, day, year (e.g. 09/21/2010). Write out the name of the month to avoid confusion (e.g., September 21, 2010).
- In written communication, remember the reader cannot see your face. Humor may often be interpreted literally and misunderstood. Use emoticons (smiley faces and other symbols) and punctuation such as asterisks to make emphasis. Be certain to state your emotions, do not assume they are known.
- Much of the world learns British English language rather than US English. Words such as centre or colour may look misspelled but are correct for them.
- Avoid using season names (spring, summer, etc.) as they are often not at the same time of the year in other hemispheres. Instead use month names (June, August, etc.)
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
Here are some commonly asked questions, concerns, and possible answers about international collaborative project-based learning. Use these to troubleshoot issues you may encounter as you begin implementing and participating in these kinds of projects.
Q: What if my school does not allow individual email accounts?
A: If students do not have individual email accounts in your school, there are several potential alternative approaches:
- Use a collaborative platform (see Chapter Two – Resources for Cross-Cultural and Collaborative Project Work) where individual unique email addresses are not required for communication.
- Students write their messages with word processing software. The letters are saved and then sent as an attached file to the teacher in the other location.
- Another option is to cut-and-paste the letters to an email template to form one large email letter to be sent to the other school. The recipient then prints the letters or saves them as individual text files.
- Gmail has an alternative option. If you, the teacher, have a Gmail account, you can have your students sign up for and use different online services using Gmail’s “linked addressing” system. Gmail ignores anything in the first half of an email address after a plus sign. What this means is if you create an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, all emails will be sent to email@example.com. For further instructions, watch this screencast of instructions (just over 3 minutes) or read this blog post about how one teacher went through the process of setting up her students.
Q: My district uses Internet protection software that prohibits some free email sites because they also include chat rooms. Also, our students do not have email addresses for school as do the teachers. Besides Yahoo, Hotmail, and GMail, how else can students get free email accounts to use for school?
A: Secure email outside of commercial sites is possible.
- Gaggle.net offers safe student email and collaboration tools. These accounts are not free, but they are inexpensive and funding sources may be available for you and your school.
- ePals offers a free and secure email service called SchoolMail™. It is web-based and needs no software. An overview brochure [pdf] and complete guide for teachers [pdf] are available.
- Google Apps for Education is another solution to getting email addresses and other application access for students. See common questions about how to get Google Apps for your school.
Q: How are learning partners assigned?
A: Exchanges can take different forms. Students can write informally via blogs, web forums, or emails to exchange information on a range of topics, or perhaps your project will have them participate in a structured exchange in which they share specific information. This will vary from project to project and is largely dependent on the type of project and the end goal or product. In the initial stages of the exchange it is helpful to do a mini-unit about the location and culture of the other country. You are encouraged to instruct students on how to introduce themselves. Students should be coached about "Netiquette" and security issues, and asked not to release last names, addresses, or phone numbers. You might wish to use a Buddy Contract (pdf) with your students to ensure they understand the importance of respectful communication. Additionally, a peer review system ensures each piece of communication is reviewed before being published.
Q: What are the pitfalls of international collaborative projects?
A: Projects can have drawbacks, but if you are aware of them and plan appropriately, they often can be remedied.
- A common problem is school calendars. This is especially important when working between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. Schools in South Africa, South America, Australia, and some parts of Asia are not in session during parts of December, January, and/or February due to vacations. Starting a project with one of these schools in November is almost impossible since their school year is ending. Similarly, they are in session during June-August when it is difficult for northern schools to engage in project work.
- Another common problem is calculating meeting times because of time zone differences. It helps to use a tool such as timeanddate.com’s Meeting Planner to schedule video or instant-message chats that are at good times for both parties.
- Some schools do not allow certain kinds of Web 2.0 tools in classrooms due to firewalls, privacy, or safety concerns. It helps to always test and check which tool to use in advance. Ensure that all students and teachers have access and that it will be available at the given time. Also check that the tool meets the needs of your project.
Q: I have heard some discouraging stories about the completion rate of projects. What kind of maintenance is advised to make international collaborations successful?
A: The right approach can go a long way in an international collaboration. The main factors have to do with timelines, communication, and enthusiasm.
