Should we use Web 2. 0 tools to support social project based learning across communities?

Jul 15, 2009

Project Based Learning can challenge students to think creatively/critically. When we combine Web 2.0 tools, the possibility of opening the learning process up to communities around the world becomes enticing.

Having experience using classroom wikis, blogs, and podcasting in my teaching, I was keenly interested in exposing my students to communities beyond the school. Growing up as a first generation Palestinian American in rural Illinois, I always brought a global perspective to my own studies. From this perspective I was able to discern at an early age that much of America's popular beliefs about my heritage were decidedly hostile. Aware that my own family's views and the views of our country's politicians and media were often in conflict, I came to understand that their can be many interpretations of a single event or set of events. Once I was cognizant of these possible interpretations, I was able to critically reflect on all things that were written or spoken, and consider their validity in context. These were the critical skills which allowed me to succeed in traditional educational setting, and I credit my home environment for providing me with those skills. The question then becomes, how can I provide such an environment for my students? The global community of the Internet provides an obvious place to start, but given the struggles students have with writing, a "pen-pal" like relationship seemed hardly sufficient to generate the kind of cultural exchange I was hoping for. Collaborative Project based learning is something in which I see a great deal of potential.

The proponents of Project Based Learing(PBL) argue that it is a more student-centered approach to instruction and relies less heavily on extrinsic motivators(grades) while at the same time facilitatinig content acquisition. Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss outline some of the best practices for using technology to suport PBL in their book Reinventing Project-Based Learning:Your Field Guide to Real-World Porjects in the Digital Age(ISTE, 2007). In this guide, Boss and Krauss argue that the ease with which students can share their work and "exchange ideas with diverse audiences...helps students reach an authentic assessment." As educators we all strive to make our content relevent so that intrisic motivation extends the learning beyond the classroom. By designing projects that facillitate collaboration with students in other schools and countries, we can provide opportunities for cultural reflection at the same time.

For example, blog research using Google Reader lead me to the story of Vicki Davis via Suzie Boss's "Reinventing Project-Based Learning" blog. According to her blog CoolCatTeacher , Ms. Davis is a technology teacher in Camilla,Georgia who created a project with a school in Quatar

in which students dicussed issues raised in Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat. In a video found on, she discusses the cultural benefit her students recieved by working with students from Quatar. Not only are her students becoming familiar with various types of technology but they are using it to the discuss issues centering around use of technology like the digital divide, cyber bullying, etc. As recommended in Reinventing Project Based Learning, Ms. Davis has designed the project loosely, allowing for "different learning paths." In the case of the Digiteen Project this can be seen in the "action project" that each participating school must engage. Students can then decide for themselve what the best way to "educate" their peers about the subjects under discussion. In this way the goals of the curriculum are accomplished and students learn "how to learn" by forming their own knowledge through the problem solving and consensus building inherent in such a collaboration.

In researching ways to make collaboration more successful, I came across a journal article by Dr. Jace Hargis from the University of Florida which reviews the uses of virtual communities in education and offers thoughtful considerations of them. Hargis concludes that in order for collaborative online communities to be successful they must offer a "place to live", "a place to work" and a "place for conviviality." These three factors make up every physical community, and must be present when creating a virtual one. Considering this, the success of Ms. Davis' Digiteen Project is understandable. By creating a safe, caring environment in which her student can both work, play, and, now using Open Simulator, lead a virtual life, students are exposed to cultures and possibilities that they would, likely, otherwise have missed.

Expanding our students horizons is the goal of most educators, regardless of subject area. By utilizing the collaborative possibilities of the internet we can expand our students sense of citizenship and open their eyes to a myriad of possibilities for the future at the same time. At the heart of good projects is reality (Boss and Krauss, 2007). Most students negotiate it every day on their way to and from school, but not in it. By creating projects that deal with global issues and, then, inviting teens from around the globe, peers can assist each other in forming knowledge and developing solutions across curricula and geographic boundaries. Content learning will, by necessity, become deep and meaningful, and fluency with technology, achievable.

Works Cited
Bidleman, C. , "Harness Your Students' Digital Smarts".May 27, 2009 .Online video clip,, accessed July 14, 2009,

Boss, S, & Krauss, J (2007). Reinventing project-based learning:Your field guide to real-world projects in the digital age.Eugene: ISTE.

