Gazing outward, looking inward

With every dispatch  from the field, Paul delivers a delight for our senses… we are navigating picturesque landscapes, challenges of terrain, and unknown encounters. Paul is literally opening up the world to us through his journey of 22,000 miles and his retracing of over 60,000 years of human history in what he has described as a collective “very long walk into our becoming”.  But, what are we “becoming” as we share in Paul’s global adventure? How are we impacted as individuals in our respective contexts?

Last year, during the pilot phase of Out of Eden Learn, our team began to explore what, if anything, students were learning about global issues by participating in our online learning community. We were also interested in finding out if young people were, in any way, starting to see themselves in a new light. To that end, we designed a short survey, to which students from Australia, Canada, England, India, Kenya, and the United States responded. Two of the questions were:

  • What, if anything, have you learned about global issues by being part of this project?
  • In what ways, if any, has this project given you new ideas about yourself (e.g. who you are, the kind of life you are living, how you learn, and what you value)?

In responding to the first of these questions, students most commonly described their learning about global issues in terms of “interdependence” and “interconnection”.

For example, Andie from India writes: I have learnt that the world is getting smaller. We are living in a global village in which we are interdependent. We are connected in several ways and yet we maintain our identities.

Additionally, George from Canada describes: I learned that our world is and always will be globally connected in some way. Our infrastructure, the materials we need to build our country’s infrastructure, our economy, our family, our friends, and many more come from different parts of the world. Whether it may be a big or small connection, we are all definitely connected on a global scale. Our actions are also part of what makes our world globally connected; our actions allow us to create the little changes that contribute to our world changing every single day.

Although the survey question asked students to identify the global issues that they learned about, many student responses, as exhibited by Andie and George, referenced personal identities (“yet we maintain our identities“) and actions (“our actions allow us to create the little changes that contribute to our world changing every single day“). These subtle introspective qualities go beyond identifying an issue and suggest an inward, intimate, reflexive examination as young people investigate the world and other cultures.

If students are reflexively turning inward when thinking about global issues, then what new ideas, if any, do they have about themselves as a result of participating in Out of Eden Learn? The majority of students, regardless of country, explicitly cite in their responses that they “value and appreciate” their lives.

For example, Gene from Australia states: I feel more grateful for the country I live in.

Rob from the United States writes: This project has allowed for me to re-look at myself: my background, who I am, what kind of products and ideas have influenced my family, and more. I definitely value my life and the hard work my parents go through to provide me with an education and success.

Mir from India responds: I have learnt about my own past. Some things that I did not know and others that I knew and was proud of. I am living a life that has been affected by an age of technological outburst. I am living so vastly different than that from my ancestors. I learned that I value my country and I take pride from it. It defines who I am.

In each of these statements, students explicitly articulate “feeling grateful” (Gene from Australia), “value[ing] my country” (Mir from India), being “truly appreciative of where and how we live” (Mir from India), and “value[ing] my life” (Rob from the U.S.). Therefore, student responses emphasize that connecting with other students and learning about another’s country and culture produces a shift in understanding of one’s own unique context. These early findings make us wonder about the importance of reflexivity in developing what our colleague Veronica Boix Mansilla defines as “global competence” (to learn more, see her recent blog contribution FINDING OUR PLACE IN THE WORLD). Does gazing outward help us to become better at looking inward or vice versa?

Although initial findings in Out of Eden Learn evidence the importance of reflexivity in developing global competence, we have many more questions to explore. For example, is it “enough” to have students feel renewed appreciation for their personal circumstances? How might Out of Eden Learn be a space for young people to develop a more nuanced understanding of the world and their place in it – and feel inspired to effect positive change? In what types of shared global actions might students engage? We will continue to investigate ways in which outward gazing and inward looking influence student learning within our community.

In sum, as a result of sharing in this collective journey, we — as individuals and fellow travelers — appear to be “becoming” more interconnected and grateful — and for that, we thank you, Paul.

Kim Frumin is a second year doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education with a background in K-12 school innovation, technology, and new media. Last year she completed an independent study related to Out of Eden Learn and was part of our team at Project Zero.

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