#EdTech Perspectives: Alternate Realities: Developing Student Capacity for Cross Cultural Communication

Alternate Realities:Developing Student Capacity for Cross Cultural Communication

In class we celebrated the New Year over Skype with students from Argentina in the Hello World Project facilitated by the International Education and Resource Network (iEARN).  In preparation, students conducted investigations into the participating countries’ basic geography, societies and political structures. Students wrote down 5 cultural aspects of their lives to share as well as personal and global wishes for the New Year. I anticipated that all students would want a chance to talk, considering the excitement when I first introduced the project. Students were surprisingly nervous and hesitant to start the conversation considering they were speaking in their native language to someone of the same age. As I watched the interaction between my 17-18 year old students conversing with their Argentinean counterparts, I wondered, “Why were students originally excited at the idea of communicating with teenagers from another country now so terrified to do so?” Some answers are demonstrated in their reflective writing statements:

  • “I realize that I was very nervous to talk to someone from another culture…I was afraid that because I didn’t have a very good understanding of their culture I would look stupid and wouldn’t have anything to say.”
  • “I didn’t want to speak mainly because I didn’t want to sound stupid . . . and offend them.”
  • “I realized that I was nervous to talk to someone of another culture because I was afraid of offending her or looking dumb.”
  • “I was afraid of accidentally being rude or coming off as rude.”


Their expressions of fear, feeling stupid and worries over being offensive, demonstrate the need for new communication skills.  The Asia Society’s Global Competence Matrix, for example, outlines skills such as communicating ideas effectively with diverse audiences, using technology to communicate, recognizing how others may perceive meaning, and reflecting on the affects of collaborative communication skills in a global world.

Imagine if our students could learn with the world and not just about it!  Imagine if our students learned with students from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Japan, Argentina and not just about the countries through public media.  With technology integration into the classroom, it can be our reality if we build students’ capacities to be engaged in global communication. As with any development of a new skill, it needs to be practiced.  Students need to try out the skill, not just read about the skill. Thus, I have been working for the past two years to integrate into my classes projects through iEARN, an organization that supports and promotes global collaborative project learning. The transformation of student learning has been exciting.  Recently, my high school Anthropology students engaged in an iEARN project called, Alternate Realities.  In this project, students “Photoshop” their global peers into their school setting, write a description about the created image and dialog about observations based on the various school settings. As students worked on their projects, they explored how others may perceive meaning and had to practice contextualizing their thinking to effectively describe their created realities. In the end, students reflected on the effects of collaborative communication skills in a global world and wrote:

  • “Communicating with a diverse audiences important because good ideas are not just limited to one specific culture. Discussion amongst diverse groups can spark ideas that otherwise would not be formed if we only ever talked to like-minded people.”
  • “By communicating with those of different cultures, ideas can spread and perspective can be changed. . . communication leads to respect and diplomatic solutions to international issues.”
  • “By having to explain our own culture to someone else, we are looking at from a distant perspective. It helps deconstruct the American idea that everything we do is the right way but instead it’s just another way of many.”

My goal is to help students move from the fearful, unsure and timid communicators of the Hello World Project to the confident, aware and reflective communicators of the Alternate Realities Project, through practice of global communication skills. Technology and organizations like iEARN, make this goal not an “alternate reality” but actual reality!

– Katherine Korte, Pattonville High School, Maryland Heights, Missouri

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 iEARN-USA is part of the Exchange 2.0 Coalition — founded in 2011 by Global Nomads GroupiEARN-USA, and Soliya, with the goal of making it the norm for young people to have a meaningful cross-cultural experience as part of their education. Dedicated to using new media technologies to enable deep social learning across cultures, the Coalition’s purpose has been to foster a supportive and generative ecosystem for such programming to develop, innovate and grow.