Anastasia Aguiar is a Ph.D. student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education with research interests in historical understanding, civic development, and migration. She recently joined the Out of Eden Learn team.
A kindergarten classroom in Keratsini, Greece. A high school classroom in Rome, Georgia, United States. A grade 6 classroom in Accra, Ghana. These are some of the places I began to travel in my mind while reading educators’ responses to an ongoing Out of Eden Learn survey. So far, fifty educators from around the world have shared their perspectives on Out of Eden Learn through the survey. As a new research assistant with the project, I have found these educators’ voices illuminating in helping me to develop my own understanding of what Out of Eden Learn is and what it might continue to become.
The responses make clear that there are multiple Out of Eden Learn experiences – reasons for and ways of engaging, excitements and frustrations. In addition to their varied geographical locations, the educators’ contexts vary in other ways, too. They work with four year olds and eighteen year olds, in classrooms settings and after school, with native English speakers and English language learners. One teacher was motivated to participate in part because of an awareness of her students’ privilege and a desire to broaden their perspectives beyond their “suburban bubble”; another saw Out of Eden Learn as a way to counter his students’ marginalization. While it’s not possible to capture the entirety of the responses here, I’d like to share some of the primary things we’re learning about what educators value about Out of Eden Learn and how they would like to see the program develop.
One of the main themes that emerged from the survey was the importance of connections. Many educators are drawn to Out of Eden Learn and appreciate the program because of the way it strengthens and expands their students’ relationships to places and to people, both near and far. One educator described Out of Eden Learn as “an imaginary journey around the world where we could meet new friends, share our ‘stories’ and find connections between our lived experiences.” An educator in Greece observed that, “My students have become more curious about other cultures and other people. I have noticed a positive change in their attitude toward people that are different to themselves, and this is very important since recent years thousands of refugees have moved to Greece.” Others highlighted the way Out of Eden Learn deepened students’ connections to their own neighborhoods and to their classmates. Educators themselves also built meaningful connections through their participation in Out of Eden Learn – to other educators in their walking parties and to their own students. “I have learned to listen carefully to my students and give them time to share their thoughts and stories,” one educator wrote.
In addition, educators highlighted changes in perspective as a central element of the Out of Eden Learn experience, and one that is closely intertwined with making new connections. One educator wrote that through Out of Eden Learn her students “realized that looking at something with patience and open wide eyes to details, they would discover true stories. Every picture, video or object discloses a story or the truth about something. So they became more ‘open’ to ‘see’ and to listen to those stories. That affected them enormously to the way they listen to their classmates now. They seem to respect more to what they have to say.” Other educators described similarly how their students’ perspectives shifted when they slowed down to observe the “unseen” in their own lives as well as to learn from students across the world. “Communicating with kids from very different cultures helped make them aware of things they take for granted, both in their lives and in the ways they communicate. It made kids more self-aware as well as more culturally aware – both of their own culture and of ways other kids’ cultures at once mirror and differ from their own,” one educator said.
Educators also expressed valuing the opportunity for students to share their stories with an authentic audience and to build their digital citizenship skills. Many educators noted in their surveys that for their students, commenting on other students’ posts and receiving comments on their own posts was one of the most enjoyable elements of Out of Eden Learn.
Fostering greater engagement among schools within walking parties was also the most frequently made suggestion for improving the Out of Eden Learn experience. Some educators had less communication with other schools than they had hoped for, sometimes due to schools proceeding through the learning journeys at different speeds. Other educators wanted support in connecting with other classes in their walking party outside of our online platform, such as over Google+ Hangouts or Skype. Another idea for enhancing the interaction among students was to design footstep activities that students across schools could work on together, such as creating a story or interactive map.
Other suggestions educators made for improving the Out of Eden Learn experience included offering more support to help educators get started with the program and offering professional recognition to educators at the completion of the program. Some educators suggested additional materials that might be added to the site. For example, one educator thought that it would provide a valuable challenge for her students to be asked to consider alongside Paul’s dispatches “other texts, possibly representing very differing viewpoints…or perhaps coming to conclusions similar to Paul’s but from different angles.” Some of the educators of young children also requested more materials specifically to support these age groups. A couple of others expressed a desire to have greater flexibility in the curriculum: “I want one of the footsteps to be free, to have the opportunity to choose something after a team discussion that we want to discover and show the results to the others’ schools.” Technical difficulties and lack of time were the most frequent challenges respondents faced while participating in the program.
Even with these challenges and suggestions, the educators who have shared their responses with us so far were generally highly positive about their experience. 36 of 50 the educators said that they were very likely to participate in Out of Eden Learn again next year, while 7 were likely, and the remaining 7 were unsure.
We are thankful to learn from the educators who have completed the survey so far and are working to address as many of their suggestions as possible as we further refine the program for the next school year. The survey will remain open over the coming weeks, and we look forward to continuing to hear from participating educators. Out of Eden Learn educators: If you have not completed the survey already, we invite you to do so here.
Congratulations to the following educators who won signed copies of Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap by Carrie James as part of an incentive to complete this survey: Popi Nikolopoulou, Kaitlin Smith, Michelle Carreño, Kiriaki Melliou, Georgia Klostraki, Andrew Richardson, Tracy Hubbard, Maria Stafilakou, Kristy Chavez, Kate Goosman, Cathy Strycker, Antonia Dagla, Natalia Capacho, Mary Hansell, Anna Moutafidou.