Global Education

Imagine, Connect and Collaborate

09/01/2014  |  Jan Zanetis

Imagine you and your students discussing plant and animal life of the Great Barrier Reef with a class in Queensland, Australia. Imagine your rural students chatting with New York City students about agriculture and industry in each location. And imagine your French II students practicing their skills with a group of students in Paris who need to practice their English. 

These are but a few examples of collaborative projects taking place in real-time over interactive videoconferencing (IVC). The same concept can apply to any topic and with classes around the world.

With the pressures of teaching to state and national objectives, why would you want to take the time to set up and spend class time on a collaborative project? There are several reasons:

  • There is increasing focus on students’ acquisition of 21st Century skills such as team problem solving, ability to work with different cultures and use of technology.
  • Connecting students to students, “eyeball to eyeball” is a highly engaging methodology. Our youth are highly curious about peers in far away places.
  • IVC is a highly visual mode of learning. Digital learners prefer visual to any other form of input.
  • Collaborative projects are often the foundation of an ongoing relationship between participating teachers. One project leads to others while you build colleagues into your own personal learning community.

What is a Collaborative Project?

A collaborative project can be defined as a group of students interacting with another group of students in another location, usually to discuss a content topic they are both studying. These types of projects have been growing over the last 20 years. An early example that you may be familiar with is ePals. In ePals, teachers are given student email accounts which they use to communicate with partner schools around the world. These projects are very structured around various topics and are a great way for a teacher new to collaborations to get started. Given the nature of email, the ePal projects are typically asynchronous meaning the student communications are not in “real time.” The project repositories discussed below are examples of “synchronous” projects in which the students communicate in real time using IVC and other forms of collaborative software. During these connections students are usually engaged in discussions, presentations, debates, demonstrations, skills practice or other active communication with each other.

Online Collaborative Repositories

There are several collaborative project repositories that have evolved over the last several years. Some have a global focus while others make it possible to do a quick project partnering with a teacher locally. The examples below are not inclusive but are standout organizations with international recognition.

iEarn (International Education and Resource Network)

A non-profit organization, iEARN is made up of over 30,000 schools and youth organizations in more than 140 countries and empowers teachers and young people to work together online using the Internet and other, new communications technologies. Over 2,000,000 students each day are engaged in collaborative project work worldwide.

Connect All Schools is a subsidiary project of iEARN. Their mission is to facilitate the connection of every school in the United States to a site — usually another school — outside the United States by the year 2016. Their site is a repository for the stories of all the great global connections that have occurred thus far.

GNG (Global Nomads Group)

Global Nomads Group (GNG) is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) whose mission is to foster dialogue and understanding among the world’s youth. GNG engages and empowers young people worldwide using media, including: interactive videoconferencing, webcasting, social networking, gaming and participatory filmmaking. GNG operates at the intersection of international and peace education, striving to serve as a vehicle for awareness, bridging the boundaries of cultural misconceptions and instilling in our audience a heightened appreciation and comprehension of the world in which they live. GNG features semester and year-long projects in which students come together to discuss and debate international issues.

CAP Space (Collaborations Around the Planet)

Polycom’s Collaboration Around the Planet ( CAPspace) is an online professional K-20 network and global directory that enables educators with access to video conferencing technology to enhance their curriculum, connect with colleagues and peers and expand the reach of their classroom with live, interactive learning experiences. PolycomCAPspace is a free directory that is open to all educators who use video conferencing technology. It provides access to over 10,000 professionals and an unlimited number of lessons throughout the year that educators can integrate into their curriculum. From the CAPspace site, educators can search, identify, and request participation in special projects, classes, and workshops or provide a listing of the lessons they would like to share worldwide.

CILC (The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration)

The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), established in 1994 as a not-for-profit, specializes in the utilization of video conferencing for live interactive content and professional development, as well as Web based collaborative learning environments for K-20 education. While most recognized as a portal to virtual fieldtrips offered by 200 plus content providers, CILC also hosts a Collaboration Center. Like CAP space, CILC’s 36,000 members can browse collaborative project listings and post their own project ideas to find partners.

Practical Matters

Time and Logistics: For an educator new to collaborative projects, its recommended that you start small by joining a one-time project. Joining CAP Space or CILC, then browsing upcoming projects is one way to find these. When you find one that matches your content objectives, simply contact the organizer. Once you are comfortable with the way these work, post your own project ideas, then aim to join one of the bigger, longer projects such as the ones on iEarn or Global Nomads. The biggest obstacle when working with a global partner is navigating different time zones. Try to find partners that are in school when you are, or someone will be doing a sleepover! Planning for the collaborative event is crucial. It would be a good idea to (virtually) meet with your partner teacher(s) well ahead of the event to discuss who will do what, pre-teaching strategies, sharing of materials, etc. It is also important to test the IVC connection ahead of time. The effort you spend to prepare will be well worth it when you see how engaged your students are and how much they learn!

The Technology: Not too long ago, it would have taken several thousand dollars and some serious IT support to set up a video conference system in a classroom. Today there are several cloud-based applications that you can run on your computer or tablet that do the same thing. Some are free such as Skype and Google Hangouts. Others that are more stable, secure and include great features such as recording capability, are available for nominal fees. These include companies such as Vidyo and The only add-on a teacher might want to have in the classroom is a USB speaker so that students can hear the remote site better. If you are already sharing streaming video with your students, you are probably in good shape for IVC.

Now is the time to get started with Collaborative Projects. The resources are there: the easy technology, the connectivity and the online project hubs. What better way to nurture students into becoming cross-cultural communicators? You can meet your learning objectives while engaging students in a real time, authentic and memorable experience.




Jan Zanetis has 25 years experience as an educator, trainer, distance learning director, consultant, communicator, and strategist. She has co-authored two books on the use of Interactive Videoconferencing in K12 classrooms. She holds an Education and a B.S. in Elementary and Special Education. Jan currently serves as Executive Director at Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC), and is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE).
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