Gone are the days of learning about a culture by reading about it in a textbook. The internet has opened the doors to exploring the world in new and ever changing ways. In today’s classroom, students have access to more resources and information than ever before. Now, with the few clicks of a mouse, students can virtually visit cultures of the past and present. Students can explore ancient documents as if they had traveled back in time and can travel the world as if they were really there. Through a variety of national and international e-pen pal programs, students can engage in digital communication (text, audio, or video) with individuals across the globe, people that are different than themselves. As teachers, we have a responsibility to our students. We must open our minds to the diversity around us (domestically and abroad) and seek out learning experiences that will help our students develop a cultural awareness and sensitivity. The technology available through the World Wide Web is an amazing way to facilitate learning experiences that heighten the cultural sense of our students and expose them to people, places, things, and ideas that are different than what they have previously learned about or experienced.
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy. Aside from being the highlight of my entire teaching career, it was one of the most eye opening learning experiences of my life. One of the first things that Ron Clark said was that he was not preparing his students to be successful Georgia leaders. He explained that he was preparing his students to be the next global leaders. That resonated deeply within me. Clark has it right. We need to be preparing students to compete for jobs on a global scale. With technology changing at astonishing rates, it is highly likely that future jobs will be internationally competitive. Digital communication and interaction is going to make it possible to conduct business from anywhere in the world. Clark is preparing his students to lead the future. While he has the funding and resources to prepare his global leaders through first-hand international experiences, in the public school setting, we have to think more creatively. We have to think about how we, as educators, can harness the power of the internet to engage students in learning experiences that result in a deeper, global understanding. We can no longer simply allow students to learn about economics in other countries through a textbook…we have to take them there (virtually) and allow them to make significant economic decisions based on the cultural needs of an area. We can no longer teach about the humanitarian crises abroad by sharing an article, we need to engage students in meaningful experiences that allow them to become sensitive and empathetic to the needs of others. We need to facilitate learning experiences that debunk stereotypes and reduce prejudices. With the power of technology, we can do these things without leaving the walls of the classroom. Technology has the power to help develop the next global leaders… we have the find a way to make that happen!