In the last post I suggested some of the barriers that brick and mortar schools face when trying to do collaboration. Both students and teachers recognize that many collaborations appear to be contrived and superficial because they never take the student out into the world in a way that is real to them.
In this post it is time to stretch the imagination to see how many of the constraints faced by educators and students can be broken down in an online environment. The first idea that we need to understand as educators is that students want to have educational experiences that have them interact with the world that is outside their classroom. When astronaut, Marc Garneau hosted a Skype session from the International Space Station with students here on earth, students were asking why all their lessons couldn't be like this. It is a very good question. We have the technology to make such events happen.
Imagine for a moment a project with NASA where student collaborators from all over the globe gather to take on a challenge, to meet each other, to encourage each other to work as a team.
Each collaborator is given a specific function on the team to help contribute to the solution of the problem described. Each student is told that their particular function is crucial to the mission. To help them they have online access to the professional scientists at JPL. The scientists at JPL take part in the assessment of the student collaborators work at the end of the mission. The students use Google Docs in creating a final report which allows then to collaborate no matter where they are on the globe and see the edits being done or suggested by the others. Language does not need to be a barrier. With the advancement of digital language translators, a student will be able to write in their native language but when it is posted it is translated into the language of the group hosting the project. If remarks are sent back to the student, the language of the host is translated automatically into the native language of the student. Digital translators will evolve into something we would call an universal translator. As part of this project, one of the goals is for the students to come up with innovative solutions or alternatives to what has been done in the past. At the heart of this is a transformation from students being the consumers of knowledge to students being the creators of new knowledge.
This is just a simple example of what is possible. Such types of collaborations lead to the evolution of methods of assessment by necessity.
Another possibility for collaboration online introduces the creation of an augmented reality world or a virtual world where students gather to collaborate on the problem. Within this world, the tools and labs necessary for students to effectively collaborate on the problem are created. Within this world, an amphitheatre is created where avatars of leading and famous scientists who were part of the field the students are dealing with, can be called up and students can not only ask questions of them but also be mentored by them on dealing with specific problems germane to their particular project. Consider the possibilities if you were mentored by a Leonardo Da Vinci, a Copernicus, or a Galileo!
Now you might think that this sounds a little far-fetched but consider the fact that many of the ideas that have been considered far fetched by the majority in the past became a reality.
We need to be innovative in order to make use of the opportunities that the Internet provides to enrich the education of young people. We have the tools to begin this exploration; we only need the will and courage to take the first step because it is a step that will change a generation's despair over their future to one of hope.