Boss, S (2009,May 29). Start a conversation. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from Reinventing project-based learning Web site:

Davis, V (2009). About me. Retrieved July 15, 2009, from coolcatteacher Web site:

Hargis, J (2005). Collaboration, community and project-based learning – does it still work online?. International Journal of Instructional Media, 32, Retrieved July 14,2009, from


Now you have the theoretical

Submitted by Feliciag on Thu, 2009-07-16 11:54.

Now you have the theoretical basis for why teachers should connect students across communities, what do you actually do with your students?  What particular challenges will you encounter when presenting these concepts to your students?  Are they more comfortable in their insular community and choose not to explore further or is it simply a question of exposure?


In the spring of 2008 my

Submitted by ssaha on Thu, 2009-07-16 11:58.

In the spring of 2008 my 11th grade Tech class participated in the Horizon Project, led by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. Though I have reservations about the process, by and large the students had a very positive experience, and learned a lot about international collaborations as well as emerging technologies.

I knew you'd go global,

wdhaverstock's picture
Submitted by wdhaverstock on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:00.

I knew you'd go global, Charlie, but the speed of your advance is spectaular, even by your infinite expections.  I'm hoping to use you, of course, to spread Therapy Dog around the world.

Love the idea.  Need to

mwhitehouse's picture
Submitted by mwhitehouse on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:00.

Love the idea.  Need to investigate the types of projects that have been done as a model for one in which my students could participate.

Also, did you see how "hooked up" that rural classroom was?  I have three working laptops (one of which I just had repaired with my own money).  The lack of hardware might be an obstacle to work around for us.

Students collaborating with

Susan Harts's picture
Submitted by Susan Harts on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:00.

Students collaborating with other students -  good video links - you chose well.  Thank you.

I love the idea of PBL in

jryanw12's picture
Submitted by jryanw12 on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:00.

I love the idea of PBL in that it gives meaning to what students are learning.  They are learning something with a purpose in mind from the onset.  We are going to learn this skill set, but we are doing so in order to accompish this goal or to finish this project.  Great!

This has turned me on to the

JABenitez180's picture
Submitted by JABenitez180 on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:00.

This has turned me on to the idea of project based learning. I'm all for it and what has usually deterred me is the amount of time to teach the kids about the technology AND having the necessary technology readily available for them to use and to make the PBL a reality.

Terrific presentation! 

CHimmel2's picture
Submitted by CHimmel2 on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:00.

Terrific presentation!  This really points up the importance of thinking globally about our students, education, technology, the WORLD!

We have to prepare our

MrsGaskin's picture
Submitted by MrsGaskin on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:01.

We have to prepare our students to be global citizens and it looks like technology is the way to go. My hope is teachers and stuents in NYC public schools can have access to the equipment to help they compete in the global world.

Charlie, totally onboard

livesacrifice's picture
Submitted by livesacrifice on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:02.

Charlie, totally onboard with you with getting students to connect with other students around the world.  So glad that the school in Mexico has already contacted you as has the school in Washington.  Would love to hear the outcome of this year's work as your students engage the world.  Once I know my school and class for this year, I'll be in contact with you about interschool projects.

-- Amanda Kay

I'd like to keep up with how

klevy's picture
Submitted by klevy on Thu, 2009-07-16 12:03.

I'd like to keep up with how your project goes because I've been trying to get my students involved in social justice projects.  If you can e-mail me at about how it's going.  We have students from all over the world and our students do seem to know somewhat about their countries because many of our students are immigrants.  


Karen Levy, Library Media Specialist Columbus Campus H.S. 925 Astor Avenue Bronx, N.Y. 10469

I was intrigued by the first

Submitted by bmoreinis on Sun, 2010-01-31 14:25.

I was intrigued by the first paragraph of this post because of the powerful connection between project-based learning and cultural awareness / exchanges that need to be much more strongly emphasized in US public education, particularly in urban environments.

When you wrote, "much of America's popular beliefs about my heritage were decidedly hostile," I remembered one of the key (and often unspoken) effects of having students connect (via text and video) with students in other countries:  the realization that "Hey, those are PEOPLE, just like ME!  They have feelings, they are centers of awareness, they have valid points of view" - not that students would voice that, but that's the "AHA" I see as a teacher in their eyes and voices.

I think the context of project based learning - COLLABORATING with students in remote countries on a project - may be the most powerful way to teach cultural awareness in schools, and was not possible before Internet technologies like Skype and Drupal evolved to a place where they were easy for teachers and others to access and use.

But I also remember I*EARN was a broker to find partner classroms in other countries.  Do folks still use that? If you want to find a classroom partner in another country now, and you don't have a palestinian student or teacher in your school, where do you go?