October 2006

The Global Teenager Project, Johannesburg

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The Global Teenager Project (GTP) is an inter-classroom exchange of information and ideas. Originally established in 1999 by the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD) it aims to promote inter-cultural awareness by providing regular classroom debates in a safe, structured environment. In addition to this, it aims to improve the quality of secondary school education (both formal and informal) by introducing schools to the exciting new applications of Information and Communication Technology (ICT).

On the international level, the GTP is characterised by two major initiatives, Learning Circles (English, French and Spa-nish) and Understanding Diversity. Both of these programmes provide learners with the opportunity to engage in project-based learning adapted to meet and fit with local curricula needs, collaborating with students from other cultures at home and abroad.

The Learning Circles (LC) are based on the simple, yet effective, thematic learning model which are project-based virtual exchange programmes that typically consist of eight to twelve classrooms connected through the Internet. Each class sponsors a question, which invites the other participants to provide responses. Each session lasts for 12 weeks with preparations in the first two weeks of the technological platform DGroups as provided by Bellanet (www.dgroups.org). During this active period each class in the learning circle responds to the questions sent by the other classes that make up the circle. The session culminates in a ‘Circle Publication’ in which the findings of each class’s research are published.

This article takes a first look into the success of collaborating online in Learning Circles for female teachers as well as students and the motivating factors and ends on the question of further exploring via an impact assessment if gender really influences motivation, participation and successful completion in the project.

Project value add
Learning Circles are highly structured and facilitated by the class teachers with the support of a Circle coordinator. Interaction between classes takes place in a safe learning environment and is moderated. Circles are based on themes such as ‘our school’, ‘the world around us’, ‘travelling’, ‘sports’ and ‘life values which are pre-determined by consultation of learners with their teachers.

The technology, particularly the Internet as a learning platform, plays an essential role in facilitating the exchanges on the Learning Circle, but it is not the focus of the activity. Students and teachers alike further learn about technology particularly the use of the Internet as a knowledge tool and the computer as a facilitative medium of allowing focussed learning.

The broad curriculum overview of countries currently part of the GTP virtual learning network have many common goals relating to the specific goals of the two GTP programmes, such as:

• contextual learning;
• tolerance and intercultural understanding,
• affirmation of national constitutional values;
• socialisation of the learner;
• working critically with information in a global society;
• solving problems collaboratively, in communities and wider networks;
• using Information and Communications Technology.

Although technology plays an essential role in Learning Circles, it is not the main focus of the project but is one of the added values of participation. The technology is a means to an end. It will help students collaborate and alongside teachers in a global virtual classroom.These activities have been implemented in the last eight years with core funding received from IICD.

This article looks into the success of collaborating online in Learning Circles for female teachers and students.

Facts: technology use
The following analysis are based on the evaluation process on the September 2005 (LC1) and March 2006 (LC 2) learning circles in French, English and Spanish (language of communication) involving teacher and learner respondents from 21 countries globally.

• 32 percent of the teachers used 5-10 computers for the LCs. 26 percent had more than 10. Only 11 percent had to manage with only one computer. (31 percent had between 1-4 computers) 
• 95 percent of the students themselves used the computer for the LC. In the majority of cases (56 percent, no significant difference between the two LCs), there were 2-3 students working on one computer. In 33 percent of the cases, the students could work by themselves.

• 84 percent of the teachers indicate that the computers are in a separate room in the school. Very few (1-3 teachers) have computers in every classroom, in 8 percent of the cases, the students had to go out of the school (internet caf



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