In an increasingly globalized world, it is all the more essential that students not only gain knowledge of world around them, but also gain experiences of engaging global collaboration. Indeed, global awareness is one of the interdisciplinary themes that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills includes in its framework (P21, 2007). Specifically, this theme includes not only being able to address global issues, but also engaging in global collaboration with others from diverse cultures (P21, 2007). The thread of global awareness coupled with the theme of learning and innovation which highlights the imperative to focus on creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication (Larmer, Ross, & Mergendoller, 2009) provides a powerful way to approach research into global collaborative inquiry. Implicit in this is a focus on students’ ability to work in a creative way with others which emphasizes their ability to be openminded to new ideas while incorporating feedback from others into their work (P21, 2007). Throughout the collaboration, the students learned to view setbacks as opportunities to grow.
To address these critical areas surrounding global collaboration I tried to come up with a way to weave into it my passion for computer science education along with computational thinking and creativity. I ended up partnering students in the United States (US) with students in the Bahamas as they engaged in a global computer science collaboration. Why computer science and computational thinking? Computer science is ubiquitous in today’s world where programming, developing makerspaces, and constructing are making their way into homes, schools, and communities. President Obama recently announced a nationwide statement in support of computer science education for all. In conjunction with this, 90 of the CEOs of the nation’s most powerful and influential companies recently came together to sign a letter outlining the critical importance of computer science education that was delivered to Congress. Computer science K-12 education encompasses robotics, programming, and computational thinking platforms.
Through a mutual friend, I ended up connecting with a school in the Bahamas and got a global computer science collaboration underway between a school in the US and one in the Bahamas. At the same time, I got to work building out a website that both schools could use to guide them through the process. Challenges? I knew there would be many. Opportunities? I knew the potential was there for them to be life-changing for teachers and students involved. Benefits? I knew they would be invaluable. Collaboration has, in fact, been defined as “the condition that occurs when two or more people or organizations join forces over a long period to produce something neither can achieve alone” (Freeman, p. 33, 1993). Figure 1 outlines the process I used to develop and implement the platform for global computer science collaboration. The first phase involved creating the computer science collaboration website along the supplementary resources such as support videos.
The next phase involved visiting with teachers to get user feedback on the website and using the feedback to then revise enhance the collaboration experience. A critical support was added by creating short instructional videos to show and model how to get started with the coding required by the website. The videos not only supported the teachers, but also the students. This kind of explicit support provided helpful guidance as schools engage in digital collaboration (Solem et al., 2003).
FIGURE 1. Organization of student and teacher support for CS Goes Global
Along the journey of global collaboration, there were successes, as seen in one of the initial emails from the teacher in the Bahamas:
It went well thank you the kids are really enjoying it. A couple of them got to number 9. We had a few new faces too which was good. Looking forward to next week.
And then there were challenges, as I knew there would be:
Hi there Janis,
The session went well today...... Was kinda disappointed that only 9 students came though ....... The teachers promised me that they will push it some more and hopefully more kids will come out next week.
Here are some Pics that I took today ..... I'll be sure to take more some time this week.
A major challenge facing schools and teachers who are implementing a new project is the time factor. Teachers are often limited to covering the scope of their curriculum and in order to take on a global collaboration such as this, it requires clear communication, buy-in, and the cooperation of the teachers themselves. The lead-collaborator stated the following:
So tell me something now...because I have to convince the computer teacher, the computer science teacher now. Because you’ve done this before, what approach should I take because computer coding is not part of any curriculum here in the Bahamas. How am I supposed to ...or what...can you give me some advice? What should I say to the computer science teacher or what should be an angle I approach it at? Hey, I want access to your computer science kids...what? You know, this is not in the curriculum.
In overcoming this challenge, I brainstormed with the lead-collaborator various benefits to global collaboration in general and computer science collaboration specifically:
But really, it’s about kids creating, communicating, collaborating and not just using technology but creating with it and that’s powerful when they can really unleash their imagination and create things, create games, not just play them, you know what I’m saying? Yeah, so, and it really teaches critical thinking, logical thinking, problem-solving skills and it’s really foundational to a lot of other things. We live in this age where everyone has a cell phone, everybody has a device, but no one really understands how they work or how to program them, so it’s really an essential literacy.
