March 1, 2000
The National Science Foundation grant to EDC's Center for Children and Technology (CCT) enabled collaborative support for the World Bank's WorLD Links for Development Program (WorLD). The WorLD Links project helps public schools in developing countries learn to use the Internet by working on projects in partnership with other schools around the world. In June 1998, WorLD convened an anchor meeting of educators from six countries in Washington, D.C., to start this project (See the report's appendix A for participants).
At this time, the educators designed online collaborative projects to be conducted throughout the following school year (these included comparing water quality in local rivers - e.g., the Mississippi, the Rio Plata,; reading and comparing literature for young readers from different countries; creating an online atlas of the countries of the participating classrooms). Surveys, focus group results, and informal participant observations from the first anchor meeting suggested that a number of cultural factors would influence effective implementation of these projects.
CCT was asked to analyze how various aspects of the different cultural contexts of education might affect international, telecommunications-based collaborations. CCT researchers thus cast a broad net using multiple methodologies in order to understand the issues surrounding implementation of the projects. We tracked participants' communications via telephone and email, collaborated with the various project partners, and made a two-week site visit to make recommendations for refinements in the program.
As we culled through the collected materials, we examined the following questions:
- How do teachers incorporate these projects into their work (including afterschool programs)? What are the disciplinary foci? What kinds of strategies do teachers use in the context of these projects, and do these differ from the ones they customarily use?
- What kinds of factors, both advantages and barriers, influence international collaborations such as these projects:
- (a) practical matters (e.g., school calendar, teachers' time, technology access, and the like)
- (b) pedagogical matters (e.g., differences in pedagogical beliefs and teaching strategies that can open windows onto new perspectives and can also create barriers)
- (c) communications issues (e.g., language, subtle aspects/differences in communication habits and expectations in online environments)
- (d) motivational issues (e.g., students' and teachers' expectations of school, perceptions of appropriate activities, interest in communicating with students from different countries)
- (e) broad cultural issues (including particular countries' education reform efforts, goals and resources for education, teachers' job requirements, and the like)
- (f) administrative support (e.g. leadership support and encouragement provided by schools)
- What kinds of impacts might these collaborative projects have on teaching and learning (for example, teachers' perceptions of their students' learning; connecting students in new and more vibrant ways with an international community; expanding teachers' views of their work, providing powerful and experienced examples that influence pedagogical innovation more broadly; providing more effective ways of covering traditional curriculum topics, and so forth)?
- Do teachers use the project and the technologies as sources of support and collegiality within their own countries as well as an internationally, and if so, how do they do so? Does participation in the project and online environment significantly affect their professional lives and teaching skills?
We explored key interactions and key factors in the carrying out of these international projects. For example, we examined how variables such as time and language impacted pedagogy, student and teacher motivation, and student learning. In addition we looked at how a country's national education context affect the ways that teachers implement innovative projects as well as how technology access and communications issues affect the vibrancy and success of the telecommunications-based component.