Above: Students at the Newcomer's Academy in the USA record video messages on Flip for Cat's IB DP Economics students at Dulwich College Beijing.
Picture 24 17-year-old highschoolers living completely different lives and with very different socio-economic backgrounds collaborating on a project 13 time zones apart. Today, such learning is made possible with technology and new pedagogies such as digital storytelling, and this is the story of one such collaboration.
Cat Ho, IB Diploma Program (DP) Economics teacher and head of department for Business and Economics at Dulwich College Beijing (DCB), embarked on an innovative learning journey with her students this year that involved partnering with 12 students in Arlington, Illinois. The US-based students attend the Newcomer’s Academy, a high school designed to help young refugees learn English and process their painful experiences.
Cat’s students interacted with the US-based students online, and the stories that surfaced changed Cat’s students’ understanding of the world in profound ways.
“I wanted to find an authentic opportunity for my students as part of our sustainable development unit and I reached out to my EDD course mates about ways to connect my students to peers,” explains Cat, a doctoral candidate at the University of Illinois. “The person who introduced me to these students is a year ahead of me in the program and he co-founded the Newcomer’s Academy. The students who agreed to work with us had a higher level of English and came from Venezuela, Colombia, the Ukraine and Mexico. They had all fled their home countries because of economic distress.”
Cat’s students have learned a lot of economic theory about sustainable development, and she wanted them to investigate and explore real-world situations and stories to better understand the complexity of root causes and sustainable solutions. Her students first conducted research and interviewed their peers from the Newcomer’s Academy, and then they synthesized their learning into proposed policies.
The students used a website called Flip (formerly Flipgrid) to communicate. Cat’s students sent questions to the Newcomer’s Academy students by email. They then used Flip to record video responses and share their stories. A true sense of connection emerged, so much so that when Cat’s students realized a US-based student was celebrating a birthday, they all sang and recorded “happy birthday” in Chinese.
“I think my students saw how political stability is so essential for the day-to-day functioning of an economy,” reflects Cat. “We don’t cover that much in economics but it’s such an important component. In countries like Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, it’s not very safe, and my students were challenged to see the world differently by hearing the stories of peers who had to leave dangerous and difficult situations.”
This is a tangible impact of sharing stories: theory becomes reality and statistics take on human shape and form. Cat’s students in Beijing have not experienced conflict and instability of such scale, and their new connections were transformative.
“I also invited one of our Kenyan teachers to come and speak to the students and that was impactful, too. A lot of students reflected on the fact that their experience is very different from that of others in the world,” says Cat. “The IB DP Economics syllabus lends itself to these conversations. Gaining critical economic literacy means appreciating the complexities and interdependence of factors and pressing toward solutions that allow all to flourish.”
Cat’s students not only synthesized their learning experience into policies for economic responses and reform; they also created videos and a website to highlight what they had learned, harnessing the power of digital storytelling to share their story with the DSB community.
“Some of my students hadn’t worked much with video before, so technical aspects of the storytelling were challenging,” reflects Cat. “I had the students create storyboards before making their videos; in the future, I would scaffold these approaches earlier so students could gain confidence.”
Student learning was curated on a Microsoft Sway site that Cat created for her students. She set up the site with essential questions to frame the student posts and reflections.
As a first experience with digital storytelling and inter-school partnerships, Cat created a purposeful and impactful learning experience for her students, and what she learned in the process will create additional layers of impact in years to follow.
When trying new pedagogical tools and frameworks (like service learning or digital storytelling), it’s key to embrace an open and curious approach like Cat did in this example. She wasn’t sure how the process would unfold and she was keen to try new things and offer her students new experiences. She was able to roll with challenges as they surfaced (such as a program audit at the Newcomer’s Academy that made it impossible for her students to circle back to connect with their partners at the end of the unit). And she involved her students at each stage of the learning journey to promote their sense of voice, agency and leadership.
Cat’s story shows that embedding interviews, authentic connections and digital storytelling into a unit (in everyday teaching and learning and in summative assessments) can be rich and rewarding, even in IB DP courses where curriculum is dense and plentiful. These are approaches that allow for deep engagement and learning, and for the transformation of students’ thinking about themselves and the world (a perfect fit with the EIM mission of “living worldwise”).
Below: some of Cat's students recording messages for peers at the Newcomer's Academy.
Leave a Reply.