Educators use technology to connect learning communities around the world

The abstract idea of a "global village" became tragic reality for Americans on Sept. 11. And as we ask "why?" an innovative new course at Fairfield University offers hope that, through education and technology, people from every part of the world can share information and ideas on any subject.

"Establishing Worldwide Learning Communities Through Technology" is being offered through the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions beginning this spring. The three-credit course, scheduled to meet Thursday nights from 7 to 9 p.m., comes under the Department of Educational Technology but does not require advanced computer knowledge. There are no prerequisites.

Through roundtable discussions, educational lab activities, case studies and with guest speakers, participants will learn how to use computer technology to link people from different cultures to address educational, social and political issues. Educators, media specialists, corporate trainers, community activists and policy makers are among those who could benefit from the program.

"This course will offer participants a chance to learn from what others have done and are doing, rather than start from the ground up," says Adjunct Professor Maureen Hinkley, who developed the course and will be teaching it. "It's a sandbox in which to experiment with new techniques for learning."

Participants will learn how students can form partnerships to learn about specific topics such as math, science or language and each other's customs, and cultures; how educators can collaborate on teaching strategies and curriculum development; or how administrators and policy makers can exchange educational views.

Upon completion of this course, students will understand:

  • The need and potential for creating worldwide learning communities with technology.
  • The issues related to selecting and designing "borderless" learning tools and formats.
  • The socio-political and funding agenda related to technologically connecting educational environments.
  • The tools and techniques used in the implementation and evaluation of worldwide learning communities using technology.
  • Applications for the use of technology in the construction of worldwide communities of learning.

Students will also have a direct experience with on-line technology and participate in threaded discussions used to connect people and their ideas from different parts of the world.

Hinkley, who completed her doctorate in international educational development and transcultural studies at Columbia University last May, envisions the course as a way to "explode the possibilities for learners using technology to become active participants in influencing societal outcomes through education as it relates to a host of human and environmental rights."

She has researched numerous examples of how - once unleashed - learning through technology often takes on a life of its own, taking those involved on an odyssey they never imagined.

In one instance, students in two different towns - one in Canada and the other in the United States - participated in a one-year science collaboration. The catch was that neither group knew where the other was from. The goal was for the students to use various clues, such as soil samples, to determine the location of the other school. Students communicated through e-mail throughout the year. As it turned out, the students had no idea that the two schools were only two hours apart. And one group was shocked to learn that the other was from a school for the deaf.

"The more you collaborate around the world, what you find is there are more commonalities than differences," says Hinkley.

In another instance, a youngster from a refugee camp in Croatia put computers donated to the camp to good use. He sent out an e-mail message thanking the donors and detailing atrocities he had witnessed. A high school student in Staten Island translated the note into English and sent it all over the world, inspiring others to send aid.

Hinkley points out that such stories underscore how technological connections ignite a hunger for learning and give people of all ages a sense of purpose as they participate in finding solutions to problems they may never have known existed.

"Since Sept. 11, we all have a greater appreciation of the importance of human connections," she says. "Used appropriately, technology can be a great tool in eliminating boundaries and furthering our understanding of one another."

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Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647,

Posted on January 30, 2002

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