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Let’s stop talking about meaningful global empowerment for youth and start doing it (Online Model United Nations wrap-up)

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to Lisa Martin, Kristin Rowe, and their students for taking over my blog for the past week. All of the guest posts regarding Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) are linked below.

This is the kind of powerful, global, student-driven learning that is possible if we adults are willing to make it happen. As school leaders, we say that we want meaningful, collaborative, cross-border interactions for our youth. We say that we want to empower students to make a difference in the world. Let’s stop talking about it and start doing it. As the O-MUN movement shows us, our children are willing and able to step up and help us…

  1. Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement
  2. The nuts and bolts of online debating
  3. Palestinian-Israeli citizen calling for peace, making her voice heard through Online Model United Nations
  4. Online Model United Nations: Raising our voices
  5. Junior Online Model United Nations: Connecting masters and apprentices
  6. Why do teachers have an excuse when it comes to technology in the classrooms?
  7. Making connected learning the norm: What will it take?

Making connected learning the norm: What will it take? [guest post]

On this almost three-year-long journey that has made up the development of Online Model United Nations (O-MUN), I have returned time and again to two overriding questions: What does it take to nurture this kind of innovation  among students and educators, and what role do we want schools to play in making this happen?

Educators need both the recognition from their school leadership and the time and support to do innovative work. Much as we know that students need time and space to be innovative in our classrooms, this also holds true for teachers. School leaders themselves run on a deficit of time so I am sympathetic. But how many great projects and truly innovative ideas are simmering in the backs of teacher’s minds, dabbled on over weekends or in the 20-minute downtimes before heading to bed? Educators need the luxury of time, supported by their schools and funded by their districts.

St Judes_Future delegates

I think about this a lot. What would Online Model United Nations have looked like had I been given one class period to develop this from within my school? Would my core global leadership team have been less diverse, pulled more from my school and less from the rest of the world? Perhaps. But what could have been gained by classroom students had they been given this opportunity? Would my website nightmares have been worked through more quickly had I been able to go to tech support down the hall? Could I have connected with regional thought leaders to expand O-MUN into our school’s professional conference network had I been given the necessary support? How would the school have benefited from that exposure? Without recognition from within my own school, these are moot points, wasted opportunities, and, for me personally, drivers that led me to search elsewhere.

Tanzania_1

How can teachers tap into funding or partnerships when ‘initiatives’ are only supported if they are narrowly defined as ‘Common Core’ or ‘STEM?’ What if you are a teacher in search of funding, recognition, or exposure but are not tied to a district – or the form you are trying to complete won’t advance because you are not tied to a physical school? How can you find working partnerships with teachers who cannot find the time and space to do something that’s not benchmarked to the standards or covered in standardized tests? How can you work across disciplines when the boundaries between them have become so entrenched that they feel insurmountable? This is where enlightened leadership comes into play, because tearing down these walls is something that cannot be done by teachers alone, particularly teachers consumed with building something new. If the work crew for O-MUN had included a few more key adults in positions of support, perhaps my program would have developed more quickly, or with stronger foundations, or with added benefit to my own school. Regardless, once the program was built, would there be an administrator on the other side willing to take the time to give it a look, give it an endorsement, and give it time and a place within the school culture?

Zoe online

I think these questions are indicative of this unique time and place in education. The experiences and spaces that we want our own students to build cannot be done without teachers and administrators having gone through the process too. You can’t buy off-the-shelf, organic, collaborative, student-driven programs. If this is what we say we want for education, how will we get there? Who will support it? What has to change within the culture of a school to bring ideas to fruition and, once ‘ripe for the picking,’ incorporate them in meaningful ways so that programs can develop and mature within a school’s culture?

One thing O-MUN has taught me is that students are more than capable of developing and driving major educational initiatives. These initiatives will take place because they can, because technology makes it possible, and because they often are more meaningful than what happens in a traditional classroom. Can they become part of a school’s repertoire or will the real-world, student-driven initiatives be left outside of it, further widening the gulf between schools and real-world engagement? For every multi-million dollar education company pitching a high-tech way of doing the same thing we’ve done for years, how many countless organic initiatives in need of nurturing and support are simply wasted and, by extension, become lost opportunities for students? As frustrating as this seems, I am excited for all of us as we begin to see the truly great things that connected, collaborative learning can bring us.  Spend a bit of time in the O-MUN universe and you really will believe that anything is possible!

