Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Global education requires swift moves

Time never stands still when you are grabbing online opportunities for more authentic and meaningful student learning.

I can remember back in 2010 when my online colleagues, Tania Sheko from Australia and Marie Coleman from Florida US, set up the collaborative photo sharing project Through Global Lenses for our students. The idea was born, developed and implemented within a few weeks. Pure innovation and bold pioneer spirit!

I feel similar skills are needed in more and more jobs these days. Long gone are the days of static, routine work in many careers. As a teenager, and all through my university years, I used to always work in a post office during the summer holidays. Especially July used to be quite a quiet month with so many offices and factories closed for the workers' summer holidays. Consequently, I was often able to spend long working hours secretly reading a novel under my counter as hardly any customers came in. Today, there are hardly any post offices left! At least in Finland, they have been merged into kiosks, and grocery stores, making these places far busier for the workers as a result.

Yet, schools are still trying to hold on to the old industrial model of restricted curriculum, and yearly repeated lessons of going through static textbooks. How is this preparing our students for the world outside school? I can see the difficulty, though. If I was following a textbook with my EXE English group, I couldn't possibly spare my valuable few lessons to jump at the chance of international collaboration as I'm doing now.  What a pity it would be to lose such unique opportunities of real-life learning!

Since last Friday, the new blogging interaction initiative between my school in Finland, and Melbourne High School in Australia, has proceeded in leaps and bounds. Several tweets have been exchanged between us teachers, for one thing to tackle both our comment settings. Students are using either Posterous, Blogger or Wordpress as their blog services, and all of them require different specific sign-in procedures, making it difficult or even impossible for students to write comments. We have now opted for open commenting to make things easier. Of course, it is advisable to monitor comments closely in the blogosphere, especially when it comes to under-age students. At the same time, though, closed platforms are rather restrictive for any international collaboration. Naturally, we teachers will still keep an eye over the comments, and take necessary moderating measures if things get out of hand with spammers or inappropriate anonymous commenting.

Another new development over the weekend, too. The international "lady trio" has joined forces again, and Marie from Florida will have her blogging 'Introduction to Technology for Education' students visit our school blogs to get a first-hand glimpse into what is done in some schools today. 

Learning has suddenly become so much more vibrant and relevant for all of us again!

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Connecting classrooms through blogging

Last spring, there was an attempt to get my blogging students into some meaningful exchange with my online colleague Tania Sheko's blogging classes in Australia. Unfortunately, due to several reasons, it never really got going. Firstly, it was our last few weeks before the long summer break, and a lot of other activities going on at school. Secondly, we noticed that the Posterous blogs used in Melbourne high school, were sometimes set to require a Twitter sign-in for the comments. As my students didn't have Twitter accounts, they were unable to leave comments. And there were other complications and delays, as usual in a school setting. To cut a long story short - it all fell flat in the rush of our last few weeks of the school year.

Come this new school year, and I decided to start looking for blogging partners much earlier. Having the experience of a whole year of blogging with students, I felt much more confident about it, and guiding the students was easier and quicker right from the start. I kept last year's concept of a class blog with links to student blogs in the sidebar, as it worked so well that I didn't feel any need to change it.

The beauty of having a small online PLN is that serendipity often plays a part in international collaboration! I had barely got my students to set up their individual blogs for this year, and had had no time yet to get any partner searches started, when I received this message on Facebook:

This was only two days ago, and already Tania has managed to get English teacher Nick Fairlie onboard, and some of their year 9 boys have also commented on my students' first ever blog posts. What a wonderful surprise for my newbie bloggers! Nick and Tania have also set a writing task for this coming Wednesday. It will be a good challenge for their students to apply their intercultural communication skills when writing to an authentic audience on the other side of the world. And afterwards, of course, a perfect chance for my students to get used to REAL commenting.I couldn't wish for a better start to expose my EFL students to using English in a real-life context!

Blogging is truly doing what Tania wrote about in her professional blog - 'Connecting our students to themselves, each other and the world'. It really is worthwhile looking at Tania and Nick's slides about their blogging process so far!