Expanding International Education Via The Digital World
Cultures are fascinating to learn about, so why not hop on a plane and spend weeks or months living in another country and speaking another language?
To begin... the cost of flights can price some people out of the international travel experience, and the time that it takes to travel to some destinations can occupy entire days of the precious personal days some people may have.
However, this is no reason not to pursue international education and the study of other cultures. In this post I will address a few ways that I have been able to get myself and my students connected internationally.
Peace Corps Worldwise Schools
The Peace Corps has an international education component called the Paul D. Coverdell Worldwise Schools, where educators can search for lesson materials or connect with a current of former Peace Corps volunteer.
Connecting with a current Peace Corps volunteer can be a great way to open your students' eyes, and your eyes, to another reality in the developing world. Peace Corps volunteers are connected with the local community where they are stationed, and very well may teach in a local school.
In my experience (corresponding with 5 volunteers over the years), I found that almost all volunteers have some kind of access to an internet connection. They would share stories and photos with my students that they, or their students, had composed. Combining this connection with a Google+ Community can really make the international education experience take off.
It's also possible to set up discussion topics for easier management of content. If the Peace Corps volunteer, or any other international correspondent, could join they same G+ Community as you and your students, the opportunities for cross-cultural communication are exponentially enhanced.
Google for Educators Communities
If you, as the educator, want to connect with other educators around the world, Google also offers specific communities for educators in dozens of countries around the world. Check out Google For Educators Communities, click on a red pin on the world map to view any current group, and if you like what you see, request to join. Once part of the group, join their discussion of how to connect classrooms and culture.
If you'd like to take a more active role, post on the community board that you want to virtually collaborate on a proposed project and see what responses you get. You may be able to get virtual "pen pals" from another country for your students. Further collaboration is made possible with a few Google Apps, and can make this cross-border virtual project all the more possible.
Google Hangouts and Apps for Collaboration
Voiceover IP revolutionized the possibilities for international education, and Google has made it so that anyone with a Gmail account can benefit from this. Google Hangouts allows 2 to 15 people to videoconference at once.
The Google apps of Docs, Sheets, and Slides make it possible for up to 50 people (around the entire world!) to virtually collaborate on the same project. The permission options allow for participants to have editing, commenting, or viewing access. And the options of the Google apps allow collaborators to go back and see the revision and comment history of a document, and restore previous versions if need be. Does this sound exciting? Well, keep reading....
Google Cultural Institute
What if you want to take your students on a tour of museums or galleries around the world? It's now all possible with a few clicks of a button. The Google Cultural Institute has an impressively extensive archive of visual art from around the world, and the pieces are detailed with a description and history.
It's also possible to view a myriad of visual art by searching Art Project, Historic Moments, or Wonders of the World. With the Collections and User Galleries options, you can take an already made tour through history and geography, or you can form your own library of artwork. And this is all brought to you for free with a Google account.
Create Your Own Virtual Tour
Technology has indisputably shrunken the world that we live in and brought other cultures closer to our homes. Let's say that you and your students are ready to take a trip abroad, but time and money prevent that from happening right now. It's possible to travel around the world with Google Maps and Google Earth.
If you or your students want to create a tour of a trip that already happened, or that would happen if it were possible, use Tour Builder and Google Maps to tell what happened (or what would happen if...) using mapped out points, images, and written narration.
Also, you and your students can travel to distant lands through literature that you all have read, or created, by using the Lit Trips application of Google Earth. It's possible to virtually travel to other lands and see what that place looks like. You can plot points on the Earth, narrate stories, and embed links to enrich the international experience of your students' education.
Expanded International Education
The tools detailed above serve the purpose of broadening your students' cultural experiences and identities without the high price that can come with international travel in terms of time and money. Students can learn about other cultures and collaborate with people around the world from wherever they currently are.
If this happens, increased possibilities exist for a face-to-face international experience when time and money to allow. Students will be more acculturated to the process of exploring and communicating across other cultures, so when they take that trip, a flight across oceans will seem more like a jump across a puddle.