This papaer reviews research carried out for the Classroom-to-Classroom Portal (CtCP) project development. One portal, the Fashion Portal, links a Fashion Design & Illustration class (club) in a high school in Half Hollow Hills, Long Island, New York, USA with a similar group of children in a high school in Iasi, Romania.
You can't tell from the title that this ISTE research article documents ". . . students engaged in a problem-based telecollaboration exchange between classrooms in Laramie, Wyoming and Movteverde, Costa Rica." As if that description isn't enough to make this research relevant to the Fashion Portal project between Half Hollow Hills and Romania, the extract continues the description, ". . . (p)roblem-based learning (PBL) was viewed in concert with a constructivist perspective to guide examination of global issues. The investigation of participants in sites that were separated by nation, language, and culture (formed) a framework for problem-based learning collectively across international boundaries. " The emphasis on "examination of global issues," such as global Clean Water, etc. is mine not the author's.
Except for the inclusion of interactive live sessions (video web conferences), this sounds pretty much like the Fashion Portal project (all classroom-to-classroom portal projects for that matter) and its mission to be a vehicle for global peace and environmental initiatives, i.e. Magenta and the Magic Cloth.
The Laramie/Monteverde portal differs from the HHH/Romania portal in other significant ways such as time differences - six hours in one case and 1 hour in another. Thirdly, the students in the Costa Rican class were bilingual, Spanish/English, while their partners in Laramie Wyoming had to ask what the word "bilingual" meant (actually). I don't expect either the HHH students to speak Romanian nor the Romanian students to speak English. I would "equalize" the collaboration by not making English the default language, as was done in Costa Rica where the students spoke fluent English with their Wyoming partners.
I envision the classroom-to-classroom portal connection between HHH and Romania to be live (video) 2 to 4 hours per week. Certainly the teachers will be the ones who ultimately decide how often interactive lessons occur and when. All other interaction between the students/teachers on both sides of the portal is conducted electonically with emails, pdf files, IM chats, bbs forums.
Some key observations and recommendations from the Costa Rica - USA classroom portal that are relevant to the Fashion Portal:
> Don't expect meaningful inter-cultural benefits by simply putting the two diverse groups (i.e. US/Romanian students) together in a forum. It doesn't happen automatically . Students need critical thinking activities (investigating, analyzing, synthesizing) to benefit from the multi-cultural experience.
> There should be equity in the collaborative projects chosen for and from the perspective of both sets of students (US/Rom, Wyo/C.R.) "Equity" doesn't mean they will relate the same way, but merely the same "amount." Projects with a higher purpose, such as Pumped Up For Peace, the Wall of America and other global peace/environmental initiatives make perfect multi-cultural collaborative projects with appropriate shared goals for both groups. Neither group dominates. "Interdependency is an important concept of international education. (Roberts, A, 2004)."Taking It Global," Cyberschoolbus
There is a wealth of valid gobal initiatives to choose from when selecting appropriate projects for multi-cultural PBL collaborations. Followed links to I*LEARN (International Education and Resource Network (npo global telecomm network) and IGC (Institute for Global Communications) - Networking tools for int'l tele-conferences, i.e. EcoNet, PeaceNet, ConflictNet, WomensNet, AntiRacismNet. The author cites Global Perspective for Educators (Diaz, Massiallas, Kanthopoulos, 1999) as a source for "(w)orld issues (that can) be connected and woven into a curricul(um)." (Roberts, A 2004). This in turrn will lead to other wonderful resources pointing to more global initiatives that can be woven into multi-cultural collaborative projects. Sites like the Global Education Network, or more generally the Global Classroom Initiative sponsored by the Canadian government are wonderful. The more one searches, the more one discovers how many relavant programs there are for the classroom-to-classroom portal project. And many of these educational organizations are NPO's with money to support innovative educational initiatives.
> Writing, particularly questioning, in this multi-cultural collaboration is an important vehicle for learning:
a) It slows the children down to reflect on their experiences more deeply.
b) The exchange of emails between individual students in each country enables the students to "know" their partners on a more personal level. Each develops personal cultural mentors.
c) Questions expose stereotypes and misconceptions that students have. Questions bring those presumptions (misconceptions) to the forefront for discussion.
The online, real-time, interactive collaborative video conference between the two classrooms may enhance this dialog or it may accidentally make it more difficult to hide honest thoughts behind anonimity. Live interactive sessions should reflect work accomplished during the week before the live portal connection. Follow up work on both sides of portal should also reflect work accomplished during the live interactive session.
Email-exchange should become a regular part of the Fashion Portal during "off hours," i.e., when the video portal is closed and no live interaction between portal sites occurs.
