21 Dec 2013
Classroom to Classroom (C2C) is an educational networking and dialogue platform we have designed and built for DC-based Qatar Foundation International (QFI).
Like Checkdesk, C2C is built on a core that serves multiple partners through multiple instances. The Yallah Forum "branch" of the project serves an informal network of under 18s in the U.S., Brazil, and the MENA region.
(The C2C branch, by contrast, serves more teacher-to-teacher and classroom-to-classroom interactions.)
The users of these instances are early adopters to global ed and digital learning, networked with the support of QFI — schools and groups like Washington Latin Public Charter School, Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Boston Arts Academy, Al Bayan High School for Girls, Qatar Leadership Academy, Global Nomads Group, and Bathhurst High School among many others.
In August we designed and implemented a big update to the project. In conversation with the teachers and students membership, our designers came to the conclusion that we should focus on the principle of enabling digital interactions between geographically and culturally diverse members. Our latest release has brought a major feature addition, live classroom-to-classroom video meetings, to the platform with the integration of BlueJeans video conferencing. The resulting design as a space where high school students can practice their digital communications skills (both as learners and instructors) on the web. The types of discussions that can be hosted are diverse.
An example C2C discussion might be: "How much water do you use? Do you think you use more than other countries?" Another conversation might be a young filmmaker asking, "can I get some feedback on my latest video short?"
C2C members interact with not only a diverse audience of readers (about 1000 members), they are also seeing a lot of different types of conversations. These are models for how to have intelligent and creative conversations online, which are frequently different in tone and posture.
Our primary finding is that peer-to-peer connections across borders and languages is a powerful way to engage creativity and critical thinking.
The addition of periodic video-meetings with grade-level-peers across the world is an exciting catalyst for classes which have the modest 3-5mbps connection.
Design Principles of C2C
We have updated our design according to a few key principles learned from our previous experiments:
Conversational learning is the key to the design. The capacity for an intelligent multi-way conversation is the essence of our digital education. Our alpha-educator team members have observed that the science of discussions is changing, but the art remains the same.
Discussions are multimedia and multilingual. If a simple discussion is core, then it must be fluid, flexible. It meets the needs of members in many countries. We are enthusiastic about possibility of new kinds of discussions that are more open to ideas across languages and media than traditional discussions.
Membership is by invitation only. The discussion zone is private, safe. It protects experimental writers from the chilling effect of widespread publication. The C2C instance is designed to emphasize small scale sense of teamwork toward dialogue, not a "publishing machine" that creates content for public consumption.
Any member can start discussions. The discussion is flat, fair. hierarchy is an important act of trust for all participants who have earned membership into the network.
The resulting design vision is thus a private space that is conducive to many experimental types of educational conversations across languages. These principles to create a simple user-comprehensible space where very different classrooms can work together across languages in these multimedia discussions in their own way.
C2C could therefore be a hub for a project over diverse social media, or it could be project page with file hosting for a particular group working on an experiment. We have seen all of these uses and many more; these will be the basis for further research and investigation for program development using another C2C hub.
Ultimately our best approach as a design team has been not to produce our own "design solutions" but rather to facilitate practitioners who are already designing their own solutions for using this kind of private, multilingual teleconferencing forum in their own classrooms.
The resulting subject matter of these discussions is often simple but the performative creative act of writing and "hosting discussions" in an international setting has proven resonant and meaningful in surprising ways. Our technology and design is merely a vehicle for conversation, not the core of the innovation.
C2C group page.
C2C Discussion Example
Increasingly we are seeing our users become hosts an instigators and designers of their own experience online.
Perhaps as importantly are some of the things that we have carefully left untouched: for example, the topic and curricular scope is entirely up to the educators who are leading the projects. C2C does not want to constrain uses to a particular model of digital education.
Our design posture, we hope, is one of humble experimentation. In simpler terms, even though the theme changed significantly, we were designing for refinement, not a "big redo." As we see it, the task now is to build coherent integration points that enable students to selectively make use of the right information and the best applications for the task at hand. Thus the site is a framework for linking these "live" and "real" resources on the web with a private discussion behind the "semi-permeable" environment of C2C.