- Beyond the school gate
- Improving student learning
- Let's teach maths and science
- What's real in a virtual world?
- Careers and transition
- Curriculum for the 21st century
- Early childhood education & care
- Teachers and Teaching
Innovation in education
Connecting real people and places in real time
Organising a class trip to Cambodia, Niger or even India is usually an impossible dream, but World Vision New Zealand’s ‘Connection’ programs aim to do just that. Sharon Addis gives an inside perspective on these virtual field trips.
My assignment as the Ethiopia Connection travelling teacher was to experience Ethiopia on behalf of a nation-wide classroom of students. For one month, I was to be their ears and eyes—to communicate the sounds, sights, smells, opportunities and challenges of this fascinating country using information and communication technology (ICT). To do this, I was no mere observer. I participated in coffee drinking ceremonies, ate meals with my fingers and had a disastrous attempt at ploughing with oxen. I also spent enjoyable hours with Abaynesh, Admassu and Wubita—the young Ethiopians whose lives I shared with my thousands of students back in New Zealand. Together, we went to school, played games, discussed messages sent by my students and wrote them replies.
I reported these experiences and others to Ethiopia Connection participants via daily diary entries posted on the website. Students eager to find out more kept me busy answering their questions. The online environment included a place to post classroom activities, discussion forums for students, and opinion polls. To add an extra dimension, one morning a week, I got up at 5.00 a.m. for a 30-minute audio-conference. Schools could join as speaking or listening participants; speaking schools could ask questions.
This innovative program brought Ethiopia to the classroom. What really excited me was the deeper learning this experience offered compared to traditional teaching methods. As one student said, ‘I think this is a very good idea— letting us go on the Internet to read about the people, send questions and play puzzles—because it is a lot more real than learning from a book where everything seems like a story.’
Student attitudes to others changed. As one teacher shared, ‘At the start of the unit they were quite dismissive of people in the poor world [Ethiopia], but the part of the site where they could interact opened their minds.’ I saw these changed attitudes also lead to a desire to take action. As one describes, ‘I did the 40 Hour Famine to contribute or donate to the poorer countries around the world. It may sound nerdy but this was really cool, to write a message to someone I didn’t even know, which to me is fascinating!’
Having whet my appetite for education in a worldwide classroom, I joined World Vision New Zealand’s Education Team in 2003. Assessing the effectiveness of each Connection provides an ongoing challenge. About 10 per cent of all New Zealand schools—20,000 students from 296 New Zealand schools—participated in Ethiopia Connection. Teacher feedback and research also suggests that the numbers would be even higher if all schools had adequate access to the Internet.
However, actual or potential participation levels do not measure a Connection’s educational value. Rather, feedback from teachers and students, student work and actions related to their learning provide the evidence to assess that impact.
The Connection programs generate a high level of student interest. One Circle of Friends Connection teacher shared this, ‘I extended the unit to the end of the term as the children were really interested in all it had to offer. A great resource.’ Another teacher put it this way, ‘Just loving the Gujarat Connection. I am using it with an extension year 7 and 8 group and they are flying. But could use it at any level. One of the best teaching experiences I’ve ever had!’
A high level of interest suggests students are engaged and making connections. Reasons given for high student interest include the authentic nature of a Connection—studying real people in real time and being focused on real issues—plus the interactive elements, such as the questions and messages that allow students to make a visible contribution to their learning.
Teachers frequently report the impact on student attitudes and understanding. From a Born To Be Free Connection teacher, ‘We are really enjoying the unit of work and the children are very much having their eyes opened to the world and therefore the discussion is really interesting. The site has definitely opened their eyes to issues they did not know existed.’
Student work provides further insight into the learning process. Many participants increase their understanding of both their own lives and those they are studying. The following questions for the Born To Be Free Connection online expert demonstrate students connecting with the issue of child labour: What do the children in India that aren’t in bonded labour think about the children who are? Why don’t more people in child labour communities try to stop it? Why do employers prefer to hire children rather than adults?
After playing the Frontline Connection simulation game, where students act as aid workers who have to save lives in a war zone by delivering timely and appropriate aid, one student remarked, ‘This has been an awesome experience because it made me realise the effect that wars can have on people … It has made me think much more about other countries outside my own and compared to these children I live like a king …’
Involvement can increase student knowledge and understanding, and change their world views. It can also motivate participants to take action on the issues examined, and move learning beyond just knowing, to actually doing something active. Student and teacher feedback continues to provide evidence that when learning is followed by positive action, students are excited about the role they can play in making a difference.
Recent Connection programs provide suggestions for active learning. They are also launched to coincide with World Vision New Zealand’s 40 Hour Famine, an annual youth fundraising event to aid children affected by the issues covered in Connection.
On average, schools that participate in Connection raise more 40 Hour Famine funds than schools that don’t participate. One Circle of Friends Connection teacher comments, ‘Great resource, my class and I are thoroughly enjoying it (well enjoy may be too strong a word when you’re talking about AIDS but it’s certainly making an impact). Last year our school raised $4500 [for the 40 Hour Famine]. Not bad for a school of 80. This year we’re aiming for $7000 and I’ve put my hair on the line. If they make it, I go bald.’
Teaching for the future
Being involved in six of the ten Connections has been both challenging and rewarding. What motivates and inspires me is the evidence that the effective use of ICT does deepen learning about global issues, preparing the next generation for our increasingly connected world.
No matter how powerful the content and activities of a Connection might be, the full potential is not realised without the input of creative and inspirational classroom teachers. Their choice to use Connection, and to provide the necessary learning environment, level of supervision and encouragement required for students to make connections and take action is really what brings the world into the classroom.
What you need to know to participate
A new Connection is launched each year. Live elements that create the virtual field trip experience occur during Term 1 of that year. All Connection programs remain online for ongoing use, and include interactive elements.
Registration and participation is free. To register, complete the online form or print and send an offline form. Registered schools receive passwords essential to participate in interactive elements. If registered during the live Term 1 phase, regular email or fax updates are sent with information to help you make the most of the experience.
Other related education resources support Connections, including videos/DVDs, a free poster and a variety of teacher and student resources. These add to the learning experience and are useful for classrooms with limited Internet access.
To view a Connection visit www.worldvision.org.nz/education/connections.asp
To view related education resources, go to www.worldvision.org.nz/cat_education.asp
# indicates an online simulation game is part of the Connection
2007 Water Connection Sustainable access to safe water in Niger
2006 Born to be Free Connection # Child labour in India
2005 Circle of Friends Connection Facing the challenge of AIDS in Malawi
2004 Frontline Connection # Conflict and refugees around the world
2003 Cambodia Connection # Time and change in Cambodia
2002 Gujarat Connection # Earthquake response in India
2001 Ethiopia Connection Food security in Ethiopia
2000 Rwanda Family Connection # Child-headed families in Rwanda
1999 Mongolia Connection Street children in Mongolia
1998 Sunflower Connection Growing up in Malawi
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