Article for AALF newsletter, April 2010

Written by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis

“Imagine the possibilities if we brought students together from different areas of the world for a summit that challenged them to break through cultural misunderstandings, that challenged them to envision solutions for a better world”, said co-founder Julie Lindsay, then Head of E-Learning at Qatar Academy.

“If virtual connections via global projects can promote enhanced understanding and a world view, think what a face-to-face opportunity might bring”.

With this aim, the first Flat Classroom™ live event in Qatar saw students coming to the Middle East from geographically diverse locations. Students of different nationalities, from varying socio-economic groups and diverse school systems came to find out how to flatten their learning through cultural exchange and the use of emerging technologies.

In the words of Edgar from Ethiopia, “It’s about connecting, about bridging, about different communities. Learning is not always about 1+1, learning about different cultures and the world as a whole is really important, and it helps to make the world more of a global village”. Within one hour of the first student workshop, laptops had been distributed, essential Web 2.0 tools explored and, with the help of a building-wide, robust wireless network at Qatar Academy, a backchannel opened to connect those face-to-face with each other as well as with those participating virtually. Conversation was prolific as students chatted for  real and online about the challenges they were being asked to take on while virtual participants contributed ideas, resources and support. At that point in time we realised the power of social learning, of allowing learners access to tools to support exploration, connections

and collaboration that lead to creations that make a difference to the world as we know it.

“We don’t all ride camels, you know.”

“We don’t all act like that comedian Jeff Foxworthy says – we’re not all red-necks in South Georgia.”

I smiled as I saw the two students instant messaging as they worked on the Flat Classroom™ project.  “For some reason, students have a hunger and a desire to blast through stereotypes and it is often their first order of business before getting down to some very intense learning,” says co-founder Vicki Davis of this incident.

This is exactly what Flat Classroom projects are about.  As we’ve hosted almost twenty projects and three face to face events, students are telling us that they’ve used social media to improve their social lives and now they are ready to improve their academic lives.  Learning is becoming mobile and ubiquitous (everywhere) for these students. A new pedagogy is evolving that incorporates true global collaboration where students are partners with those in other classrooms.  Rigorous technological abilities are coupled with digital citizenship, and a challenge-based interdisciplinary learning environment.

The Flat Classroom™ Project is a global collaborative project that joins together middle and senior high school students. This project is part of the emerging trend in internationally-aware schools to embrace a holistic and constructivist educational approach to work collaboratively with others around the world in order to create students who are competitive and globally-minded. The project was co-founded by Vicki Davis (Westwood Schools, USA) and Julie Lindsay (Beijing (BISS) International School, China) in 2006 when Julie (then in Bangladesh) and Vicki joined their classrooms together for the first time to study and emulate the emerging flattened learning environment. The Flat Classroom Project 2006 is featured in Chapter 13 (pages 501-503), ‘If it’s not happening it’s because you’re not doing it’, of the 2007 edition of Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat’ upon which it was based.

One of the main goals of the project is to ‘flatten’ or lower the classroom walls so that instead of each class working isolated and alone, 2 or more classes are joined virtually to become one large classroom. This is done through the Internet using Web 2.0 tools such as Wikispaces and Ning. The Project uses Web 2.0 tools to make communication and interaction between students, teachers, expert advisers, class sounding boards and other participants easier. The topics studied and discussed are real-world scenarios based on ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman.

Embedding social learning into the mainstream curriculum: the pedagogy of the Flat Classroom™

The use of social networking technologies is pedagogically relevant. Combined with an holistic and multicultural approach the walls of a classroom can be broken down. Our experience with the Flat Classroom Project has reinforced the approach that learning takes place in many different ways, times and places.  It also shows us that the research that emphasizes the effectiveness of cooperative learning, genuine assessment, and project-based learning can occur when students are literally on opposite sides of the globe.  The benefits of such a project are far-reaching. Social learning theory and research has shown us that sociability of online learning combined with interaction can help promote understanding.

Our highly connected world gives educators the global imperative to connect our people. Flat Classroom™ Projects have the power to produce world-class students with a world view, based on understanding, and not misinformed bias from the media. It will require many hard-working, well informed, ethical, diligent teachers and visionary administrators to give them the framework to operate.

Elements of the project include:

deeper understanding of the effects of technology on our world that leads students to not only study but actually experience the ‘flatteners’

students are grouped with global partners to explain trends, give personal viewpoints and create a video containing an outsourced video segment from their global partners.

use of an educational networking platform (eg. Ning), blogging, posting photos, videos etc and and a collaborative environment (eg wiki), to connect, collaborate and create

assessment based on a common criterion based rubric

real-life flavours of deadlines, accountability and interdependence

completed personal videos which are then judged by global educators

a concluding student summit, using a virtual classroom (eg Elluminate), to share and reflect

Flat Classroom Projects and events are transforming learning through global collaboration and building the bridges that tomorrow’s society will walk across. Is there a global collaboration in your future?

Educational Initiatives

Educational Initiatives

Founded by a group of IIMA alumni, with ample personal experience of educational institutions, Educational Initiatives (EI) is an effort to ensure every child learns with understanding.

Established in 2001, Educational Initiatives believes in making a difference in education through personalized learning and ensuring that students learn with understanding.

EI has over 15 years of expertise in education, with a deep understanding of child psychology and efficient methods of teaching, based on detailed research and a formidable database of student learning through ASSET.

Our detailed research has proven that children today respond to rote-based questions relatively well, however, they fail to answer unfamiliar or application based questions due to unclear core concepts.
Educational Initiatives