In my more that 20 years of teaching, I have watched the advancements that e-mail and the Internet have brought to my profession. I have marveled at these technologies' exponential growth and recognized early on that they could become the greatest teaching tools since the text book. Besides serving as a full-time middle school history teacher and head grade advisor, I developed and maintain intra- and Internet sites for several departments at The Ellis School (a small, independent, K-12, girls' school in Pittsburgh, PA). These sites have served various purposes, from providing information about school-related functions and building on-line data base for research called "GlobaLinks" for specific projects and units at Ellis, to displaying student artworks and publishing student writings. All of this has been accomplished by a self-described "poster child for the 'Idiot's Guide' books on web publishing." I also helped to develop the school's current middle school history curriculum, which begins with a survey of Ancient Civilizations in fifth grade and culminates in my own "20th Century World" course for the eighth grade--a course which utilizes the Internet in many ways.
After a summer of teaching myself basic web publishing techniques and then successfully establishing a research database intranet site for the history department, I began to seriously explore ways to use e-mail and the Internet to more effectively bring the world into my classroom. My goal was to establish a permanent, international collaborative group which would involve schools interested in exchanging information and opinions that were both relevant to my curriculum and useful to all participants in a broader sense. I conceived a pilot project which became known as "Global Perspectives," and the planning began. Although I was familiar with previous attempts at collaborative projects, I was interested in doing something with more substance and relevance to my specific curriculum and my students.
My students and I were first exposed to the power of electronic communications during the Gulf War. Another Ellis teacher had a friend who was attending school in Tel Aviv. The friend's daily accounts of what life was like under such circumstances--complete with descriptions of how difficult it was to prepare one's own personal gas mask quickly for threatened chemical weapons attacks and the general mood of the city--brought my students and me to the "front lines" of this current event as it unfolded. Moreover, the experience brought to light many cultural aspects about the people and dynamics of the Middle East to which my students had been previously oblivious.
After that experience, I became firmly committed to using information technologies to increase my students' sense of global awareness and understanding. I set out to establish a plan, using various sources as references. Works by Benoit and Ouellet of the Centre for Intercultural Education and International Understanding, Dr. Alice Johnson at Case Western Reserve, Dr. James Ife at The University of Western Australia, and others served as the framework for the global education aspects of this particular project's plan.
The Ellis School's "Global Perspectives" project involves, in any given year, one or more schools from around the nation and the world. It involves using a centralized Internet site to acquire information about the participating schools and student cultures, as well as conduct and post results for student-generated surveys or case studies about certain global issues. All communications are done through the schools' faculty representatives, each of whom has a "mailto" link on the project's web site. Early student-to-student communications were established by a group of volunteers who join my "e-pals" club in the fall term. This club has since morphed into the "Global Perspectives" elective for eigth graders. This group gathers information about the schools and writes summaries for the web site; they also keep in touch with student representatives from the other schools throughout the course of the project, gaining cultural information through informal "chats."
Leaning objectives for the project are centered on a critical element of global education--that to truly understand global issues, students must look beyond a strictly American view. The project originally called upon students to conduct direct research, collecting information about awareness levels outside their own country (even in other parts of the U.S.) and, with a working knowledge of specific nations, make inferences to explain the differences and/or similarities in viewpoints. The project reinvents itself each year, depending on my students' (and my) interests. Subsequent formats have ranged from global awareness surveys to case studies, such as how international trade impacts the global environment. As part of last year's case study about international relief efforts, my students worked with a school in Bombay and raised money for the Gujarat earthquake victims. The funds raised financed the construction of five homes in the stricken area. Since then funds have been raised to supply fresh water to tsunami victims and Haitian villagers, and Podcast exchanges have taken place between my students and some in Shanghai.
This project represents a continued commitment to the exploration of relevant and effective ways to use communications technologies at Ellis, based on principles of global education and gender equity. Our school has made a strong commitment to--and had great success in--training young women in both the uses and applications of current technologies. Meeting this challenge has most recently been inspired by reports from the American Association of University Women, the American Institutes of Research report "Gender Gaps: Where Schools Still Fail Our Children," and Dr. Tracy Camp's article "The Incredible Shrinking Pipeline".
Such scholars believe that young women generally lack exposure to the Internet, therefore they lack interest in these technologies, as well as relevant skills development. Most recent studies also show that exceptions seem to be in the areas of involvement in e-mail and chat rooms. I saw an opportunity to use these exceptions to help my students build valuable skills that may otherwise elude them.
"Global Perspectives" is the latest in a series of developments using the Internet for the benefit of our students. It serves as an example of how integrating the use of technology can enhance authentic learning objectives. Global education through international collaboration, as well as increasing familiarity with educational and communications technologies for female students, are enriched by this program.