Wednesday, July 23, 2008
Getting Off the Starting Blocks
During a poster session in the Global Gallery at NECC, I met a teacher who said she was eager to get her students involved in collaborative global projects. I talked up a few spectacular examples, describing just how far students can go when given the opportunity. But she was stuck on the starting blocks. “How do you find partners on the other side of the world?” she wanted to know. I told her about the Flat Classroom Project and several other wonderful collaborations that have grown out of the edublogging world, where like-minded teachers frequently connect. “I don’t have time to read blogs,” she said, then launched into a list of the many other demands on her day.
Making global collaboration easier for busy teachers is one of the goals of ePals, a free communications platform that includes classroom blogs, email, and other tools to foster connections. It’s the largest online community in K-12 education, with some 13 million students and teachers participating in 200 countries. Ed Fish, CEO of ePals, describes his strategies for getting barriers out of the way in this Spiral Notebook interview. By making it faster and easier for teachers to find partner classrooms, Fish says he hopes to release educators to focus their energy on the creative side of project design and implementation.
What I find especially powerful about ePals is the translation tool that allows communication among learners who don’t speak the same language. The tool translates text to and from Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese, English, and Chinese. Users pick the language pair that meets their needs. Rita Oates, ePals vice president and a longtime educator, told me that the tool was developed to answer requests from teachers who wanted to be able to overcome language barriers. And it works: ePals participants speak more than 130 languages.
I can’t help wondering why more teachers aren’t taking part in these kinds of online projects. Have you steered clear of global projects because you don’t know how to get started? What help or support do you need to start bringing the world to your classroom?