Working collaboratively online helps educators develop teaching material that transcends national boundaries and reaches learners of different cultures. This has been the experience of teachers taking part in an ongoing e-twinning pilot study involving hundreds of 9-13 year olds at ten schools in Burkina Faso, France, Senegal and Togo. Coordinated by the Paris-based Association for the Promotion of Free Educational Resources (Apréli@), the study evaluates the experiences of learners and teachers when digital teaching resources are produced through virtual collaboration.
During the study, the participating teachers upload course materials onto a Wiki. Duties are assigned such that different teachers focus on different aspects of the curriculum, and comprehensive lesson plans are developed. Creating a stock of free digital resources enables students and teachers easy access to a shared pool of knowledge, but it also allows partner schools deeper involvement with each other’s teaching and cultural practices. Each class in the pilot study documented their journey via an e-diary and occasional e-report which can be accessed by all.
The different educational systems and standards in place in each country meant that in designing the project, special consideration had to be paid to how the schools were twinned. Geneviève Puiségur-Pouchin, president of Apréli@, said that before launching the project, they held a comprehensive workshop for all stakeholders, and the teachers, researchers, and educational administrators involved drew up a research model which would allow them to create activities that can be adopted in all national curricula.
“Our e-twinning plan enables cooperative learning whilst changing the traditional teacher-student relationship,” Puiségur-Pouchin told eLearning Africa. “The teacher takes on the role of a guide, allowing the students to engage in more group work and self-reflection.” The e-twinning model that has been developed is flexible enough to ensure that classes in different countries can identify and develop common pedagogical approaches.
Evaluating the efficacy of this e-twinning study is an ongoing endeavor. Continuous monitoring of how the teachers and students are handling their cross-border, intercultural knowledge exchange is the work of a team in each country. “We have had encouraging results,” says Puiségur-Pouchin. “The students are curious, motivated, and enthusiastic, and they have made notable progress in their written work, vocabulary acquisition and oral expression as well as in their independence and cooperation in group tasks.”
Although going through the academic year with an e-twin sharing the journey has already had a myriad of benefits for the participants, there were nevertheless challenges posed by poor Internet connectivity which occasionally limited synchronicity thus making it harder for teachers to keep in touch with their colleagues. But despite these temporary set-backs, Puiségur-Pouchin says that their pilot study has proved successful so far in that the online digital diaries placed on the schools’ websites are a source of inspiration for the whole school community. “Apart from the academic benefits and improved ICT skills which the students report, there is also the open mindset and interest in other countries and cultures which is fostered.” The study is ongoing, but with these gains to date, those involved feel encouraged to continue.