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Get Started with Web 2.0 and Global Learning

Universities and workplaces are increasingly looking for digital portfolios to learn about young candidates. Web 2.0 technologies make it easy to assemble multimedia material and publish online. Popular sites such as YouTube are loaded with videos of young individuals marketing themselves to big institutions. But many student projects lack substance.

"You're the new world, and I'm your Christopher Columbus," raps one Tufts University hopeful. Another YouTube video shows a young person's love of mathematical equations expressed through modern dance. Digital media projects about real-world issues will arguably have a competitive edge over much of what is currently out there.

Web 2.0 has tremendous potential to allow students to tackle world issues and document the results in digital format. It will help them succeed in getting into college, and in the world beyond.

What are some good ways to think about technology and global learning? First, some basics.

What is Web 2.0?

Web 2.0 refers to websites that allow easy Internet publication of all types of content-blogs, photos, videos, and more. Web 2.0 sites often attract a broad global base of contributors. A single website may have content from ten-or 50-countries.

Web 2.0 tools typically include tools that make it easy to share a published piece with social networks. With one click, an idea posted on one site can end up on many sites, increasing exposure worldwide.

Another characteristic of Web 2.0 is online community. As an article or video spreads throughout the Internet, some will choose to comment on it, adding ideas and asking questions. On many websites, entire conversations take place among people writing comments.

Students are very active in the Web 2.0 sphere. Harness the power of the Internet and connect students with their peers, experts, and audiences worldwide in real-world ways.

What Makes a Project Global?

There are two ways for educators to make students' projects explicitly global.

The first is to publish projects for global consumption. Students should research their target audience by looking at publications from other countries and think critically about how messages are framed. What's the best way to balance perspectives? And how can ideas be shared clearly? Publishing a project for global consumption is a good precursor to global partnerships. For more, see Best Web 2.0 Sites for Global Learning.

Tip: Make student submissions anonymous, with a school e-mail address monitored by an adult, then ask the student contributors to solicit feedback on projects. Comments are fed to a publicly viewed comment board.

The second way is to forge global partnerships so students work with peers and experts from other countries. Find partners and see our rubric on what makes a good partnership.

Design Media-Appropriate Projects

The information age demands terseness. Long gone are the days of lengthy exploratory papers; in its place are 30-second videos, 100-character captions, and other visual- and multimedia-heavy modes of communication. Being succinct is a difficult-but essential-skill for the 21st century.

Design student projects that have a limited scope and challenge students to communicate the very essence of their message in a compelling way. See project ideas.

Rid the Roadblocks

The question that often comes up when thinking about globalizing the curriculum isn't how to use the Internet. The question is why isn't it used in every class for most projects? After all, technology has been in schools for 15 years-that is more than a generation of students. Web 2.0 tools have been around for nearly a decade.

On the one hand, it's not about technology. Some educators shy away from using tools they don't know, but relax: students inherently know how to use online technologies. The value educators provide is to coach students on how to evaluate information and evidence, weigh perspectives, build knowledge, and exercise critical thinking skills. In other words, good teaching shouldn't really change when faced with technological tools.

On the other hand, it is about the technology. Many educators complain that district filtering software prevent access to Web 2.0 tools. Advocates for online global learning hear this a lot-perhaps more than school and district administrators! Be sure to aim your recommendations to the decision makers. Oftentimes websites are allowed after a simple request. If you can then demonstrate elevated student achievement using those sites, it's the most compelling reason for easing filtering policies.

Build on Successes

No need to start from scratch. Involve students in critically analyzing real-world models. What are common qualities of public service announcements, for example? Students will find that they are short, use few words, and often involve manipulating images. How might they apply these qualities to their own project?

Use an online portfolio, like digication.com, to track student progress. The project a senior produces should be more sophisticated and at a higher level than what he or she created four years prior. Students will naturally out-perform their last project, which also gives educators valuable feedback on how to build upon what students can already do, and challenge them with greater goals.

Share what your classes have accomplished. iEARN.org, ISTE.org, and NECC.org are three organizations, among many others, that convene international conferences where educators can share global, technology-infused best practices. Reach out to local and educational media, as well as to your district and state education organizations to spread the good work your students have done.

Just as students are savvy about sharing their digital portfolios on the Internet, so, too, should teachers share with the world their successes in developing a globally competent student.

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