Please visit the Online Model United Nations website for further information. If you are involved in Model United Nations, please consider joining the Model UN Leadership Initiative to discuss ideas, research, and innovations within the field. O-MUN also is developing a number of national-level programs. If you are a teacher and think that you would like to oversee one of these country-wide programs, contact Lisa for more information.

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including FacebookTwitter, and LinkedIn.

Online Model United Nations: Raising our voices [guest post]

My first contact with Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) was in my sophomore year of high school. At the time, I approached the program with some degree of caution; after all, although I had done a substantial amount of Model United Nations (MUN), I had never heard of its existence online. MUN was supposed to be in real time, face-to-face, wasn’t it? How was an online MUN program even possible, let alone practical?

The extensive MUN program at my school had already served me well. By the end of my sophomore year, I had done MUN in three continents and I wanted more. However, clear barriers existed which prevented me from acquiring more experience. After all, traveling expenses, geographical distance, restrictions on face-to-face meetings, and time off school ultimately set a conference limit and a school only has so many human resources.

O-MUN1                                         OMUN2

The Online MUN debate platform is a Blackboard Collaborate room, where traditional elements of a f2f conference are replicated online – for example, delegates raising their placards to indicate they are ready to take the floor. O-MUN student leaders run monthly Tech Check sessions for new delegates and students quickly adjust to the debate room environment.

My first online conference, however, was the game-changer. With the friendly accents of delegates from over four continents, with the sheer intensity of debate over the South China Sea archipelagos, with the voices of students my age hungry to make a positive difference, a feeling of belonging stirred within me. I felt connected to a group of people who, like me, were filled with raw idealism in hoping to help others. I was empowered – I could now influence and be influenced by change-makers from over fifty countries.

With Online MUN I can debate multiple times every month, and with far greater authenticity due to the international nature of the program. It is not uncommon to be in a committee with delegates from three continents, some of whom are directly tied to the conflict in question. In my opinion, it is this democratization of a more authentic MUN experience that separates the MUN of today from the MUN of tomorrow.

The middle school delegates of jrO-MUN (Junior Online MUN), many of them new to MUN, are particularly appreciative of the way this online simulation is democratizing the MUN experience. They recognize that jrO-MUN brings an authentic experience of international diplomacy to their fingertips. They see that jrO-MUN is giving them a voice. Middle School delegates who are fully capable and passionate about debating are often denied early MUN access due to resources. They may have to wait their turn while older students take up travel team positions and have their overseas adventures, but junior delegates no longer have to wait for a genuinely globe-spanning MUN debate.

OMUN3

Secretary General, Rohan Sinha, sets up the interface for a Security Council simulation. Junior O-MUN is also integrating crisis scenarios into traditional face-to-face debates using the O-MUN platform, an exciting addition to middle school MUN programs.

Over the past year, as jrO-MUN Secretary General, I have had the opportunity to lead and learn from students all around the world; from my laptop at home in Taiwan to the lecture halls of Georgetown University in Qatar and the assembly halls of The Hague in the Netherlands. More than ever before, I realize the power of exposure – early exposure – to different voices with shared passions. O-MUN sets the stage for this chorus.

Previously in this series

Rohan Sinha serves as the Global Secretary General of Junior Online MUN (jrO-MUN), the middle school partner program to O-MUN. Currently a high school junior at Taipei American School, Rohan started MUN in seventh grade and since then has debated in conferences in Taipei, Berlin, New York, and Qatar. He also founded and leads his school’s International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team, after having won the Gold Medal at the college iGEM competition at MIT with the NYMU Taipei team.

Connected global youth and the Online Model United Nations movement [guest post]

I became an educational entrepreneur by accident. A humble social studies teacher and Model United Nations (MUN) director by training, I am now working with students in over 50 countries to develop one of the most innovative global ed programs around: Online Model United Nations, or O-MUN for short. Up until 2011 there had never been a fully online version of this popular academic simulation. While precise estimates are unknown, it is likely that close to half a million students – grade 6 through university – engage in MUN each year. Tapping into this enormous community and undertaking the complex task of developing a free and open program for youth around the globe has changed my views on education, technology, and youth forever. And along the way, I have learned a few lessons that are as telling about the state of education and our comfort/discomfort with student-empowering technology as it is about the actual online debates program itself. So a bit of background is in order.

