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. That was certainly a refreshing video and a reminder of how truly amazing those kids were! Will ask this year’s VC kids to read your post, listen to the video and comment on what message these kids from the past have for them today as they participate in the GVC contest.

    1. The things they learned in Virtual Classroom wasn’t just how to make a posty; they learned the values of teamwork (which in any other class would have probley been cheesy and overdone). So this kind of inspires me to do better work and make a lot of progress in this class because if they could do it in 1998 and 1999 when virtual classroom was still new why can’t we do it now when the system we’re using is more advanced.

      Alessandra B
      Grade 8
      Percy Julian Middle School

    2. in virtual classroom they did not only learn about computers and how to make posties. They also learned about teamwork and how important it is to use it. This inspires me to try harder on my work and not give up so easily.

      Anthony Rorrres
      Grade 7
      Percy Julian Middle School

  2. Blast from the past….wow….it does not feel like 10 years ago though. I am glad I grew into that head.

    As a student involved in VC, looking back now I think it shaped my future and had a massive influence on my life after school. I still design websites, I am still interested in emerging technologies and I work in I.T. VC was my first brush with all of this new technology that today is a permanent fixture in any home, office and school.

    In life after school, “teamwork”, “leadership”, “tolerance”, “committment” and collaboration are still relevant in any workforce and I apply all of them to my role in dealing with my team members, clients and customers. These are the life lessons that traditional classroom learning does not teach you.

    Thanks for the opportunity to participate in, at the time, ground breaking education and introducing me to the world of technology.

    1. movie was inspiring to me because these children learned how to involve teamwork, responsibility, and problem solving skills to get to their final goal.

  3. This blog and video showed me that if our group works hard and keeps up with the other groups we should do well in the contest. Also, for our team or group to well we need to share ideas with the group.

  4. It can inspire me because I don’t really know about computers and I really want to learn about them. These kids didn’t know much about computers when they started either but now they know a lot.

  5. This inspired me because they did cool stuff with technology from 10 years ago, and now we have better technology.

  6. I’m sure teamwork, and commitment are two traits that must be very important when working on this project, and I will keep that in mind as I am working. I have already experienced both commitment and teamwork although our group is only a few months into our year. This has inspired me to work with my team better than I have before.
    Zach W, Grade 8, Percy Julian Middle School

  7. It can inspire me because i don’t really know about computers and I want to learn about them. These kids didn’t know much about computers when they started either, but now they know a lot.

  8. “How what they learned can inspire your work in GVC.” I think that what they learned can inspire your work in GVC because it is cool to see people all over the world doing the same thing we are doing, So it makes you feel cool to work with people from other countries

  9. I think learning about the GVC program and what they learned, can inspire us to be something else in the world,and doing something that benefits others.
    Giselle C, Grade 7, Percy Julian Middle School.

  10. This inspired me to think more positive, work harder, and interact more in the GVC contest, because I want teamwork, leadership, commitment, etc. to be part of my life after school. Also, I want to be able to leave Julian proud and positive about having a bright future ahead of me.

    Andrea Y, Grade 7, Percy Julian Middle School.

  11. I think that learning about what people in GVC 10 years ago learned will inspire me to work hard. Everyone said that they learned about “teamwork” through GVC, so that means everyone will need to be working hard and contributing to the project.

    Michara C., Grade 7, Percy Julian Middle School

  12. Reading this makes me excited to be in this years virtual classroom contest. We are awaiting our partners and I am hopeful that I will learn about teamwork, leadership, tolerance, commitment, and collaboration.

  13. I thought it was kinda nice to kids who were here before us. we got to learn what they had learned, what they thought, how they felt.

  14. See this video and blog response is a bit of a humbling experience for me. I thought last year that what we were doing was extremely advanced. Sure it requires a fair amount of computer knowledge, but these kids were doing this 10 years ago with inferior technology. That’s just amazing. I hope 10 years from now people will be looking back on us and saying how proud of us they are for succeeding with inferior technology. I guess now I’ll have to work even harder to push our current programs to the limit.

  15. I think we have our worked set out for us from hearing the people in this video. It seems like you learn a lot and have a lot of fun but it takes a lot of hard work to get to the end. From what it seems like, you have to work on it a little each day and not wait until the last few weeks before the contest ends. The students also talked about how you can’t let your frustration get to you, and you just have to stick with it.

  16. I like how they did not rush into any thing an they took time to think about the outcome of different ideas before they decided on any thing.

    Ryan M, Grade 7, Percy Julian middle school

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. 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.

  26. 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).

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. 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

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

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?