The Union of Concerned Scientists urgently warns us that, "No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished."In the face of such warnings, educators are asking how they will provide our world's youth with the skills, tools and mindset required to handle the enormous problems they will inherit in the 21st century. Educators in many parts of the world are locked in debate about alternatives for reforming educational systems our societies have outgrown. In this paper I describe how educators can respond to the new challenges faced by schools by using the Internet with K-12 students to create global learning communities and develop more effective pedagogical practices.
The use of educational telecommunications in the classroom clearly holds potential as both a communication tool and as a research tool for collaborative projects or activities. It is not immediately clear to educators, however, how to organize their classrooms to take advantage of this untapped potential Educational publications, as well as the general news media, speak constantly of the value of the "Information Superhighway" to K-12 education. Yet, when teachers and students avail themselves of Internet access and technology, they are at a loss to find direct classroom applications for the massive on-line information that is now on-line.
In order to unleash the remarkable power of the Internet as a communicative and discovery tool, students must have a compelling reason for communicating with others and for searching out and analyzing new information. I*EARN presents a pedagogical model in which students cooperate with others in seeking solutions to common problems. Through action-based project work, I*EARN creates global learning communities in which collaborative critical inquiry and creative problem solving are highlighted.
The purpose of I*EARN (the International Education and Resource Network) is to facilitate educational projects designed to empower young people (K-12) to make a meaningful contribution to the health and welfare of people and the planet. In this project students go beyond both simply being "pen-pals" and working on strictly academic work to use telecommunications in joint student projects designed to make a difference in the world as part of the educational process. This global network is expanding to additional international sites daily and now includes about 500 schools in over 20 countries.
I*EARN projects generally utilize three forms of interaction: video-speaker telephones, electronic mail; and on-line conferencing exchanges. Participants can join existing structured on-line projects or work with others internationally to create their own projects. Project facilitators provide on-line support for each project. I*EARN' project work takes place on on-line conferences which are shared automatically with all the international networks that are part of the Association for Progressive Computing, thus minimizing costs and maximizing involvement by students and teachers around the world.
Examples of recent student projects include: