Without having to board a plane or cross a time zone, I spent yesterday learning from educators working in Turkmenistan, India, Australia, and the Mentawai Islands located off the coast of Sumatra. Today, I plan to drop in on innovative educational projects underway in Afghanistan, Brazil, and Russia.
The opportunity to learn alongside colleagues from around the world -- for free -- is the brilliant idea behind the first-ever Global Education Conference. It all takes place online, November 15-19, powered equally by technology and the goodwill of the global education community.
This virtual, volunteer-driven professional development event features more than 400 sessions offered almost around the clock over five whirlwind days. "We wanted to do something game-changing," says conference co-chair Steve Hargadon, "but we had no idea it would reach this scale."
I caught up with Hargadon during a short break in the action on day one of the conference. He is social learning consultant for Elluminate, founder of the Classroom 2.0 social network, and host of the Future of Education interview series. A year ago, he began brainstorming about the possibility of a virtual global education conference with Lucy Gray, an Apple Distinguished Educator, Google Certified Teacher, and founder of the Global Education Collaborative network.
From the start, they set out to be "as inclusive as possible," Hargadon says, and significantly increase opportunities for global connections among educators. With all sessions taking place online, there was no need to limit the number of presenters. Travel costs were no barrier, either. Nor did presenters have to be experienced in using online conferencing software. They did, however, have to be willing to learn. Conference organizers offered a few training sessions in advance, "but we placed the burden on the presenters to learn the tools," Hargadon says.
The International Educator Advisory Board has provided additional support for presenters, and also vetted proposals by regions. More volunteers are involved as session moderators.
Partner organizations have also responded with enthusiasm. The 90-plus partners range from nonprofits of all sizes to commercial organizations, but share an interest in global education. When Hargadon invited partners to provide keynote speakers, he expected a handful to respond. Instead, he says, "we got 60." That was another indicator of the exploding interest in topics such as global citizenship and collaboration.
Lucy Gray, conference co-chair, says one goal of this event is to "re-inspire teachers." There's no excuse, she adds, for teachers not to use technology to connect students across borders to develop a global perspective.
During the first day of the event, I heard plenty of inspiring ideas. Alexandra Gustad and Matt Duffy of American School of Bombay recounted how their school has embraced a vision of service-learning combined with technology. In one project, students used digital tools to advocate for flood victims in a desperately poor region. Now, they are helping to bring One Laptop per Child computers to an impoverished region of India, and are also developing training materials so that children will be able to maintain the equipment themselves.
In another session, Andrea Yoder Clark of SurfAid International described projects in which youth learn about the planet's oceans and environmental science through engaging projects. Chemistry students, for instance, developed their own line of petroleum-free surf wax. Proceeds benefit public health campaigns in the remote Mentawai Islands, a favorite destination of the world's best surfers. (Detailed plans for the surf wax project, developed by Chris Olivas from High Tech High in San Diego, California, are available for free at SurfAid.)
If you don't have time to catch any live sessions this week, don't worry. Every presentation is being recorded and archived online. There is a conference wiki for more idea-sharing. A mentor program is also available to support teachers who are new to global education but eager to get started. You can also watch for updates on Twitter, where participants are tweeting about sessions round the clock (Twitter hashtag: #globaled10).
But there's a benefit to joining these events in real time. Each session I've attended has included lively conversations in the chat, where educators from around the world are making new connections and laying the groundwork for future collaboration.
How have you been inspired by the first-ever Global Education Conference? Please share your experiences.