In strategizing how to talk with the cooperating teacher, the lead collaborator tried to approach it from the perspective of getting the collaboration completed during the school day so as not to occupy extra time outside of school:
That’s going to be my approach when I talk with her tomorrow. My first approach is going to be Let’s find some way to get this done in the school day and then the good thing is that in that school, she’s the only teacher, so it’s not like she has to go talk to someone else about it. She makes up the whole department so I can ask her and if she’s kind of like hmmm… then I’ll go to the club thing. But my goal is to get it as part of the normal school day.
Another major challenge to consider is to how the communication will occur during the collaboration. The researcher shared her perspective on this topic:
Okay, just because that’s the initial thing we need to figure out. How they are going to communicate, how they are going to share information. So I’ve tried different ways and it’s you know, tough, when you don’t have a system in place.
After reviewing various possibilities with the lead-collaborator from Edmodo to Google Apps for Education, it became clear that creating a custom website for the purpose of this collaboration was the best solution. In order to maintain communication, we decided to use Google Hangouts as well as email as needed.
It is inevitable that all sorts of situations may arise. Everything from failed internet connectivity to firewalled websites could occur. I've learned it is important to enter collaboration with a flexible and persistent mindset. In this case, I planned to be online when the coding club was meeting in the Bahamas to be able to troubleshoot and provide immediate support.
Challenges, yes, but how about the opportunities and benefits to global collaboration? In the words of a district leader I interviewed, he shared the following:
When I went to school, my competition was the kid in the seat next to me, but we are in a mobile and global society so when I say world-class thinkers, I’m talking about kids that are bright and can think with the best of them in the world. So they can compete globally, but they know how to compete globally in terms of interactivity, globally, so on and so forth, so world-class encompasses quite a bit for me.
From this, it is clear that learning on a global scale is of great importance. He goes on to further outline what global collaboration has the potential to bring to students:
My goal is to set up systems and encourage our educators to incorporate thinking opportunities in the class, critical thinking, innovation, problem solving, creativity, all those things that are so critical so that through that process, they have a better understanding of what they are doing and those thinking skills allow them to apply knowledge too. Inherently, through the process of thinking.
This statement echoes the feeling from the lead-collaborator in the Bahamas, who has an acute understanding of the benefits that such experiences offer the children on her island. The experience of global collaboration connects to the Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) in that students see their own as well as others’ perspectives.
Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011)
As the lead-collaborator stated :
Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011)
As the lead-collaborator stated :
One of the main [benefits] was disintegrating stereotypes, you know, and getting kids, especially kids living in developing countries such as the Bahamas - getting them to be a little bit more exposed to the outside world. Especially when you live on an island, you tend to think often that this is the world and it's kind of easy to forget that there's a whole huge great big world out there and often times kids from poorer countries don't ever get to experience.
As a result of the type of global collaboration offered by this research, the lead-collaborator shared about the potential to transform students’ learning. This experience connects to the Global Competence Matrix (Mansilla & Jackson, 2011) in the areas of investigating the world and communicating ideas. Through this US-Bahamas collaboration, they gained a deeper understanding of the world through this interdisciplinary experience of computer science, art, and communication as evidenced by the statement below from the lead-collaborator:
I think it got the kids thinking they got the children thinking about different ways. That you can get something done, get a project completed with people that aren't in the same geographical location as you are which I think is extremely important for 21st century learners and for students that will hopefully one day be able to compete in a global world market from wherever, whatever part of the world they live in.
So, while there are tremendous benefits to global collaboration, it does not come without its set of unique challenges. It is critical to plan out in detail how communication will occur throughout the process both synchronously and asynchronously (Lindsay & Davis, 2012). I've learned that even with detailed planning prior to the actual collaboration, it's important to be flexible throughout the process as plans may need to be adjusted.
While challenging, global collaboration yields tremendous benefits. The global aspect provided opportunities for their students’ views to be expanded while the computer science aspect of it afforded them the opportunity to create with technology and express themselves in a unique way while sharing and communicating their ideas with a global student partner.
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