Twenty-five schools in fourteen countries around the world have been given a cultural infusion with the use of videoconferencing in the classroom. The schools are all a part of the Global Run Project, which aims to demonstrate how schools can integrate education and global awareness into existing curriculum.
Now in its second year of pilot stages, the Global Run Project is a brainchild of Jody Kennedy, a teacher at the White Plains City Schools (WPCS) in New York, U.S. By facilitating communication between students of different cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds, Kennedy hopes to be opening doors to shared learning resources, and in the process, combating the post-911 rise of xenophobia in the U.S.
The project currently links schools in Western Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia-Pacific. Australia is currently represented by Merrimac State High School in Queensland, which has only recently aligned itself with the project.
"We were all working in our own little worlds, and now we're all working together and holding hands," Kennedy said. "We're sharing so much with each other - the software, technologies - the kids are just so excited."
Subjects taught via the project have been based on millennium goals set out by the United Nations, which aim to address human rights issues around the world. As such, students are exposed to sharing thoughts and music, cultural exchanges as well as the discussion of health issues like HIV/AIDS, and of human rights.
Students are also educated on subjects that Kennedy said are valued in all the partner countries, such as physical health, mathematics, science and social studies. Through videoconferences with guest lecturers, students are also able to speak with college counsellors, subject matter experts and mentors who may otherwise be inaccessible due to geographical distances.
The use of videoconferencing in a global classroom has also allowed schools to move from the traditional one-to-many teaching model where there is only one instructor for a group of students, to a many-to-many model where students contribute teaching and learning material for their peers.
When partner institution Howe School in Illinois mastered green screen techniques for use in videoconferencing, for example, its students were quick to share their new knowledge with students at WPCS. Similarly, Kennedy is preparing Sixth Graders from WPCS to next year begin providing learning material from excursions to the nearby United Nations office in New York to their peers around the world.
"Students are becoming each others' greatest resource," she said.
While Kennedy admits that international videoconferencing does present issues pertaining to time zone differences, structuring classes, and technical compatibility problems, partner schools have been able to overcome many issues through discussion and compromise.
When connecting to most schools or lecturers, for example, WPCS typically connects through IP, which Kennedy said is more cost-effective than connecting through ISDN. When connecting to the partner school in Pakistan, however, IP is unreliable, so an ISDN link is used.
Establishing videoconferencing facilities can require a significant monetary investment from a school, but Kennedy said that most setups "can be replicated with not a lot of money" Facilities at WPCS are currently funded by the community, state of New York, grants, awards and corporate sponsors.
"We're [currently] trying to figure out how to make this replicable," Kennedy said. "We share everything we have; why wouldn't we!"