Perhaps the creation and maintenance of the "International Fashion Portal Newletter" (or whatever the Fashion Portal teachers decide to call it) and the respective "Blogs" could be a cooperative and collaborative cyber project.
Email exchanges should begin early, before the video web-conferencing facility is available.
Some of this "non-connected" class time might include each class writing a "collaborative" weblog ("blog") which will be a component of the Fashion Portal Collaboration (web site).
Curriculum suggestion for the Fashion Portal Curriculum Collaboration (or any CtCP curriculum collaboration):
Perhaps the global initiative that is undertaken by collaborating sites should be "headquartered" in a WebQuest that defines the project or more accurately, is the (mobile) home for the project. This WebQuest can contain (access to) all of the collaborative tools technology offers to support partners in a shared PBL environment. These tools include a BBS, IM platform, audio (and video?) conferencing, email, FTP, etc. (a customized WebCT-like application.)
These webquests would make wonderful starting points for teachers to use in future CtCP collaborations - if they wish. Developing these webquests would make a wonderful activity for first year TEAM students.)
> The research touches lightly on an issue that deserves more attention - self perceptions. The children in Monteverde felt frustration over presumptions they inferred, correctly, from their American partners' emails and questions. This is not the first time one has observed this behavior and its consequence. There is an undertone of arrogance exhibitted occasionly by some Americans when American businessmen are in multi-national conferences and committee meetings. It is akin to the "ugly American" syndrome identified by W. Lederer and E. Burdick in their 1958 book of the same title." Perhaps it has simply evolved into an "entrepreneurial ugly American" syndrome. This occurs partially because the global business community has adopted English, generally, as an "international" language. This arrogance is hardly ever consciously intended; but ignorance of how one is perceived at the "receiving end" of one's own gestures, words, behavior, etc. is often just as disrespectful, insulting or intimidating. The students in Monteverde experienced this subtle undertone of arrogance.
The exchange of emails, which were collected and analyzed by the researchers who conducted this evaluative study, allowed the students to correct many presumptions with facts. These innovative teachers used these revelations for beneficial lessons in a non-threatening and non-discriminatory way, encouraging students on both sides to simply correct the misconceptions in their reply emails - which often occurred minutes, if not hours or days later. This immediacy of exchange is another subtle but great feature of email communications. When combined with Instant Messaging and group-chat, "it's almost like being there." Correcting these stereotypes and misconceptions should not be the primary focus of activities and lessons (unless called for), but rather a by-product of the students' correspondence dealing with the other business at hand. Other secondary, but critical subjects are likely to emerge including tolerance, truth seeking, et al. They too, should be woven into the natural exchange between the students, rather than create a lesson plan around it - unless of course it is called for. If, as the correspondence is reviewed, the teachers feel that some important issues are being ignored or inadaquately addressed, those teachers can simply address it with "mini projects" that force a discussion of the desired issues. There may be occasions where it is very appropriate to deal with these issues of prejudice and tolerance, etc. as a primary curriculum activity/lesson. But it will be more effective if it is absorbed by the students slowly and naturally.
> English - Romanian language issues need to be addressed immediately. The teachers on in the USA and in Romania must agree early, how to deal with language differences. One proposal is to involve Romanian-American students (bilingual) in this project and turn this communications challenge into an educational opportunity. Likewise, if English/Romanian language students could be involved at the Romanian end, the Fashion Portal can indeed turn the language difference into an educational opportunity. Perhaps use translation help for correspondance only?
> Incorporate the criteria that were suggested for assessing multi-cultural education; they included:
* Content (curriculum) integration
* Knowledge constuction process (critical thinking & application)
* Predudice reduction (challenging mental models)
* Equity pedagogy
* Empowering both students and schools
Add these assessment criteria in addition to the others identified in the Fashion Portal Grant application.
* Cognitive cultural exchange (does it change stereotypes, misconceptions, perspectives? how much?)
* Level (depth) of personal relationships
* Bringing the outside into the collaboration, making it available to partners
Participation by parents, community, other classes, others
* Promotional systems to "recruit" student participants
Much (not all) of the assessment should be done by subjective
evaluation of the email exchanges between the students, as well as the intra-collaborative Blog that each site (Romania and HHH) creates. Focus group interviews (students and teachers and CWP graduate students) might also be used.
> Technology snags are unavoidable; prepare for them. The technical support resources (University) should anticipate network oddities. Romanian technical support is essential.
> Teachers involved in multi-cultural classroom portals need enough technology preparation to be self sufficient in the classroom (professional development)