Tools and Apps for the Global Educator
by Anne Mirtschin, Guest blogger
A global educator is one who is connected and networked to other educators and classrooms across the world. They willingly share their learning space and culture with the world by using a range of technology, tools and apps. Global educators are passionate about students developing a collaborative understanding of other cultures, religions, ideologies, shared passions and global challenges through their connections, video conferences and global projects. They facilitate increased awareness, perception, knowledge, empathy and understanding of others.
What Does Global Collaboration Look Like?
International Friendship Day in August was a great reason to make connections with classes in other countries. One of my long time virtual colleagues, Veronica Woo from Ipoh, Malaysia and I decided to discuss the nature of International Friendship with my year 8 class and her English class. We initially connected using whatsapp on our mobile phones. Students were placed into mixed groups of four to six students. A Google document was set up for each group with a series of questions relating to International Friendship e.g., “What do you look for in a friend? Why is International Friendship Day important?” My class blog was used to share the links with each group.
Skype was used to introduce each class to the other and it was kept open so that our classroom environments, student body language and the sounds of each was transparent to both. The chat feature in Skype was used as a backchannel so that the teachers could communicate when necessary.
Students collaboratively and synchronously completed the answers to the questions. Their curiosity about each other became obvious when they started to ask further questions on the actual document or through the chat element of Google documents. It was also the day that Malaysia held a minute’s silence to acknowledge those who lost lives in the MH370 airline disaster. Since we were still connected on Skype for that minute, we also participated for the Australians who had also been lost on that plane. To complete the lesson, the students created an online sympathy wall using padlet where they shared messages of support and sympathy.
Mirtschin's and Woo's students communicate over WeChat
Tools for the Global Educator
The Global Education Conference held each year provides the ideal setting to create a global learning network. “Tools and Apps for the Global Educator” was a topic of discussion in a recent webinar for the free and online Global Education Conference. Participants came from many countries including Bolivia, China, Korea, Vietnam, USA, Somalia, Australia, New Zealand, India and Nepal. They represented all tiers of education and a variety of languages and cultures. English was not the first language for many of the participants. Instead they represented Filipino, Chinese, Sinhalese, Urdu etc
Participants felt that the least confronting forms of connecting when spoken languages are not the same were: images, chat, email and video conferencing (as it enables gestures, body language, signage etc to be seen).
Bandwidth, confidence, access to technology, different cultures, different languages all need to be kept in mind when determining which apps should be used. Some apps and tools cannot be used in a number of countries, so educators need to be willing to use and learn a variety of apps/tools. Most adults and even older students, even in the poorest and remotest of countries, now have mobile phones or devices which can break down all previous barriers. The most powerful apps are those that allow connection and interaction in real time. They should be user friendly, free, cross platform and be able to be used on any device. Further considerations for choosing the right app include the ability to enable push notifications, allow the formation of groups, options for translation and be able to share a variety of media – text, voice, video, images, emoticons, etc.
Popular apps for connecting and communicating include: Skype, Twitter, Facebook, WeChat (popular and available in China), WhatsApp (popular in Africa), Viber (Europe, Australia, Nepal), Remind, Google Hangouts, Classting (Korea). Remind and WhatsApp are used by some schools to send out notifications, messages etc to parents and students.
Dedicated backchannel tools include TodaysMeet and Backchannel Chat. These tools give students a voice and say and can be used for interacting and connecting with others across the world in both synchronous and asynchronous time. Pinterest, Instagram, and Photobucket can be used to connect globally using images. These apps also have the ability to build a social or learning network.
When collaborating on a global scale, the ability to interact both synchronously and/or asynchronously is of high importance. Tools for collaborating include Edmodo, Google apps, Sway (a new online multi-media tool by Microsoft), Padlet, VoiceThread, blogs, Flipgrid, Wikispaces and AnswerGarden. Scratch, an online programming language that is visual in nature can be used for collaborating. Edmodo is a popular networking site that allows teachers/students from other places and countries to collaborate and interact together. Some online games allow the creation of global groups.
Time zones can be a challenge when connecting globally. Time and Date, World Time Buddy, Timebridge (for setting global meetings), setting world clock times on phones, google calendar, Trello for management of global projects etc can help ensure actual times for connection are understood and achieved.
Translation options can be found in remind, twitter, google translate and Bing Translator, Linguee, and BabelFish. However, to fully capture the context, meaning and tone it is still preferable to have a human interpreter. Skype Translator is an audio translation tool which is still in BETA stage that will translate the audio of each participants.
As our world becomes increasingly global and our learning becomes more connected and mobile, the use of tools and apps will escalate in the classroom taking learning beyond the textbook into the world of those who live there!
What tools or apps would you suggest for the global educator?