Out of Eden Learn in China

Vincent Chunhao Qian recently graduated from the Human Development and Psychology master’s program from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. This past semester he has helped Out of Eden Learn with outreach efforts and has attended our weekly team meetings.

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to combine a visit home with a visit to Chu Neng School in Shanghai, Out of Eden Learn’s first participating school from mainland China. It was really exciting to have Chu Neng join the walking party, and more so to interview the students and teachers on what they think about Paul’s journey and our learning community.

During my conversation with two groups of students on their lunch break, it was so joyous for me to hear their ideas and opinions about the OOEL experience they had had so far. The students appreciated how the online community had enabled them to learn directly about places outside China through foreign peers and also how they had been able to tell more people about their individual stories. Students also expressed that Paul’s dispatches inspired them to slow down and look at the world with more attention to detail.

Student 1: This experience has taught me that what I want to share doesn’t have to be “special”. As long as it means something that matters to me, that’s special for me personally, then it is valuable and worthing sharing.

Student 2: “I’ve learned to observe details, for example the details in Paul’s texts, pictures from his trip. I also discovered the details in my school life. I discovered the friendliness from my classmates who fetch the lunchboxes for us.”

Back in our weekly group meeting at Project Zero, the team was struck by how similar the responses were to those of students from other countries. Meanwhile, It was also heartening to see how receptive these students were to the learning activities and underpinning concepts of Out of Eden Learn.

In addition, Ms. Haiyan Sha, the teacher who leads OOEL activities at Chu Neng, appreciated how the activities taught the students to slow down, take learning outside the classroom, and notice things they never had before: “Students are learning by doing and gaining their own personal experience…I’m excited to see whether their attitude towards study would change – from only learning from textbooks to learning directly from the world around them.”

Despite these similarities, as non-native English speakers, the students reported difficulties with language. The majority of them found it hard to understand Paul’s writing. Google translation offers some help but does not resolve this issue. During my visit, I tried translating some of Paul’s writing with a focus on conveying meaning rather than literary expression. For example, after reading my translation of Paul’s “Camelology” piece, the students had a lively dialogue on how the camels were treated in a humanistic way by the people working with them.

Partly in response to these evident language difficulties, the Out of Eden Learn team has been discussing the possibility of launching a pilot multilingual walking party in the Fall, offering translated dispatches, interface, and the option to post with languages other than English. Additionally, the students in China wished for more videos and audios as input materials. As a global online learning community, it is both challenging and interesting to consider how Out of Eden Learn might resolve these problems in communication among participants who speak so many different mother tongues. It is a challenge we invite educators from around the world to help us think about.

Overall, what I enjoyed most during my visit to China was hearing the students’ stories in person. I was touched by the trust they bestowed on me as well as their desire to be listened to. We all want to be heard and because of Out of Eden Learn, we now have a wonderful new way of sharing and having our voices heard. This is something that Paul so masterfully does on his walk – listening to and sharing stories that might otherwise not be told.

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