Over the past few weeks, several people have contacted me to ask how to go about starting an international, collaborative project. I was even asked to be a guest presenter (via Skype) at the Connecting and Collaborating Conference in Michigan (which I did – from home in KL, while lounging in my PJs).
To be honest, I hadn’t even realized that I have been doing quite a bit of international collaboration with my students until I started getting these requests. The projects have seemed to evolve so naturally that the fact that our students are working with students all over the globe didn’t even surprise me any more. But all of this has really only come about in the last few months. So, I thought it might be helpful to write a list of tips on how to start creating a global classroom for yourself.
Tip 1: Set up that aggregator
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already done this step, but I still think it’s the most important one. This is how I got started. Back in August I realized that I needed to start investigating the whole “blogging thing.” I had read Will Richardson’s book over the summer and I knew that he was describing things that I should be doing in my classroom, but I wasn’t quite sure how to get started. When I arrived back in KL in August, I set up my Google Reader account and started reading what other teachers were doing in their classroom. Over time this has become my professional development. I learn about new tools (like YackPack) through reading blogs, I find out about exciting projects, and I get to read about what other teachers do in their classroom. If something seems interesting or appropriate for my students, I will leave a comment or send the author an e-mail. It’s that simple!
Tip 2: Author a blog
Also back in August, I started this blog. I had absolutely no idea where it would go, but I knew I would be asking my students to maintain a blog and I always like to test out the tools I use with my students. I may not have the largest audience going, but I have met so many amazing people through the comments on this blog that I simply can’t imagine life without it. Many of my international projects have started because someone left a comment on this blog, or they read my blog and knew I would be interested so they sent an e-mail. By opening myself up to a wider community, I am allowing others to help me be a better teacher.
Tip 3: Join a social network or online group
There are lots of ways to meet people online, and by joining a group of like-minded people you may find just the right person to start a new project with. Back in December, I joined Women of Web 2, and started helping Chris Craft with the NextGen Teachers group. Just recently I decided to join Ning (thanks to Steve Hargadon for the invite) and already I have connected with quite a few educators that I know I will work with in the future. All I had to do was sign up, join an interesting group, and introduce myself. Even something as simple as networking on del.icio.us can help you find like-minded teachers.
Tip 4: Contact an expert or use a company
I met one of my current collaborative partners through Jennifer Wagner’s Online Projects 4 Teachers. Both of us signed up for a similar type of project and Jen connected us. There are also organizations like ePals that connect classrooms. These may have the added benefit of being well-organized and provide some infrastructure for a first international collaboration. Meeting one person connects you to all the people they know, and all of a sudden you have a whole network of people to collaborate with!
Tip 5: Start putting your students work online
Just by utilizing web 2.0 tools, you will start to meet others using the same tools. I’ve had almost all of our middle school students working on wikis at some point this year and just by having their work online linked to my own account, other teachers have contacted me to work on collaborative projects. You can also look through interesting projects and contact those teachers directly as well.
Overall, my best piece of advice is just try it! Be adventurous and explore! You can’t do any harm by testing out these tools and seeing what you find. Once you start you won’t be able to stop!
These are just a few of the ideas I’ve come up with. Do you have anything to add?