February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Reach Out and Connect: Using Flat Connections for Collaboration | Tech Tidbits

Flat ConnectionsAre you ready for a new challenge? One that will stretch your technology skills, support your teachers and provide some incredibly rich, authentic education experiences for your students? Try Flat Connections, for a fresh perspective in participatory global collaboration.

I am currently taking a class led by Julie Lindsay, coauthor of the book Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time. Lindsay facilitates this class from her home in New South Wales, Australia, and participants from around the world meet weekly for hour-long sessions in online spaces such as Blackboard Collaborate. Check out (and join) the ning where teachers meet to collaborate. Four librarians and two technology trainers in my district make up the cohort working together on this course. Our goal is to expand opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate with peers and experts around the world.

When I first began the class, I thought I would learn about how to connect our students, via Skype, to other classes. I have since understood that the face-to-face component of global collaboration is a relatively small part of the goal. In fact, it’s often quite challenging to find a time when two classes can meet face-to-face due to school days that don’t necessarily overlap. The real power of global collaboration comes instead from the thoughtful design of joint learning opportunities in which students here are paired with students somewhere across town, across the country, or around the world. The goal is to give kids a problem to solve—a problem that ideally impacts both student groups.

I recently met an economics teacher from New Brunswick, Canada, at a STEM training, and he shared how his community is planning a disaster simulation to explore the impacts of a catastrophic flood. Because the Colorado Front Range recently experienced catastrophic flooding, I thought this was something we could explore together. This is in the very beginning stages of planning, but I’m excited by the possibilities. I’ve already written a grant for a SMART Board E70 interactive flat panel SMART Board. This board allows for eight points of contact (who knew these existed?), allowing for up to number of students to manipulate simulations and data at the same time. I’ve also requested the BigShot-HD USB PTZ 3X Wide Camera (sounds impressive, doesn’t it!), which will allow us to broadcast an entire classroom of students so we can meet our student peers in New Brunswick.

The tools are important, but more critical is the lesson design. Student groups need to collaborate on a research project and jointly produce an end product. This could be a wiki, a video, a podcast, or any collaborative tool that is available to students in both geographic locations. One major challenge is keeping all participants engaged. So many people are involved and have to contribute their share in order for the project to be successful. Failure is scary, but I’m reminding myself that the greatest growth comes from failure. And in spite of these fears, global collaboration can have positive impacts on student motivation and provide intellectual learning experiences which expand critical thinking abilities. Students tend to polish their communications more thoughtfully when shared with a global, “real” audience, which can lead to overall improvements in academic skills and performance. My pursuit of global collaborative experiences for my students and staff is just one step in the ongoing quest to make sure me and my library remain relevant. Perhaps you can rise to the challenge and become a Flat Connections School too.

Krista Brakhage is a  Teacher Librarian at Poudre High School, Fort Collins, Colorado.

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