Telecollaboration: Empowering Students Through Global Connections
Gosia Jaros-White, MA
In today’s interconnected world, collaboration knows no boundaries. It presents an incredible opportunity for students and teachers to transcend the confines of their classrooms and gain invaluable insights into the global community. Telecollaboration, with its myriad benefits, equips students with essential skills such as cultural understanding, effective communication, and a broader perspective of the world. Whether it’s language, social studies, arts, or STEM, collaboration in a global context can be seamlessly integrated into any subject, engaging students from around the world in hands-on activities, research, and discussions that revolve around global issues, fostering creativity and problem-solving.
While engagement stands as a prominent benefit of telecollaboration, let us delve deeper other advantages it offers.
Nurturing Curiosity through Inquiry-Based Learning
Children possess an innate curiosity about the world around them, channeling their imagination to explore and absorb knowledge. Inquiry-based learning sparks this curiosity by encouraging students to ask questions about subjects that genuinely interest them. In telecollaboration projects, students not only question their peers but also observe and learn from their experiences. From simple queries like “Why don’t they wear uniforms?” to more complex ones such as “Why don’t they have a steady supply of electricity?”, students gain a more profound understanding through meaningful learning, as their questions unlock insights and open doors to new perspectives.
Cultivating Cultural Competence
The advantages of cultural competence extend far beyond preparing students for an ever-evolving world. In the realm of telecollaboration, cultural competency empowers students to navigate real-world problems with sensitivity, addressing issues like climate change, war, gender issues, and growing energy demands. Equipped with cultural competence, students possess the ability to locate accurate information, separate facts from fiction, and apply their newfound knowledge to foster societal progress. Moreover, virtual exchanges reinforce students’ understanding of the importance of global connections, illustrating the unifying power of meeting individuals from diverse backgrounds. Cultural competence not only nurtures appreciation for differences but also instills in students a sense of unity, transforming them into compassionate global citizens.
Teaching the Value of Humility
Consider how students respond to telecollaboration experiences – their reactions mirror those of their initial travel encounters. Every discovery strikes them with a sense of novelty and sparks moments of enlightenment. Statements like “Wow, they speak English so well!” or “They listen to the same music as I do!” or “I never knew they had that cultural tradition in their country!” may appear ordinary, but they hold profound significance in promoting inclusion.
Humility cannot be taught directly, but educators can create fertile ground for its growth. When students express surprise at seemingly universal aspects such as shared love for music, media, and movies, or the popularity of certain foods across borders, they make genuine, personal acknowledgments that resonate deeply with their developing minds. Telecollaboration erases preconceived biases and amplifies connections, providing an opportunity for authentic encounters that build bridges and foster acceptance.
Prejudice impedes acceptance, while apprehension and discomfort hinder inclusivity. Fear becomes the enemy of education. It is our responsibility as educators to prepare students to thrive in a changing world and cultivate courage within them. By creating opportunities for genuine encounters, we dismantle prejudices and biases, forging connections that transcend borders and foster global unity. By engaging in meaningful interactions with peers from different countries or regions, students gain firsthand insights into the lives, traditions, and challenges faced by others. This exposure broadens their understanding and allows students to critically examine their own biases and develop a more nuanced understanding of complex issues.
Students as Empowered Educators
Telecollaboration, particularly language-based exchanges, offers students a chance to become teachers, sharing their expertise with their peers. Through video exchanges, students can alternate between their native language and the target language, seizing the opportunity to teach new words, phrases, and interesting idioms. Additionally, as cultural exploration lies at the heart of telecollaboration, students naturally assume the role of educators as they share their unique heritage and culture with their global counterparts.
Lessons in Empathy
When a fourth-grade class in New York State participated in a virtual project with students from Kenya, they gained firsthand knowledge about the lives and challenges their peers faced. This experience not only piqued their curiosity but also inspired them to take action and support their Kenyan counterparts. Upon discovering that a local organisation aimed to build the first library in the area, they organised a fundraising event to contribute to the cause. Telecollaboration projects like these empower students to develop empathy and foster a desire to make a positive difference in the world.
Language-based virtual exchanges, in particular, serve as profound lessons in empathy. Language learning imparts valuable insights into determination, resilience, and cultural diversity. As students struggle to master a new language, they can relate to their peers who face similar challenges. This fosters compassion and understanding, cultivating appreciation for the effort required to communicate effectively and be truly understood.
A Comprehensive Approach
To harness the full potential of telecollaboration and offer these invaluable benefits to your students, it is crucial to adopt a structured program. Level Up Village (LUV), a learning product of Language Testing International, is a safe, secure, and user-friendly platform that connects schools worldwide, offering standards-aligned, tailored courses in Arts & Sciences, as well as Languages and Cultures, through asynchronous video exchanges. LUV courses place a strong emphasis on collaboration, conversation, and comprehension, as students create video messages and respond to each other’s videos. Designed for students ages 8-18, the program guarantees authentic, hands-on experiences. By matching students with peers of similar age, LUV creates fertile ground for the growth of meaningful relationships. The class-to-class pairing cultivates a sense of community, amplifying the impact of telecollaboration.
Joy Palmer, a first-grade teacher from Mountain Brook Elementary School, has seen firsthand the impact a global collaboration project has had on her students. Her class participated in the Global Sound Artists virtual exchange, in which students in her class collaborated with peers in Argentina and learned about sound, music, and instruments through hands-on investigations and experiments. “This partnership has been invaluable for my students. They are so engaged and excited to learn about different cultures. This week, they enjoyed making instruments and learning about another country. Some students said it was their ‘highlight of the week.’ They cannot wait to see how our partner classroom made their instruments, how they are decorated, etc.”
Telecollaboration is a gateway to expanding horizons, fostering global connections, and nurturing essential skills for students’ future success. By embracing this powerful educational tool, we empower our students to become compassionate, globally minded citizens ready to navigate an ever-changing world.
Gosia Jaros-White, MA is the director of sales and marketing at Language Testing International. She holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics and is passionate about language and language education. As a bilingual marketer and former English as a Second Language teacher, she recognises the power of multilingualism and advocates for language education in the U.S.