As a member of the research team at Out of Eden Learn, I have been interviewing students to learn more about their experiences on our platform since early this spring. One thing I hope to find out more about is what students are learning from interacting with each other. To this end, I asked the interviewees:
- What do you think you learned from interacting with others in your walking party?
- What do you hope other students learned from interacting with you?
Most of the students I talked to finished Learning Journey 1 with us this past fall. They were in the same walking party but from a range of geographic locations, including China, Iraq, Spain and different areas within the U.S. By looking at the interaction from the perspectives of different parties that were involved, we hope to acquire a richer understanding of student learning in Out of Eden Learn. Here I would like to share with you some of the things I noticed.
To begin with, students enjoyed the opportunity to learn about the differences and connections in each other’s daily life, such as in their schools, neighborhoods and cities.
- nicholasj, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “It was cool to see that not only is it different around the world but even classmates see a different approach to their neighborhoods.”
- Vicky22, Salt Lake City, Utah: “…even though we’re interacting with people across the world, they’re really not that different from us. I was afraid initially … ‘Oh, they won’t understand what I’m saying’… But it turns out that we face similar issues such as environmental problems.”
- Amy, Erbil, Iraq: “I like that they were giving their opinions about their culture, traditions. You don’t really feel different from them. You just feel we have different culture, but sometimes they have ideas and opinions just like us, like matching opinions.”
It seems that the students noticed how their life was different in some ways but also connected in others. Moreover, what they learned about each other might have surprised them. After finishing the learning journey, they discovered new things in the familiar as well as connections in what used to be the foreign and the unknown. It is evidence that Out of Eden Learn is inspiring at least some young people to look at the world with fresh eyes.
Students also said that through such interactions they gained more confidence in communicating with peers from different backgrounds because they could now “find common topics”. Others believed that they learned to be respectful and open-minded to different opinions. Some students even went a step further to see things from their readers’ perspective:
- Sarrdogs, Salt Lake City, Utah: “I think the interaction has made me a lot more open-minded, especially when I write out the responses. I’m kinda thinking, ‘Well, how can I relate this to other people…?’ I also take into mind the different circumstances, so I wouldn’t want to say anything that would … be kind of single-minded.”
In terms of what they hoped others could learn from them, almost everyone expressed deep attachment to his or her neighborhood, city or country. “Rterradas” from Barcelona said that what she enjoyed most was “to talk about why certain places and things are interesting in my neighborhood.” She also said that having an audience to communicate with made a difference because “you are not just doing it by yourself.”
Some other interviewees shared stories about what mattered to them in more personal ways. “JLV05” from Beaverton, Oregon hoped to show others her determination to do well and how she balanced the responsibilities she faced both as a student and a young mother:
- “From interacting with me, I think that what they could have learned was that others have more obstacles than some students but with hard work and determination you can achieve your goal.”
These testimonies are evidence that young people from diverse backgrounds can each find their own way to connect with Out of Eden Learn. However, the question we are always interested in asking is: how could we keep making Out of Eden Learn better?
The following comments have given me some directions for thought:
- Hibyehey, Erbil, Iraq: “I think I want people to learn about Iraq. Most people think that Iraq was filled with terrorism, but if they come to Kurdistan which is also a part of Iraq, it’s safe.”
- alexZ179, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: “…some people think America as a conservative and isolationist kind of place. I hope people could learn that not all of us are like that – we do want to learn about different cultures. We do want to learn about other people…”
- Z.Z, Shanghai, China: “I want to show different aspects of our development, such as in education resources. It’s an improvement from the past. Also, our environment problems are not as bad as people in other countries may think.”
A common thread here is students’ desire to confront stereotypes. To me, this raises two questions. First, how can Out of Eden Learn acknowledge and honor such desires from our students? Second, how can students respond better to such desires when they encounter them in others’ posts? I would like to highlight our current resources including the dialogue toolkit and community guidelines, which offer great advice on how to engage with diverse points of view in our online community. I believe we should think about how to more actively prompt students to use these tools in their interactions. In addition, I feel the need for students to learn more about each other’s countries and communities from more than just the online interactions, so that they can better contextualize others’ points of view. Perhaps this extended learning could take the form of offline research projects in the classroom. We welcome ideas in the comment section below.
One vision I have for Out of Eden Learn is for it to become a place where increased understanding of others helps students situate themselves better in the world – a spirit that’s captured in this student work by “cllorens” from Barcelona Spain. She writes, “I drew the globe because I wanted to show that my neighborhood is not the only place; I’m not the only one in the world.”