Exploring the Real World Online

By Woodell, Jim; Gray, James | Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview

Exploring the Real World Online


Woodell, Jim, Gray, James, Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology


REAL-LIFE EXPEDITIONS TO SEVERAL REGIONS OF THE WORLD, OFFERED ONLINE BY GLOBALEARN, INC., PROVIDE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL CONNECTIONS ALONG WITH CURRICULAR MATERIALS THAT HELP TEACHERS ENGAGE STUDENTS IN ACTIVE INQUIRY. THROUGH THE EYES OF REAL EXPLORERS MAKING ACTUAL EXPEDITIONS. STUDENTS IN THEIR CLASSROOMS CAN DISCOVER AND BECOME FAMILIAR WITH PEOPLE AND PLACES AROUND THE GLOBE. THEIR TEACHERS CAN HELP THEM CONNECT ONLINE EXPERIENCES TO CURRICULAR THEMES AND EVERYDAY EXPERIENCES.

Advances in computer and network technologies regularly promise educators new ways to enhance teaching and learning. Technological tools provide far-reaching information access and flexible use of data, while online media expand educationally oriented communication.

But even the most powerful digital tools and media have no pedagogical impact unless they can be used effectively by teachers and students to meet learning goals. Online expeditions at www.globalearn.com can help educators avoid potential pitfalls and build on the possibilities of online interactions to foster cultural understanding.

CONNECTING

GlobaLearn, Inc. is a not-for-profit organization that is now presenting its seventh real-life global expedition online. (For insight into how the idea originated, see "A Matter of Experience," page 37.)

In these expeditions, real explorers--teachers, photographers, journalists, and other professionals--have visited Europe, Asia, South America, the Black Sea nations, the United States, and now the Eastern Mediterranean, documenting the cultural, economic, and physical landscapes they witnessed along the way and researching local environments and ways of life. In the online programs these explorers have presented stories and other research reports in a number of formats as they were conducting their explorations, using text, illustrations, video and audio, virtual reality images, and computer-mediated communications.

These online expeditions are designed to help teachers foster students' cultural understanding. The globalearn.com Web site, featuring a team of five adult explorers on each expedition, provides a variety of information formats and opportunities for communication about the content. Teachers and their students watch and listen as the explorers immerse themselves in other cultures. Through the explorers, they meet faraway children and communities and are inspired to tell stories about their own hometowns.

Fran Castiello, a fifth-grade teacher at the Irving School in Derby, Connecticut, describes how Arnur, a boy from Kazakhstan, stimulated her students to discuss their social knowledge: "My students commented on the similarities and differences among themselves and also between themselves and Arnur. Students often discovered that their `similarities' list was longer than their `differences' list."

OPPORTUNITIES

As Castiello and many other teachers have discovered, opportunities for social connections are important for engaging students in interactions that help them develop cultural understanding. Classrooms participating in an expedition have many opportunities to interact with and get to know each explorer.

Participants first connect to the expedition by reading the explorers' journals. In each journal the unique perspective of an explorer emerges through his or her personal narrative. Based on these stories, students--and their teachers--often become engaged in the expedition as it unfolds and in related academic projects through the eyes of one particular explorer with whom they make a personal connection.

Rob was a student in Castiello's class who benefited from his connection with a globalearn.com explorer. (All student names used in this article are pseudonyms.) According to Fran, Rob had been having academic difficulties, but his problems lessened and he became more engaged in learning after he began to see the online expedition from the explorer's perspective. …

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