Cultures and communication: First steps in schools

Introduction

The other day I came across some pieces of work I carried out in my previous job and that triggered a sort of nostalgic come back to those years. For about ten years I worked in the field of Web-based school collaborative projects. The Information and Communications Technologies (known as ICTs in short) in European school collaboration were something I believed in. I am unaware of what happens today in the field, even if I have heard or read about a number of European and worldwide initiatives. This does not help me get a clear picture of what happens on the ground.

My participation to the first international iEARN Conference in Budapest, Hungary; Romanian delegation arriving at Central Train Station 1996 — in Budapest, Hungary.

My participation to the first international iEARN Conference in Budapest, Hungary; Romanian delegation arriving at Central Train Station in Budapest, 1996.

Few people know that school collaboration was born many years before the 90s. Célestin Freinet and Mario Lodi were the pioneers who opened the path to school collaboration. It did not happen on the Web, of course, but on paper and audio-tapes, which were the technologies of those years. The classical model of school collaboration designed by the two educators consisted of information exchange among partner schools. The global education of the 90s benefited from these traditional models.

This series of articles is a quick review of what has happened in the history of school collaboration from the Freinet model to what the technologies have brought to education today. Distance learning was therefore in place much longer before the 90s. And it was an exercise to help students make the first steps to intercultural communication and therefore to understand cultures, if the partner schools were located in different cultural settings.

Background

Everyone agrees that the development of new communication technologies has influenced teaching approaches in worldwide education. Researchers have found out that teaching and learning could benefit from the communication technologies. They could connect classes in different countries to work collaboratively on projects.

The concept of “global education” was coined in the 90s. According to Riel (1993, p. 221) “global education” should not be a new curriculum item, but an approach to teaching school subjects across the curriculum. It means that more than one school subject should be involved while trying to achieve specific educational and instructional goals within a collaborative project involving communication technologies.

The first electronic information exchange involving worldwide schools occurred once the Internet was in place. Since then educationalists have realised that international collaborative projects may lead to major learning and teaching achievements, as they may enable both teachers and students to interact with peers in real-life contexts, exposing participants to different viewpoints of their peers from other cultures.

Designing international collaborative projects requires time, effort, basic knowledge of communication technologies and some awareness of intercultural communication.

Coming to this point, researchers in education recommended teachers to focus less on technologies as such, and more on the quality of communication mediated by technologies, as Riel emphasises: “Computer networking offers the possibility of developing a stimulating, cooperative context for teachers and students. But it is the quality of the dialogue on the network and not the speed of the technology that will be the crucial factor.”

In addition, achieving quality in online communication entails teaching across the curriculum. As Riel points out, implementing a cross-curricular project ensures “multicultural sensitivity and understanding of interdependent systems that operate in today’s world”. Riel claims that the chance of perceiving the world beyond the classroom walls increases extensively when technologies are used while teaching.

Riel’s statement is based on her long experience with Learning Circles, a learning model she created, which is still very popular today. The model is based on communication with distant partners from different countries through technologies. During these exchanges she noted that the purposeless use of the technologies in the classroom does not improve learning. Therefore teachers need to be trained in how to embed computer-mediated communication (CMC) activities in a solid cross-curricular framework.

Reference:

Riel, M. (1993), “Global education through Learning Circles”, in Global Networks: Computer and International Communication, L. Harasim, (Ed) Cambridge: MIT, pp. 221-236

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