Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Borderless Classroom

“U.S. high school graduates will: Sell to the world; buy from the world; work for international companies; manage employees from other cultures and countries; collaborate with people all over the world in joint ventures; compete with people on the other side of the world for jobs and markets; and tackle global problems, such as AIDS, avian flu, pollution, and disaster recovery… We need to open global gateways and inspire students to explore beyond their national borders.” - Vivien Stewart.

The synchronous online classroom both enables change and stimulates it. Where once the classroom had physical and geographical dimensions, it now has no walls and no border agents. This raises several issues for academia: does (or should) the whole world now have access to my classroom? How can my institution control access to or from "outsiders" and how is that access paid for? When boundaries blur, as they do in online education, new values and new thinking necessarily emerge.

Laurie Huffman (above) collaborates with tutors from Guatemala to enable real-world and real-time conversations between students and Spanish instructors. Her use of Web-conferencing software caught the attention of a textbook publisher, who wondered if it might be possible to offer this kind of virtual collaboration as part of a Spanish language textbook package they are producing.

Jeanne Guerin (above) provides online tutoring for students at Sierra College's Online Writing Center. In the session above, a student contacts her for help with a paper she has to write, and Jeanne does a great job of defining the problem, exploring options, and counseling the student. What is extraordinary about this session is that the student is interacting with Jeanne from Brazil!

Jeanne's student was able to get help on her paper from Sierra College even though she was thousands of miles away at the time. Laurie's idea (above) is to find ways to help students who can't physically travel to other countries. She teaches online for California Community Colleges, Florida State University, and the University of Maryland (another great example of teaching without borders), and is piloting a language immersion program that gives students weekly contact with tutors in another country.

Laurie herself summers in Costa Rica in a sixty-acre rainforest jungle. She teaches while she's there, making it possible for her students in the United States to learn from her and her adventures abroad.

Many college students are required by work or military commitments to travel, even while they are taking classes. With the Confer classroom, as Grace Esteban (above) describes, this presents less of a problem than might be expected. MPICT (the Mid-Pacific Information and Communication Technology project) is able to provide learning opportunities to students from as far away as Australia and Japan.

The Confer classroom can meet whenever teachers and students are available, not only at the convenience of the host institution (or country). It empowers teachers to teach from anywhere and students to learn from anywhere, making it "the real thing" for today's learners, not a substitute. With the right instructors, it's possible to maintain effective contact and engage all learners, even without physical touch or artificial boundaries.

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