Thursday, March 27, 2008

Taking Down the Classroom Walls: The Flat Classroom and Horizons Projects

In a recent blog post, Brenda Dyck, a writer at Education World, examines how to make old pen-and-paper assignments "new" through Web 2.0 tools. One telecollaborative project she praises is the Flat Classroom Project which uses a mix of free Web 2.0 collaborative tools. The Flat Earth Project ran in 2006, 2007 and has a current program. A sister project, Horizons, in its second year, is running from now until June 2008.

The Flat Classroom Project is a collaborative project for middle and high school students started by Julie Lindsay and Vicki Davis in 2006. The goal is to use Web 2.0 tools to aid communication between participating classrooms. In 2006, the topics classes studied and discussed all came from The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman. The main idea of the project is to "lower the classroom walls" to eliminate the isolation that being in a classroom can encourage and to open students and teachers to more collaborative, project-based learning. Lindsay, teaching at the International School Dhaka in Bangladesh, and Davis, at Westwood High School in Camilla, GA, linked their classrooms with various free tools like Blogger and EduSpace blogs, wikis, videos at YouTube and TeacherTube, bookmarking, Facebook and MySpace accounts to connect students and have discussions, Flickr for pictures and Meebo for instant messaging when project managers held office hours for consultation, questions and other needs.

Alexander Russo reported on the 2007 Flat Classroom Project in Edutopia, noting that the four to six week program was usually part of a computer science or media literacy course at the participating schools. Instead of using email and MySpace for student contact and discussion, in 2007 Davis and Lindsay created a Ning page for networking and sharing audio and video files. Davis said the Ning made student interaction easier to monitor and schedule: "The connecting piece is the most difficult part...Last year, we were doing it over email. We couldn't supervise. Here, all the group dynamics are out in the open for the teachers to observe." Another free program on the Web, AirSet, was used to schedule interactions. The big challenge with linking the classes is the asynchronous nature of international communication, a lesson students and teachers in the Flat Classroom Project had to learn. Davis said, "I'm trying to get my students to understand that the world is becoming asynchronous...The workday flows around the world, and I want my students to understand that while they're sleeping, others are moving things forward." The Flat Classroom Project mainly used live videoconferencing (usually through Skype the first year) for initial planning and final student presentations.

The Flat Classroom Project won multiple awards in 2006 and 2007. A 2008 Flat Classroom Project is underway (details were not readily available). A sister project, Horizons, is also running a second year now until June. The Horizons Project is using Elluminate and other tools to link eleven classrooms in six countries. More information on the Flat Classroom Project can be found at the FCP wiki, the FCP Overview page, and the FCP Ning. Videos by Lindsay and Davis discussing the 2006 Flat Classroom project can be found at the wiki, YouTube or TeacherTube. The Horizons Project 2008 has a wiki with more information on its current program. Davis also has an award-winning blog with updates on her classes' involvement with Horizons 2008.

SOURCE: "Using Web 2.0 Tools to Breathe New Life into Old Projects" 03/21/08
SOURCE: "Global Education On a Dime: A Low-Cost Way to Connect" 11/12/07
photo courtesy of dullhunk, used under this Creative Commons license

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