Student Recommendations for Global Networking in Schools

by SETH J. ITZKAN, Director Global Classroom Youth Congress Webster, Texas The need to involve student participation in the design and analysis of online instructional environments has perhaps never been more urgent. As educational computer networks proliferate around the world, classroom-age students are increasingly at the forefront of an evolving, and largely untested, instructional environment in which languages, cultures and learning methodologies intersect. To help bring the wisdom of student experience into the current dialogue on the design and implementation of this new medium, a face-to-face meeting of student leaders from exemplary networking projects was recently convened. This meeting, The First Global Classroom Youth Congress, was held in tandem with the World Future Society's Seventh General Assembly in Washington D.C., and received endorsement from Vice President Albert Gore. As a prime outcome of this gathering, students developed a list of recommendations for the future of global networking in schools; that list is summarized in this article. In a secondary outcome, the students also set a precedent for presentations by youth of global networking at a professional conference, demonstrating that they can be full intellectual participants at such events. About the Youth Congress The Global Classroom Youth Congress represented (to the best knowledge of those involved) the first time that students from different educational networks have been invited to be panelists and full participants at a professional conference. The term "congress" was deliberately chosen to denote the fact that students from across the U.S. and abroad representing different networks and educational projects convened to help formulate recommendations for the instructional environments that they share in common. Objectives: The objectives of the Global Classroom Youth Congress were three fold: 1.To allow youth the opportunity to make a contribution to the educational community by providing a list of recommendations for global networking from the classroom; 2.To allow students the opportunity to present their work in global networking at a professional conference of policy makers from business, government and academia; and 3.To set a precedent for youth's participation at a professional conference and to show that they can serve as valuable resources at such events. The Setting: The setting for the First Global Classroom Youth Congress was within the World Future Society's Seventh General Assembly, which convened at the Sheraton-Washington Hotel, Washington, D.C., June 27 to July 1, 1993. The World Future Society is an organization of 30,000 strategic planners and policy analysts from all professional domains. The assembly draws 2,000 to 3,000 participants, roughly 900 of which are educators or professionals from academia. Students of the Global Classroom Youth Congress made two panel presentations of 90 minutes each including Q&A periods (see side bar for description of students and their projects). Each presentation was well received. Educational planners at all levels, including the president of a Brazilian university and analysts for the U.S. Department of Education, attended and engaged in dialogue with the students. After two days of presentations and discussion, the students met to compose the list of recommendations outlined here. "Tool Against Ignorance" The general feeling among the students was that global networking from the classroom represents an essential component for learning and leadership in our modern era. Although there was not time to distill a single encompassing statement on the importance of telecommunications, student comments focused on the need to keep up with the "flow of information," to stay abreast in a "global village," and to continue to learn and be "empowered." Some typical comments were as follows: "There's no way I could have opened a textbook and gotten the same information I obtained from online dialogue with peers in Israel, Russia and China." - David Hollman, Cold Spring Harbor High School "It is our tool against ignorance in a rapidly changing world; it empowers people to reach out and make a difference." - David Barzilai, Lexington Public High School Specific Guidelines The students addressed their recommendations toward three topical areas in regards to global networking from schools: Language and Cultural Issues; Curricular and Academic Issues; and Technical and Implementation Issues. In each case the students identified a set of problems and recommended solutions. A complete accounting of all the student-identified problems and recommendations is presented in Table 1. A brief summation follows: Language and Cultural Issues Students appeared to view language and cultural issues as paramount to the success or failure of global-networking activities. Problem areas include a lack of cultural and political understanding about many of the countries and poor translation in foreign-language correspondence. Recommendations include integrating telecommunications into cultural-awareness programs and involving foreign language departments to help with online international correspondence. Curricular & Academic Issues A second area of concern was the curricular and academic problems associated with implementing global-networking activities.

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Problem areas identified by the students include curricular departmentalization, and the questionable credibility of some online resources. Recommendations include improved teamwork between school departments, thus facilitating multi-curricular networking activities, and maintaining credible online resources pertinent to subject areas. Technical & Implementation Issues Finally, the students identified several technical/implementation issues that currently inhibit some global-networking activities. Such issues include a lack of hardware, phone lines and connectivity, as well as system abuse such as "hacking" and inappropriate language. Recommendations include investigation of packet radio-based telecommunications to avoid phone costs and developing oath sheets requiring a signature for rights to online access from schools. Conclusions The First Global Classroom Youth Congress was a great success and satisfied each of its objectives. Addressing these objectives, we see the following: Students have now made an important intellectual contribution to the educational community by presenting a point-by-point list of recommendations for global networking in schools. This list represents suggestions from their first-hand experience of what d'es and d'es not work. It puts forth recommended solutions for some of the most severe problems in instructional global networking, such as cultural ignorance, language barriers and technical limitations. Students met with senior analysts from a wide range of fields and made professional and commendable presentations about important new developments in instructional technology and methodology. Students set a precedent for this kind of fully equal intellectual participation at a professional conference. The students demonstrated that today's youth are ready and able to be actively involved in the creation of tomorrow's learning society. Every adult participant polled said that the students made an important contribution to the conference and highly recommended that such student sessions be replicated at subsequent professional educational conferences, such as NECC and EDUCOM. Seth Itzkan is an independent consultant and writer in the area of global telecommunications. He has a bachelor's degree in Engineering from Tufts University and a master's degree in science in Studies of the Future from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. Itzkan has consulted for the Massachusetts Corp. for Educational Telecommunications (MCET) and the Technical Education Research Centers (TERC). His article, "How Big is the Global Classroom?", Matrix News, (October 1992), Matrix Information and Directory Services, Inc., Austin, TX, was the first to make a forecast on the extent of K-12 networking by the year 2000. E-mail: rsch281c@cl.uh.edu

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/1994 issue of THE Journal.

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