O-MUN

The first attempt at online MUN was done while I was a teacher at a private, for-profit online high school. I decided to start a Model UN club as my required extra-curricular activity. Using my Blackboard Collaborate classroom, I quickly realized that I needed a model to show my students. With the help of a co-collaborator, we rounded up a dozen students from around the world to test the viability of this platform. For nineteen hours, wave after wave of students found us, logged in, and tested out the room’s features, and  found them to be fun and engaging. Many of the very procedures we use in our program today were discovered and tested  in that first open session. I went to sleep that night with my computer on, listening to the chatter of students in Singapore and Malaysia troubleshooting how to vote or submit amendments. I woke the following morning a changed educator. Like a thunderbolt, I knew I had fallen into something potentially huge. With barely-above-average tech skills and a fair amount of MUN experience, I set out on  a path to develop an online, global debating program for high school students. Two successful debates later, my online school’s administration and corporate leaders began to catch the online MUN fever too, and that is when trouble started.

Delegate at O-MUN

The response of my school was to pull the plug on the entire program. I was then entrusted to a minder and told not to publicly speak about the program. Attorneys were called in to assess how this program could be patented and monetized.  Figures were bandied about, with a princely $235 subscription fee per student the likely price for access to this online debates program. The program was to be run from behind the school’s enormous firewall, and developed in isolation and away from a larger international student population. People with no experience in MUN were put in charge of developing the program. So with the core values of this program at stake, and marginalized within the school for which I had developed the program, I made a tough decision. I walked away from my job and my expensive online classroom – the great enabler of the program. With no good alternatives in sight, and taking very seriously my non-compete clause, I sat it out for a year and, in September of 2011, relaunched the idea as O-MUN, a not-for-profit global education program offered up to students for free. (O-MUN’s vision can be found here.)

Delegate from Tanzania

I tell this story in order to set the stage for what happens next. Without resources, we patched together free and open source technology tools to meet our growing needs. Having to  innovate as we went along, our operating costs were (and remain) negligible. We won an online Blackboard classroom in a contest hosted by Steve Hargadon. With that one precious room as the cornerstone of our program, we launched O-MUN. There was no  institutional backing and very limited ability to connect with a larger audience; in fact, most of the over-25 crowd studiously ignored us during that first year. But we grew because students found us, primarily via  our growing community on Facebook. When our debates were small, we wrung our hands, put our heads together, and tried to figure out the next plan of attack. For the students who got actively involved that first year, they worked together to innovate our leadership structure, down to the positions needed and what their job descriptions would be, how to run our Facebook communities, and what worked/didn’t work with Google Docs. Students actively developed our website, our banners and graphics, and our training and moderating programs, so critical for a student-driven organization. No one made students do this. They certainly didn’t do it for grades. This was in the era of pre-digital badges, so they didn’t even get that (they do now, but more on that later). Most would never meet one another face-to-face, but the O-MUN community esprit des corps soared that year, as did the social currency that binds communities together: inside jokes, shared mythology and legend, even a currency and theme song.

Delegate from UAE

In the waning days of 2013, I look back at what has been O-MUN’s true international debut: a partnership with THIMUN, exposure and collaboration with a small but growing number of organizations, and a proliferation of programs driven by the demand and ideas of students around the world, working collaboratively, simply for the sheer love of MUN and their O-MUN community: a middle school and university level program, the first online model International Court of Justice, national programs in places like Taiwan , Singapore, Turkey, and France (and more on the way), a recently-launched French language version of O-MUN, with Arabic planned for 2014. The frosting on the cake has been O-MUN’s travel teams, proving to others as well as ourselves that online activity can translate into real, face-to-face skill development and opening a path for participation that normally would have been denied students without an online avenue to connect with the larger MUN community.

beach

This week members of our community will share how Online Model United Nations has impacted them, professionally and personally, as delegates and as human beings. I believe they are the voices that educational thought leaders, teachers, administrators, and parents need to hear. What is driving O-MUN’s development is far removed from what we often talk about in education circles. It is my hope that the O-MUN story adds a fresh perspective to the global education conversation.

