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Making the world your classroom

How global education can help unite cultures and countries
Julie Lindsay's new book offers educators guidance on creating global learning environments.
Julie Lindsay's new book offers educators guidance on creating global learning environments.

Julie Lindsay believes that, in today’s increasingly turbulent societies, it is vital that children experience other cultures and develop the skills that will help them in a connected world.

These learners will be “better prepared to be productive and compassionate citizens in a global economy and they are able to improve their communication skills, collaborate effectively and be ready for multicultural workspaces,” she says. Empowering educators with the tools to foster this environment in the classroom is a critical part of the process.

Lindsay’s book, The Global Educator: Leveraging Technology for Collaborative Learning and Teaching (ISTE, 2016), and her Flat Connection website provide a host of resources and best practices that enable educators to begin their own global experiences.

What does it mean to be a global rather than an international educator?

That’s something we skim over in the book, but it’s really important. An international educator is someone who is a bit more mobile. They’ve worked in different parts of the world.

A global educator, on the other hand, is someone who hasn’t necessarily worked outside of their country. They may very well have stayed in the same school, the same town their entire teaching life, but they have this ability to take their learning global. So they understand the process.

You wrote, “Being a global educator can be seen as a behavior in attitude, disposition and mindset.”

Yes, absolutely. Global educators have the skills, the workflow and the habits of learning that allow them to take their learning global.

That means connecting with other educators. That means bringing global opportunities into the classroom or into their learning environment for their students and colleagues, and knowing where to go to offer those enhanced global opportunities.

Global education is about not constricting learning to just one room, one teacher and 20 students. The world is out there and we’re going to learn with it.

What’s required to become a global educator? Many schools don’t have extra money to invest in that.

There are a lot of free opportunities out there. All it takes for an educator to reach out professionally is to start a blog. If you have a classroom blog, you can interact with the world. And if you have a Twitter account you can make those vital connections and say, “Hey, come read our class blog and interact with my students.”

Twitter has become a most amazing professional development and professional learning network tool. I know many educators are still not picking it up because they are not quite sure what to do with it. But it’s through the use of hashtags that Twitter has become relevant to education and relevant to building global communities.

Now, I’m talking about a very basic level where you can build asynchronous connections. When you get a bit more confident, you can talk to your tech people and say, “Can I have Skype unblocked for this purpose?”

What I’ve found in schools is when teachers start having that conversation with administrators and tech people, things are unblocked because they realize how important it is.

Your website, Flat Connections, made me think of Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. Is there a relation between the two ideas?

Yes. I know Tom from years ago when we first developed what was then called Flat Classroom. We took those concepts of flattening the world through the use of connectivity and technology. I’ve rebranded in the last few years to just Flat Connections.

I know the word “flat” is a little intimidating to people who don’t know what you are talking about, so I tend to talk about flattening the classroom so that there are no barriers. We’re eliminating barriers between the learners and the learning in that global context.

We’ve done stories in the past about classrooms that did a link-up with the International Space Station or scientists at the South Pole. But those were often singular events. How is global education different?

Those real-time connections are exciting and engaging. The kids love them. The teachers love them. And I know some educators do hold a series of those throughout the year.

But my approach is to take it deeper. It’s all very well to connect with someone, but then what? What are you going to do with that? Are you going to ask your students to blog, to reflect? I encourage people to build some ongoing embedded learning around those connections.

I run global projects that run about 10 weeks at a time, which most teachers are not willing to jump into. I know it’s difficult to fit a 10-week project into everyone’s curriculum. But it builds a learning community.

If you have six classrooms from six different parts of the world learning together with a group of teachers who meet regularly to plan and to build the forward motion of the program—and then it is embedded in an interdisciplinary way across the curriculum—that’s where the real power is.

Why is it important to bring the world into the classroom?

It changes people’s perspective. You get to know people in different parts of the world, even in different parts of the country.

You’ve got so many different socio-economic groups and cultural groups, so just connecting learners who don’t leave their community often—or at all—with others develops a different global perspective. It develops into cultural understanding and fluency with digital tools.

We’ve seen time and again where students and teachers say, “Oh, it’s great to be connected with people in the Middle East because we now have them as friends and we understand more of how they live.”

When you reach that understanding, we really know that the world will change. This is an important role for educators.

Do the various political and cultural environments around the world affect what you are doing?

We struggle sometimes. I’ve had teachers in the U.S. say, “I’m not allowed to be in this project if there are any schools from The Middle East.” And teachers from Lebanon say, “We’re not allowed to participate in this project if there are Israeli schools there.”

The teachers are willing. The students are willing. But the attitude of the school community is impacting the type of learning that they’re allowed to have, unfortunately. We need to work on that.

There are other conflicts as well. Schools say, “We’re interested, but our school policy is that we can’t show students’ faces.”

Sometimes I say, “Maybe it’s time your reviewed your school policy,” because some of these policies are over 10 years old and haven’t really moved forward in terms of some of the more current literature and discussion.

Are you ever called on to help get a program started?

Yes. That’s a part of what I do through my work as a global collaboration consultant.

To talk to schools and help them with their first steps, which is usually helping the teachers understand connected learning and collaborative learning, and then looking at the curriculum and working out, “Where would this best fit? And what are the steps? What are the tools? How can we set this up?” That’s what I do.

It’s important to emphasize that although this is technology-driven, the technology is secondary.

Right. Things have changed, of course, over the last five years in particular. In the past it was more of a technology class because they had access to the computers. So it was someone like the technology teacher who tended to lead this.

But mobile technology has opened this up. It’s no longer imperative that students walk to the computer lab to be able to do their global project. We are seeing this becoming more distributed, so that’s really supporting this more fluid, ubiquitous use of technology and global learning.

What’s the best way for our readers to get involved?

My book has a list of people you can connect with in getting started, but you can also look at the Global Education Conference website and the iEARN organization. Those are communities of people who are going global.

You can also follow Twitter hashtags such as #GlobalEd or #GlobalEdChat to find like-minded educators. They’ll tell you, “I’m starting a new project. Do you want to jump in?”

All they need to get started is one other like-minded educator. If they can find someone else, they can begin to connect their students with other students around the world.

Tim Goral is senior editor.

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