The world is getting smaller, as countries strive to work together, and classrooms are opening up to connect with people outside their walls. The adage, "Think Globally, Act Locally," is now an important part of many school activities. Global connections is about thinking globally, communicating with others outside your local community, broadening your horizons, and building relationships with people all over the world. Teachers have traditionally given lessons on cultural and global issues, and now the Internet provides a new forum for communicating with people across the earth.
The global village, a term originally coined by Marshall McLuhan (1964), represents the merging of cultures and peoples around the world. In the 21st century, we will live in a global village, where transportation and technology allow us to communicate and collaborate with people anywhere on the planet. As people continue to join the global village, the Internet will serve as an essential tool for connecting people by providing opportunities to create and sustain partnerships between individuals from diverse cultures. This process is a melding together of different cultural and societal perspectives into a village that is truly global and has no boundaries.
The underlying technology of the Internet, and the standard set of protocols it provides, allow people with any type of computer, any place in the world, to share their stories and experiences. This sharing of stories across time and cultures represents an essential element of the global village. It is by connecting with others who are different from, and in some ways the same as we are, that we come to appreciate and understand ourselves in new ways.
The Internet itself represents an important social meeting place, and as such it is a context for sharing stories and experiences within the global village. The Internet is a vast and dynamic medium for people to share interests and ideas, as well as a tool for articulating points of view and collaborating on projects. It may be the Internet's ability to connect people from different cultures and societies together that represents its' greatest power or potential for change.
"It is the interactive patterns among people, not the medium of their interactions, that creates educational and social change." M. Riel (1994).
More than anything else, the Internet supports "conversations across time, space, and culture" (Garner & Gillingham, 1996). In the past, people had to be in the same physical space at the same time; the Internet allows people to share conversations without the need to be in the same place at the same time. One outgrowth of this is the creation of "virtual" communities of individuals who share common goals, interests, or expertise.
Cummins and Sayers (1995) write about the emergence of electronic communities of learning and the growth of intercultural learning networks over the Internet. In their book they describe the experiences of teachers from a variety of settings and their participation in long-distance intercultural teaching partnerships.
"In the chapters that follow, we present portraits of teachers who are using technological advances to create learning environments that will equip their students with the intellectual and cultural resources crucial for success in the multicultural national and global societies they will help form. " (Cummins & Sayers, 1995, p. 12)
In the classroom, culture differences can be examined in one-to-one interactions among students around the world over the Internet. Schwab (1945) calls for the design of classroom situations in which "differences do, in fact, add interest to classroom activities, contribute to successful learning by each child, and are preserved." Embracing multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial relationships strengthens the classroom and makes the idea of a global village real to students.
In the multicultural classroom, the focus is on a specific type of discourse, through which persons come to understand each other, understanding not only what each means but why they mean it -- the kind of understanding that makes possible joint decision and action.
"...we are proposing, as a fundamental catalyst for widespread educational renewal, the adoption on the broadest possible scale of long-distance teaching partnerships across cultures, intercultural networks of partnerships that - to the greatest extent feasible - seek to take advantage of accessible and culturally appropriate educational and communications technology. We argue that such partnerships can promote academic development across a broad spectrum of content and skill areas, including literacy skills development, critical thinking, and creative problem solving in such vital domains as science and social studies, citizenship and global education, and second-language learning. They also stimulate students' research skills and promote sensitivity to other cultural perspectives." (Cummins & Sayers, 1995, p. 11).
The growing population of people around the world who are using the Internet represents an unprecedented opportunity to bridge social, cultural, and national boundaries. The virtual communities that are being created on the Internet can bring people from diverse backgrounds and with different beliefs together in a shared social space. Classrooms can be part of these virtual communities and students can be connected over the Internet with people who are different from them so that they can encounter difference within the context of social relationships and not absent of human contact.
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- Andrew Topper