Saturday, 3 January 2009

The wonders of networks

Let me tell you a nice story about educational networks. It all started in November, when I set up our Ning network for this year's AEC-NET online project. I wanted to have the network in place before the teachers' conference and lobbying for new members in mid-December. I also advertised our new project in the AEC-NET mailing list to possibly get some early subscribers, which, luckily, we did. The common procedure is that teachers who take an interest in a particular project can contact the project coordinators by email to negotiate about further details and to sign up.

I also received a rather mysterious email, which simply said: "We are from malaysia feel free to join the project." I was a bit puzzled by this short mail and so asked for some more information.
In the next reply I learned the name of the school and some other details about the school, but it was all still rather vague. So I wrote back asking what subject this person taught at the school, how many students would join the project, how old they were, etc. By this time, this person had also joined our project network, but hadn't uploaded a profile picture yet. What a surprise to receive this answer:

"Actually I am not a teacher but a student. But I think it is okay since it is our school which will handle the AEC-NET Conference in Kota Kinabalu. Our teacher is Sensei Norizan Md. Said. We will try our best to make the conference goes well. And I also hope to see you there."
This truly proved one of the strengths of open networks to me. Never before had a student joined our project independently. Before, project groups had always been arranged by teachers at first, and with closed platforms, such as Moodle, which we used before, nobody could check out the site before joining. How wonderful, I thought! This boy obviously must be active, dynamic and motivated enough about intercultural exchanges to do all this out of his own accord! I hoped so much that I would get the opportunity to meet him during the conference in Kota Kinabalu.

And I did! At the welcoming dinner students from several schools in traditional costumes and holding colourful flowers and decorations had lined the hallway of the hotel leading to the restaurant welcoming us in. I started asking some of them if they knew the boy in question, and it didn't take long for them to point me to him. There he was smiling broadly amongst his friends - he is the one holding the yellow flowers!

He and his friends were so keen to talk to me in English, and I had the chance to hand him a little souvenir from Finland. After the dinner we had the chance to talk a little bit more. I really had to struggle to control the urge to hug him, since in his culture it would probably have been totally wrong. I was simply so happy about this chance encounter!

Later I also met Sensei Norizan, who told me that she had only asked her students to have a look at the AEC-NET website to know something about the organization whose conference they were to host. She never realized that one student would actually find an interesting project there and go ahead and join! She even told me that theirs is a boarding school and many of the students, including this particular boy, come from distant villages. Since he hasn't got a computer of his own, the teacher often lends him her computer, as he is so keen on online activities. Little did the teacher know what he was up to, but we were both so proud and pleased with what he had decided to do!

I have very good vibes about this year's project and hope that I can report many more uplifting stories like this during the spring term.

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