Citizens of the Global Village
One of my favourite websites for sharing content is epals.com. Described as “the Internet’s largest global community of connected classrooms,” ePals has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a 2008 EDDIE Award for “Best Internet Communication Website” and a 2008 Technology and Learning “Award of Excellence.”
I have been using ePals in the classroom for almost 15 years, since it was in its infancy. The leading edge, innovative technological tools that it provides teachers, students, home-schoolers and parents around the world, are excellent means for students to develop communication skills and creative content.
Available in more than seven languages, classroom teachers around the world can connect their students one with another in simple email exchanges, in complex collaborative projects, in the sharing of text, sound, and video products. What makes the exchanges unique is their authentic nature. Students learn from each other through instant Internet communication. No longer separated by a classroom walls, or by the distance to another school district, province, state, continent or country, students develop rich understandings of the similarities and differences between themselves and their peers near and far. The only barrier is the time separating linked classrooms.
As a teacher always looking to push the limits of what technology can do, I have been able to use ePals in my classroom to link students in the exploration of literature. Students in different countries read and discussed the same novel. Remote Man, a novel, is about students in different countries, not coincidentally, who become involved in catching an international endangered animal smuggling ring. The characters in the novel gather on the Internet to track down the perpetrators from their homes in Australia, America, Jamaica and France.
Students in my class quickly became engaged with the novel as they read and discussed the plot, characters, settings and themes. Their engagement was increased when they shared emails, artwork, points of view and questions. They also participated in live text chats with their classmates across the oceans. The author, Elizabeth Honey, kindly agreed to join in the discussions. Her presence in the online chats contributed greatly to their success, and inspired further student learning. Students wanted to know more about her reasons for writing the book, as well as how she crafted the characters, the settings and the story.
On one occasion, the author, at home in Australia, discussed the book with the class, in the school’s computer lab, along with a home-school family in the Highlands of Scotland. One student, on holiday in Saudi Arabia, also joined in. Separated by 14 time zones, the students and adults learned from each other in the moment.
The linked video describes the way the Internet became a way for students to overcome time and space and learn from one another. Produced by my school district in support of their Teaching With Technology Project, I was able to share our unique learning activity with teachers in my District. TwTI Murray Interview.mov
To add another personal highlight of my experience with ePals, I look back to 1999. My class was chosen to host the Prime Minister of Canada to showcase ePals for Netd@ays Europe, a way to demonstrate Canada’s leadership in the use of the Internet in schools. This event involved the Prime Minister visiting the class, sending emails to our class partners in New Zealand, followed by an address to the whole school about being citizens of the Global Village. This was, without a doubt, a career highlight!
Having had classroom partners in the USA, France, the UK, New Zealand and Australia, I can attest to the fact that my students truly understand what it means to be residents of the Global Village, and are better people because of these experiences.
Honey, Elizabeth. (2004). Remote Man. New York, Yearling.