Six ways for students to connect and collaborate globally

As we design our lessons, we should consider our learning intentions and choose the best tool(s) for the job. Sometimes that involves technology and sometimes it doesn’t. Integrated technology should add some value to the learning and, ideally, enable students to do things that would otherwise be impossible.

An obvious example of added value is the ability to connect and collaborate with people across the world. It is easier than ever to promote international-mindedness because our students can connect with other learners from anywhere on the planet! By connecting with others, we add another layer to the learning. In addition to the learning intentions, students develop understanding and a respect for those whose lives are unlike their own. While students learn about human commonalities, they also develop an understanding and appreciation of our diversity.

Here are six technology tools that can easily be used for global collaborations. Consider the security settings carefully and adjust them to fit your needs. Also, follow your school’s policies regarding social media, privacy, etc.

Padlet

Padlets are collaborative bulletin boards based around a topic, idea or question. Contributors can add their responses and any relevant attachments. The responses are all visible and accessible on the Padlet and contributors can react and reply to others. Padlets can be private (for invited contributors only), password protects or public. Simply invite others to the Padlet or share your Padlet link.

Sadly, a recent update has significantly limited the free version. Users are now limited to +3 Padlets. Basically, however many you have made in the past, add three and that is your new limit (for new users, your limit is three). After you reach your limit, old Padlets will need to be deleted in order to make room for new ones. Disappointing for us, but the company has to pay the bills and put food on the table. It’s still a great platform for students and teachers!

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Flipgrid

Soon after the sad news from Padlet was announced, the universe tipped the scales the other way by giving us Flipgrid. With the announcement that Microsoft had bought Flipgrid came the news that it would become entirely free (anyone who paid for Flipgrid Classroom after 18.06.2017 is entitled to a refund). Flipgrid is a video discussion platform for learners. After creating a grid for a learning community, teachers can design topics and post them to the grid. Students then respond to the topics through video and can also react and reply to each another.

There are a number of ways to allow global access to a shared grid. If you want replies from adults, you could create a ‘PLCs and Public Grids’ grid. These public ones are intended for over 16s. Another way, more appropriate for younger learners, would be to create a ‘School Email Domain’ grid (for Microsoft or Google domain schools) but add multiple domains rather than just one. Alternatively, create a ‘School ID List’ grid and continue to add new students to the list (entire class lists can be added at once). If you don’t yet have a class/teacher in mind, you can find teachers to connect with by searching #GridPals. The accounts can be filtered by grade level or subject.

I previously dabbled with the free version but was left lukewarm without the paid features of Flipgrid Classroom. Now, with free access to it all, I have well and truly caught #FlipgridFever! More importantly, my students have too!

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Video calls

Whether you prefer Google Hangouts, Skype, FaceTime or any other platform, the important thing is that students can speak to others in real time. Importantly, they can see them too. If you have a particular reason for calling, great! If not, you could participate in a Mystery Skype just for fun!

I first heard about Mystery Skype in Learn Like a PIRATE by Paul Solarz. A Mystery Skype is a video call between two classes in different parts of the world. There are several variations of the game but they typically involve the classes using yes/no questions and inquiry resources to find out the mystery location of the other class. Students are allocated jobs within their class team and must collaborate in order to identify the location before the other class does. If the countries are identified too easily, they could keep going to identify the state/city. Students love it and, in the process, learn about different children and what it’s like in different parts of the world. For more information, click here.

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G Suite apps

Google apps are well known for synchronous collaboration. As long as the sharing settings are adjusted accordingly, students/teachers from anywhere can contribute to the same document, even at the same time. Consider sharing your Docs, Slides, Sheets, etc. beyond your class. My favourite for collaboration is probably Google Slides. Providing a shared slide deck allows each student to work on their own slide while having access to the others. They can learn from their peers and leave comments for each other. The documents can be shared with particular teachers/classes or simply share the link and see who responds! For example, a class from Australia learning about seasons contacted me on Twitter recently with a link to a Google Slides deck. They asked me to share my location, current season and a picture of the weather. The deck was full of responses from various locations around the world. What a fantastic way to raise more questions and spark further inquiry!

Blogs

Obviously, I’m a fan of blogging. It’s also fantastic for students so that they have an authentic audience for their writing. Various platforms are available, such as Blogger and Edublogs (with different advantages and disadvantages) and include numerous security and teacher moderation settings. Students love receiving encouraging and constructive comments from their audience. They also benefit from reading and commenting on other blogs. At a time when comment sections are typically a place of toxicity, we can teach our children to comment appropriately and positively.

For a simpler option (especially with younger students), consider opening the blog option on Seesaw (enable from the settings menu). The blog isn’t any additional work. Simply tap the globe icon from items in the journal view to publish them to the class blog. Classes from around the world can connect their Seesaw blogs and respond to each other’s items.

Twitter

Social media platforms typically require a minimum age of thirteen, but there’s no reason why primary students can’t be involved in a teacher-managed class account (as long as the tweets are sent by the teacher or alongside a teacher). Twitter is a fantastic platform for students to share their work, ask questions and respond to others. Class accounts can follow other teacher or class accounts to see what’s happening in other classrooms and support/collaborate when appropriate. In my experience, teachers on Twitter are more than happy to help! Furthermore, we can model responsible and positive social media usage and guide our students towards digital leadership (read the brilliant Social LEADia for some inspiration on this). Follow our Year Four account @vsahkg_Y4.

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If you need any help with any of the above ideas, let me know. What have I missed? What other tools do you use to make global connections? Please leave your ideas and suggestions in the comments section below.


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