K-12 School Computer Networking/Chapter 25/Distance learning in relation to cross-cultural connections
Distance learning in relation to cross-cultural connections
Cultural sensitivity is a national issue that we deal with consistently. Without fail we are presented with headlines about race relation tension, many times resulting from a misunderstanding and lack of sensitivity to ones culture and beliefs. Much of this tension is due to a lack of education and tolerance. We not only experience this sense of negativity between adults, but misunderstandings extend to our young future. Who are the ones to blame? The parents and guardians at home, or the school systems not providing the substantial curriculum to combat this ever growing ignorance. As educators it is our duty to help develop our future leaders of the world. To provide them with the proper tools to help them maintain peace and prosperity throughout the globe, as well as help positive nations grow. Through productive growth, we strive to establish abiding citizens that will develop through education, and transform into responsible caring citizens that will affect society in a positive manner. In 1998, researchers from Texas A&M University had an idea for a cross-cultural project using distance learning and multimedia to facilitate understanding among a diverse group of secondary students. The final project came to be known as Cultural Connections. Cultural Connections brought students across the state of Texas together in an effort to meet via distance technologies. The researchers wanted the students to get to know each other while conducting curricular activities together. Though there was very successful K-12 distance learning projects across school populations (SAXophone, Kidlink’s Multicultural Calendar), Cultural Connections mission was to foster relationships among teachers as well as their student subjects across distances. In order to test the significance of the Cultural Connections concept, a case study was performed in the fall of 1998 to explore the effectiveness of distance learning and multimedia technologies between two teachers and their subjects. Researchers wanted to assess the expanded learning capabilities between students that were geographically separated. Participants in the study included two teachers and their students, three teacher-observers, and two faculty researchers from Texas A&M University. Student participants were 14 randomly placed eight-grade students and ten gifted and talented fifth-grade students. Initially, the participating instructors collaborated to team-teach; developing a program of study focused on curricular activities as well as identity-forming multicultural activities. The program of study was conducted over 6 months with nine distance-learning units. The curriculum provided the students with an opportunity to apply technology in their classrooms while developing an extended network beyond their four walls. Teachers were also given an opportunity to build professional relationships with other teachers across diverse school sites.
Initially students were skeptical of their distant classmates, honestly expressing many misconceptions regarding their distant partners. This project opened up doors for students to share their experiences with people of other cultures and to learn from the perspectives and experiences of others. As stated by Meier (1995), “there is no tolerance without respect—and no respect without knowledge.” Students working within established virtual communities are given a chance to transform into more tolerant and respectful citizens. This is due to the fact that they are given the opportunity to develop relationships with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Positive identity formation is transformed through the cross-cultural connection. Schools can play a major role in this major transition, building a broad worldview in students as well as educators. Lasting bonds are also being established, strengthening a more healthy global community. The theoretical framework of this project focused on three assumptions: (a) social constructivist pedagogy can foster personal growth, (b) collaborative learning experiences can foster construction of meaning, and (c) technology can foster collaborative learning (pg. 70, 2000). The multimedia software that was utilized gave the students the advantage over typical use of pen and paper. It allowed them to easily include visual and aural representations of themselves. Telecommunication technologies have the potential to equalize education by providing all students with access to communication tools that are key to genuine democratic participation (Cummins & Sayers, 1995). The cross-cultural project also looked at 5 key goals for global education: (perspective consciousness, (b) state of planet awareness, (c) cross-cultural awareness, (d) systematic awareness, and (e) options for participation (Hanvey, 1977). The use of the multimedia software not only reduced provided students the opportunity to learn from diverse perspectives, but helped to reduce isolation that may have existed through cross-classroom collaboration. Cultural Connections demonstrated the importance of diversity, but illustrated the use of cultural unity. Perception for the need to widen the learning community that could not be established within the confines of their four walls was understood by both instructors involved in the project. Both parties were fortunate to be provided with the essential tools such as videoconferencing systems, media software as well as internet connections during the program of study. Students were motivated to interact in a variety of ways with their distant classmates by such activities as reading discussions, performing skits, and debating issues. One substantial debate that stood out was when the students had to participate in an open forum to discuss the pros and cons of school uniforms. This debate demonstrated the ability for the students to implement what they had learned in order to address serious issues in a meaningful way. The students demonstrated that they had grown as a group and were beginning to develop personal identity. Personal identity was continually established through the multimedia portfolios created by each student. It gave all participants an opportunity to better understand and relate to both their present classmates as well as their distant ones. Many students created visual representations of their home lives, their goals, their thoughts and values, their likes and abilities, and their stories. The ability to use such software enabled the students to critically reflect on their experiences in a social context beyond their immediate communities. Students were given the opportunity to view their portfolios individually or in small groups. Educators began to see significant changes within the participants in the program of study. As the software files were edited and revised, so were the personal identities of the children. The shyness and self-conscious feeling initially established in the beginning of the project, transitioned into a since of confidence and excitement towards the new friendships that had been developed. The access to technology allowed the students to extend their friendships on their own via email. Not limiting them only to the time reserved each month for class participation.
Two key terms radiate throughout the Cultural Connections project: Multicultural understanding and Self-concept. Through the concept of multicultural understanding, you began to feel a sense of appreciation from the students towards their differences and similarities with their distant classmates. Though there were various differentiations in beliefs, experiences, values and behaviors across cultures, there were also many similarities. This was demonstrated through the forum conducted in relation to their beliefs pro or con towards implementation of uniforms. Students blossomed into their own self-concept by reflecting through the program of study on their behaviors and attributes. Their capabilities were endless in what they could achieve past there interaction within this program of study. As each student moved through the project they began to demonstrate characteristics of growth as well as empowerment. They also promoted a sense of guidance towards each other through their critical evaluations of worked displayed throughout the program of study. The content of the student portfolios, reflections, and interviews, and the contents of the teacher’s reflections all provided evidence that Cultural Connections enhanced teaching and learning experiences. The Cultural Connections case study’s purpose was to explore the effectiveness of distance learning and multimedia technologies in facilitating and expanded learning community among teachers and their students. The project was effective in that through analysis from pre-project to post-project interview, the language indicated a transformation from belittlement to pride. In the beginning, many of the students compared themselves unfavorably to their distant partners. Students were learning to be more aware of what they were about and who they were as individuals. There was also significant academic achievement as compared to benchmark tests provided prior to the program of study. Of significant importance in all was the expanded multicultural understanding over time. Comments that were generalized in the beginning became more personalized and focused on similarities. Cultural Connections helped the educators in the program of study motivate other teachers to get involved in such a project. They were able to observe how the program helped the students grow in self-esteem, achievement, and multicultural understanding. Through their understanding of multimedia development and telecommunications they were able to communicate with other colleagues and become mentors at their schools. Seeing the success of the program motivated many other teacher observers to get over their fear of the new media and apply it to their current curriculum's. Cross-classroom collaboration made it possible for young adolescents to expand their world-views in order to be positive contributors to an ever growing multicultural environment. There became a better understanding in how distance technologies can foster team teaching across cultures and geographical distances.
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