A Decade of Global Learning

I was browsing through some old files this week and I stumbled across this wonderful piece of video that brought back some great memories for me.  It’s just over 10 years old and is an interview with a group of students I taught back then, just after they had been awarded third place in the 1998 AT&T Virtual Classroom Contest.

The Virtual Classroom Contest, for anyone that remembers it, was an amazing web-based global collaboration project that linked kids from across the world together. Over 300 schools took part each year, forming 100 teams made up of three different schools that had to be located on three different continents.  The project ran for over eight months, starting with the use of forums and email to debate and discuss ideas for a theme, and then a massive collaborative push to turn their ideas into reality.  We were fortunate to be teamed up with two other amazingly dedicated schools – Percy Julian Middle School in Oak Park, Illinois, and Fuwa Junior High School in Japan, and we produced a collaborative digital novel about time travel through our three countries called “Once Upon a Time Machine”.

I can honestly say that working with these kids, and the experience of working globally, across timezones, overcoming language and cultural barriers, to produce a true piece of creative, collaborative work is without doubt the thing that kept me in teaching. Working with these kids doing these sorts of projects opened my eyes to what real learning could be about, and what the truly important values of education were.  These students, as well as their teammates who weren’t in the video, worked so hard that year and were so dedicated and committed it was astounding.  You only have to watch them and listen to them speak to realise that what they learned was nothing that could be found in a school textbook. This project was not about “playing school” to keep a teacher happy.  This was about rising to a challenge, chasing your passions, and learning because you wanted to, because you actually found it interesting.  All of this work was done outside of regular school work; it’s amazing what students are capable of, in spite of school rather than because of it.

I hope you take the time to watch the video and to listen to their answers, because I think they embody everything I want education to be.  When I asked them what they learned, I got answers like “teamwork”, “leadership”, “tolerance”, “committment”.  This was all unscripted and unprompted.  These kids really were as genuine as they appear in this video.  As I watch it now, I’m still quite amazed at the maturity of these students who at the time were only about 14 or 15 years old.

I’m also pretty proud for what we were doing way back then, over ten years ago. Web videoconferencing.  Online discussion forums. Website building with Flash and Javascript. Kids thinking in terms of timezones and learning to pass files around the world for others to work on.  This was all pre-Web 2.0, and we did things the old fashioned way with HTML editors and FTP access.   I don’t think I realised it at the time, but I guess it was pretty sophisticated stuff for 1998/99.  It was just what you did if you wanted to make this stuff happen.

Many of these same kids entered the Virtual Classroom Contest the next year and managed to help their team take out the overall first prize, earning a trip to Hong Kong to meet their virtual team mates.  It was, as you can imagine, a wonderful experience for a group of teenagers to know that they were the “world’s best” at something.

The Virtual Classroom Contest was discontinued in 2000 due to cost cutting at AT&T, but was resurrected in 2005 by the Give Something Back Foundation.  I find it equally impressive and humbling that my friend and partner in crime from Oak Park, Janet Barnstable, has continued with the revised Global Virtual Classroom Contest every year since then and has mentored her kids to either first or second place each time.  If you ever wanted evidence that the quality of the teacher can have an effect on the quality of the learning, there it is.

To all the kids I had the joy and privilege of working with back then, thank you for teaching me much more than you’ll ever realise.

CC BY-SA 4.0 A Decade of Global Learning by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

43 Replies to “A Decade of Global Learning”

  1. Hi,
    This was very inspiring. It tells me that if you work hard for something you might just earn the prize.
    I am now in Global Virtual Classroom and working hard so maybe or team can win like yours.

    Thanks,
    Caroline H., Grade 7, Percy Julian Middle School

  2. I think that this year, we will use many of the same skills that the students from VC03 used. Not skills so much as knowing all about Flash or Adobe Photoshop, but using skills learned in other classes; such as good communication, the ability to cope, and the ability to get work done on time and have it be thorough and complete.
    Devin G, Grade 8, Percy Julian Middle School.

  3. I learned that working hard in this class is a must.Plus i cant just play around i have to get more work done.
    Imani D,grade7,Percy Julian middle school

  4. By listening to the former students of GVC I learned a little bit more about how cool Virtual Classroom really is, and interesting. I remember why i chose this class again. Its not just about making a flash guy or posty’s, but you get leadership, teamwork, and achievement out of this class as well. Which all of those are valuable lessons to learn and know for our young days and further along in our life and probably are career.

    Teresa H, Grade 8, Percy Julian Middle School

  5. I think that these people really tried hard to get this done. I think that we should pay attention to every last detail on our flashes or photos and really touch up on our work.

    Alex B., Grade 8, Percy Julian Middle School

  6. This is a great way to show teamwork and to take your time to do things right. It’s strange to see what the changes from today and the past. This inspires me to work extremely hard on projects I have.

    Eric F
    Grade 7
    Percy Julian Middle School

  7. That video was nice. It shows that you can have fun just by doing normal things like a normal class.

    Quintin K.
    Grade 7
    Percy Julian Middle School

  8. This video was inspiring, it shows that if you work hard at something you can make it happen.

    Brad M, Grade 7 Percy Julian Middle School

  9. This video inspired me because they did some pretty advanced stuff for their time. It’s even cooler that we are doing the same thing as them.

  10. I may not have been a part of this group, but I was a part of the next year’s winning team and I have so many wonderful memories and such pride for the hard work we did. It’s amazing to look back at that simple website and think about how far we’ve come technologically since then. It’s also amazing to think about how far I’ve come as a person since I was a part of that conference, largely because of the feeling of being a global citizen (and because I still won’t eat duck, thanks Mr. B).

  11. This video was inspiring because these people learned a lot in the virtual classroom and teamwork can do just about anything.

  12. Watching this I learned that you have to cooperate with your peers, and together you can achieve things that one person could never do on their own.

  13. Hi,
    Unity amongst your peers is a vital thing to achieve any goal in shorter time, if you do not corporate with each other then you are not going to achieve what you want to achieve.

  14. I thought this video was inspiring because the people tried very hard to get the project done. They tried very hard, too, and gave up free time to work on this.

    Wyatt A, Grade 7, Percy Julian Middle School

  15. I think this video was inspiring in the matter of what they learned in virtual classroom from the fact “Teamwork can help with anything.”

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