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Talking through keyboards


In an effort to encourage global cross-cultural communications, California-based Schools Online in the United States launched a collaborative project between students in the United States and Egypt.  Equipped with computers and training from School Online, students in Watsonville, California were able to use the Internet and other ICTs to communicate with their counterparts in Giza, Egypt.  The experimental project, which began in January 2002, is an effective method to broaden the horizons of a new generation of global citizens.  Srila LaRochellle, Director of Business Development for Schools Online, said, “Through online collaborative projects, children become more aware of diversity and are more understanding of other cultures.”


Realizing that high technologies have changed the educational environment, Schools Online worked with teachers, community members and relevant government agencies to give students in the Abu Bakr El Sedeek and Watsonville high schools the technology tools to share the unique characteristics of their respective cultures.  Beginning with an introductory video about their school and neighbouring community, teachers and students in both schools worked together to create a multidisciplinary learning experience.  This initial activity allowed the project participants to get a glimpse of a different culture, while providing a forum for them to explore the common challenges accompanying the ever-evolving global society. 

Despite the thousands of miles that separated them, both schools were located in geographically isolated, rural areas dominated by agriculture and poverty.  Through the Internet, these formerly disconnected students are able to discuss issues ranging from teen health, food and culture.  Beyond enabling the teachers and students to more closely collaborate and learn from each other, the use of the Internet in the classroom also helps to sensitize a new generation of knowledge producers/consumers to new technologies.  Illustrative of the benefits brought by virtual collaboration, one Egyptian teacher said, “I strongly believe that these types of programmes enrich the learning process and help the students to be critical learners”. 


So far, Schools Online has focused on providing each school with the technology and initial teacher professional development resources to allow them to design and implement an international online collaborative project for students to "handshake" with their counterparts in other regions of the world.  Thus far, the students have participated in one text chat and in the production of a video to share their culture with their new friends. Later in August 2002, the Watsonville/Abu Bakr El Sedeek project will begin an activity that will allow the students to watch each other's video and chat over the Internet to converse about the visuals.  A video chat will also be scheduled as the project continues to evolve.  A more structured project, centered around teen health issues, will be implemented by the social studies and health teachers from both schools in the coming months.

The future

This unique collaborative effort, which is funded by a grant from the Donald and Rachel Valentine Foundation, is on hiatus until school resumes in September 2002.  While it is still too early to concretely determine the long-term benefits that the programme will have on American and Egyptian students, it is clear that the students are eager to use new technologies in the classroom.  An Egyptian student said, “we are very proud to have the Internet Learning Center at our school.”  As the Watsonville principal noted, the ability of his students to talk to their peers in other parts of the world through a keyboard allows new generations to engage in productive cross-cultural dialogue.  The project is ongoing and is funded through December 2002.  

For further information, see the project's website.  

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