- A common problem in email exchanges is a lack of interest if the project goes on for too long. Three months seems to be a feasible limit for simple exchanges. Beyond that, classrooms need to be engaged in project work to sustain the relationship. Specific information exchanges usually have a set time limit.
- Once an exchange is initiated it is important for both teachers to communicate in a timely fashion. If there is a problem (computer problems, teacher illness, etc.), it is important to inform the other school as soon as possible, via email, phone, or other means. This will minimize the disappointment of all students involved.
- The key to success is the enthusiasm and excitement combined with the work of the collaborating teachers. If both teachers are positive about the exchange then students will share the enthusiasm. A teacher must realize that the exchange is not self-generating. Students will have to be reminded of deadlines, will need encouragement and a sense of direction for these projects to succeed. The extra effort can result in a memorable learning experience for your class. In general, teachers should interact first, establishing timetables, expectations, etc., before students start exchanging messages.
In this regard, the most difficult projects are those between just two schools. Remember, if one school cannot participate for any reason in a one-on-one partnership, neither school can continue. Joining a group project minimizes such difficulties.
Q: When is a collaboration project not a good idea?
A: A few circumstances may indicate that a collaboration is not appropriate for you and your students.
- If you do not have a reliable computer to access email, then a collaborative project is not a good idea. It's essential to have access to a computer at home or school. Using an alternate location like a public library or a friend's computer can be too time-consuming or cumbersome.
- It is also not a good idea if you are unable to commit time to the project. Some projects that look easy on paper may involve unforeseen activities. Unless you are willing to complete the project, do not get involved.
Q. What if I feel uncomfortable using email on a regular basis with no monitoring of messages?
A: It's appropriate for you as the teacher to review and monitor the writing since this is a school assignment. Some collaborative platforms (e.g., iEARN forums, blogging software, Nings) enable a teacher to click on a student’s name and review all posts written by that student.
Q: How should collaborative projects be graded?
A: There are several ways to assess collaborative projects, and this is largely dependent on the kind of project it is, the age group, and/or the subject area.
- You may grade it as a technology activity (word processing, Web 2.0 tools, communication, website building, Photoshop skills, media use – whatever is appropriate).
- You may grade it for letter-writing skills, or as an activity in a specific content area.
- Project Foundry also has tools for assessing collaborative project-based learning (fee-based).
Regardless of how you choose to assess students’ work, it helps to provide a rubric to inform students in advance of the expectations as part of the evaluation process.
Q: I teach over 700 students a year and I do not want to set up 700 e-mail accounts. I could choose one grade level which would be approximately 230 students, but this still seems unmanageable. How can I approach this?
A: Options to consider are Classroom to Classroom projects and Classroom to Expert projects. These are especially good activities when the objective is to provide a larger information base to draw from a broader set of ideas and opinions. Students from all over the world are frequently involved in short term process-oriented data collection and data sharing projects. These work especially well in science, social studies, language arts, and math curriculum areas.
Q: My school district has a very strict policy concerning the posting of pictures and information about our students on the internet. Is there a way to ensure that the conference connection is secure and free from potential hackers, predators, or people who shouldn't be there?
A: Your school district's policy is a prudent one. Schools and teachers are encouraged to investigate their own jurisdictional permission policies necessary for students to submit photos, student work, or intellectual property in a public forum such as a website. Many school jurisdictions require expressed consent from parents or guardians before this can happen. By publishing such materials, teachers are certifying that they are adhering to these relevant policies before encouraging students to become involved in a project. Many school districts will not allow a child's face and name to be displayed on a school Web page. The issue is that since the school's address is available on the site it is remotely possible for a predator to contact the child outside of school. In some countries, government regulations forbid all children’s pictures and names on web pages. It is possible to use a photo "smudge" tool that blurs a face in a close-up (free online tools for this are Picnik and Aviary’s image tool). Another idea is to use group photos and make the picture so small that one cannot see the children’s faces. A further suggestion is to use a service such as one of those identified in Chapter Two under International Collaboration and Exchange, which have private discussion forums accessible only by students and teachers. Check with your school’s appropriate use and permission policy before publishing any student information on the internet.
Q: What happens when a project has too many participants? How can we make certain that we do not wind up with far more participants than we can handle? How do I decide who to accept and who to eliminate?
A: The ideal number of project participants depends on the structure of the project. In some projects, it is ideal to have as many participants as possible. In others, particularly those that involve matching or grouping of classes, a set number is needed. When you send out a proposal for a project, it helps to explain how registration in the project will work, and to indicate if there is a limit to the number of classes that can be accommodated. If you get more classes than you can accommodate, thank them for their interest, and explain that all slots are filled. Offer to keep their email addresses for any future projects you or your colleagues might create.
Q: To what extent should a teacher who is conducting a project put his/her students in charge of operations? Which elements can be student-managed, and which are the ones that MUST be managed by the teacher?
A: If the class is a responsible one, and the children are mature, it is great to assign tasks. A rubric which designates tasks at the beginning of the project would be helpful in this situation. A few examples of tasks might include: download and print out e-mail messages, file and record messages, respond to messages, etc. If there is a need for digital photos or video, students can be trained to do this task: edit the photos or video, size them for email, upload to forum, etc. If there is data collection outside of school (e.g. water temperature, recycling information, etc.) the students can handle the task and enter recordings on a spreadsheet. These tasks need teacher supervision, but can be done by students.
The following suggestions were offered by educators experienced with international collaborative projects. They have offered this advice to teachers beginning a global project for the first time:
- “Make sure all you will be involved in is approved by the district, or covered in your school’s Acceptable Use Policy.” -Rob G.
- “Start small and scale up. It can get out of control on the management side easily, so take the time to plan carefully.” -Anonymous
- “Consider times zones and how often students can interact live. This adds a great element to building community.” Jabiz R.
- “Have open lines of communication and planning with all teachers involved. Understand who does what and when. Make it clear and explicit.” -Jabiz R.
- “Give students time to get to know each other. It is easier to work with a person rather than an avatar.” -Jabiz R.
- “Make sure students are aware of what information they should and should not share. Make sure they are aware of the culture. Think about time zones -- Skyping is great but not possible to all places that are many hours ahead/behind, so email might be better. Plan carefully with the teachers involved before getting the students involved.” -Maggie H.
- “Take the time to build in some excitement at the beginning. Get the kids pumped up and excited about the possibilities of what you are doing” -Clarence F.
- “Talk a lot with the people you are working with about time commitments. How much time / week or / month are you expecting to put in? What might seem small for you may seem large for someone else. This brings different expectations into play.” -Clarence F.
- “Talk about assessment. How are students in each class going to be assessed? While your methods don’t necessarily need to be the same, it helps to lay these things out ahead of time.” -Clarence F.
- “Be flexible and ready to adapt to challenges and to change ‘tools’. ” -Mike K.
- “Build relationships between students FIRST. Otherwise students may not buy in.” –Mike K.
- “Remember a global project is not just worked out on one side; it requires participating teachers’ mutual trust and understanding in the facilitation of the design and implementation of the project.” -Anonymous
The following are quotes from teachers who have seen international collaborative projects work well with their students. They share these benefits of doing these kinds of projects with your students:
- “Authentic audience; students really begin to understand that their thoughts matter to other people.” -Anonymous
- “Students gain a better understanding of other cultures.” -Jabiz R.
- “Students ask authentic questions that cannot always be answered with simple internet research – for example, it’s possible for students to look up temperatures across the globe, but to actually ask students ‘What are you wearing today?’ and see the different answers from places as far apart as South Africa, India, and Canada shows students how the weather affects aspects of daily life in those countries.” -Maggie H.
- “Get students involved globally because the world is global. In our ever-shrinking, technologically connected spaces, it is vital that students have an understanding of the globe, the people, and the cultures they can learn from. Our way of looking at things is only one way, there is much to be learned from others.” -Clarence F.
- “I believe these kinds of projects can build tolerance and decrease prejudice toward others by letting students see each other as similar to themselves despite the differences in culture, geography, religion, etc.” -Mike K.
- “My students became more motivated in the whole process of learning and are now more aware of their roles in the global world!” -Anonymous