nick and Salam, opening ceremonies

Previously in this series

Lisa Martin is a 20+ year educator who has worked in places as far flung as the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, San Diego, and, now, Amman, Jordan. She is the Co-Founder and Director of Online Model United Nations and would love to connect with like-minded educators. You can find her just about everyplace online, including Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Upcoming guest series: Online Model United Nations

FYI, over the next week or so I am turning my blog over to Lisa Martin and the students who help her run the Online Model United Nations (O-MUN) program. Many of you may be familiar with the Model UN program and know what a wonderful experience that is for students. Now imagine taking that program and extending it online and across multiple continents and time zones!

The O-MUN story is an incredible tale of perseverance, creativity, and student empowerment. I hope that this guest series will get you thinking about some possibilities and that you’ll interact with Lisa and these amazing students over the next few days.

Making judgments about technologies we haven’t used and don’t understand

George Couros says:

“Kids don’t have enough balance.”

“We are dumber because of technology.”

“People are disconnected from one another because of how we use technology.”

“Technology kills our face-to-face interactions.”

In my travels, I have heard all of these arguments.

You will hear people say things like “Twitter is stupid.” Just to clarify, Twitter is a thing and can’t be stupid. It is the equivalent of a student not understanding math and then saying “math is stupid.” It is often our lack of understanding that leads us to make statements like this, which I made myself. One of the questions that I ask people when they make these remarks is, “from your use of Twitter, tell me why it is stupid?”, which is sometimes followed by, “Well, I have never used it.” That would be the equivalent of me saying that a Lamborghini handles terribly. I could say that, but I have never experienced driving one, nor have I ever done any research on the vehicle.

via http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/4271

What are we doing to foster ‘get stuff done with other people networks?’

Although you're far...

Kakul Srivastava says:

Millennials are more likely than any other previous generations to daily access their outside-of-work networks to get work done. The forces of micro-entrepreneurship are increasing making each of us our own “corporation,” reliant on our outside networks to make things happen. Finally, as our previous work experience becomes increasingly irrelevant to our future work problems, our real asset to bring to any endeavor becomes our network.

Will Richardson adds:

for most of us, our PLNs are “sharing networks” in that the main currency in our connections are links and or ideas that, in theory at least, amplify our own learning about whatever it is we’re interested in. But seeing our networks as “critical to getting our work done” is a step up for most

What are we doing as school leaders to foster our students’ and educators’ development of ‘get stuff done’ networks? Usually nothing.

Image credit: Although you’re far…, Aphrodite

If you’re afraid of change, social media is a distraction and a risk

Seth Godin says:

If you’re eager for change, every bit of information and every event represents an opportunity to learn, to grow and to change for the better. You hear some advice and you listen to it, consider it (possibly reject it), iterate on it and actually do something different in response.

On the other hand, if you’re afraid of change or in love with the path you’re on or focused obsessively on your GTD list, then incoming represents a distraction and a risk. So you process it with the narrative, “how can this input be used to further what I’ve already decided to do?” At worst, you ignore it. At best, you use a tiny percentage of it to your advantage.

via http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2013/11/your-incoming-process.html

25,000

25000

Although my Twitter birthday is April 11, 2007, it took me four tries over at least a year’s worth of time before I really understood how to make it work for me. Since then it’s been an invaluable resource for my professional and personal growth, both as a learning channel and as a resource dissemination vehicle.

Three days ago I hit the milestone of 25,000 subscribers. I realize that following someone on Twitter doesn’t require an enormous effort, but nonetheless that’s a big number. The numbers of people who follow me on Twitter and read my blog are roughly equal now. Thank you, each and every one of you, for including me in your learning networks. I’m humbled every day by your willingness to connect with my ideas and resources and am grateful that we live in a time when we have so many different options for global communication, connection, and learning.

Just 40,151,317 more to catch Justin Bieber!

Interest-driven learning is now both accessible and required

Mimi Ito says:

There have always been people who are really passionate about their learning and interest-driven, but with the advent of new technology, this kind of learning becomes something that is not only more accessible but also, really, required.

via http://spotlight.macfound.org/featured-stories/entry/qa-mimi-ito-on-connected-learning-for-all

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