5 Reasons for Online Interest-Driven #Volunteer
Yesterday TED-Ed launched a new, international classroom based program – TED-Ed Clubs – to promote media and presentation literacy among students. To promote presentation skills is good, and TED is a good platform to spread words. But do students really need a setting created by adults because adults think kids can’t voice their thoughts and even put the thoughts into undertaking? While adults figure to “help” teenagers follow some ways of doing stuffs, the true self-initiators of the next generation are figuring out their ways to make a change.
The traditional ways of volunteering usually require a big chunk of time because they require the fulfillment at specific locations and time slots, so the commitment needs traffic efforts, even long distance travel like going abroad, and affordability of matched schedule. But this kind of reach is sporadic for both sides – volunteers and people in need.
Affordable volunteering through internet
Sarah is now a junior in Westwood high school, Austin, Texas. She loves reading and writing very much, and believes in that the power of learning can change one’s life. As she was born in Taiwan and immigrated to America later, she misses and cares about Taiwan. Although she can’t travel back to Taiwan often – the time and money are not affordable – she came out an idea that she can help Taiwan’s kids learn English through the internet. She facilitates the connections between American high school students and Taiwan students through email conversations, web2.0 tools and online spaces. Starting from her friends, a group of caring high schoolers, a project called “English for Everyone“(E4E) was initiated.
The interaction doesn’t require a specific time slot to be set aside because it’s asynchronous. Not a big offering, but it’s an affordable action for everyone who is willing to spend 30 minutes in front of his/her computer every week for a disadvantaged kid on the other side of the earth. The social connection is a meaningful context for both sides. For the kid, learning English doesn’t seem irrelevant any more. The learning could be triggered by ongoing conversations, or by request(for example, ask help for their school projects). For the tutors(high schooler volunteers), they learn about a different culture (even language) and how to help others learn. Both sides could get a different world view from the exchange experience. Being connected to learn is the basis of this project.
The volunteers curate an array of websites that could raise the interest of learning English. Sarah also built a way to monitor and manage the quality of tutoring(see the different roles of volunteer opportunities). But those high school volunteers aren’t qualified teachers, you question. Think again. Teaching isn’t equal to learning. The famous experiment by Sugata Mitra: “Hole in the Wall“(repeated again and again) told us children can teach themselves or help each other learn if they are motivated. His another talk “School in the Cloud” is also about helping rural children through cloud-based solutions. Actually students teaching other students has been around for a long time already: it’s called peer tutoring.
My wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud, a learning lab in India, where children can embark on intellectual adventures by engaging and connecting with information and mentoring online.
Students as content creators
While E4E project was looking for free reading materials – because learning languages needs lots of reading – they were frustrated. Normal Taiwan students have very limited amount of English reading materials – this is worse in all under-developed countries – and most free online resources need students to sign up.
Since Sarah enjoys writing short stories as a hobby, why not use the stories as free reading materials? Her younger sister, a video game lover, used Scratch to create a mini game to accompany the story. (see them attached at the end of this post) They are not professional, their works might not be polished, and a lot of content creators are needed to make it works. But, they decide to learn from the iterations.
Many teachers and education institutions are advocates of student publications. Yes. Students can definitely become content creators. BHS students author their own digital citizenship website to promote awareness for students, by students. Mrs Smoke’s 8th grader students from Kansas built “The digital teen anti-piracy websites“, it’s a 21st century project written by teens for teens. Mr. Avery’s Student Math Movie hosts introductory elementary math videos all created by students in 6th grade and licensed under CC BY-SA. Another free, educational “kids teaching kids” website from Mr. Marcos & his Students is Mathtrain.TV. The students also create free Apps in iTune store. In Singapore, a group of high school students create a startup “Open Lectures” offering free lecture videos like Khan Academy, crafted to complement traditional school-based education. (leave your message in the comment if you like to share your student’s publications)
John Seely Brown had argued that some of the greatest learning environments are actually “One-Room Schoolhouse”. Why are they so effective? Because the teachers aren’t transferring knowledge, they are acting as coordinators to have olders kids to teach younger kids. Is it possible to create a global one-room schoolhouse through new forms of mentorship with the aid of the internet? (watch an animated highlight of John Seely Brown’s keynote presentation)
Our fast-changing world needs a new type of learners who are makers and tinkers, that’s why “Participatory Learning as Pedagogy” matters. And the real world problem is the best context for project-based learning. The youth volunteers participate to learn how to help others with digital tools, the children needing help participate to learn writing and get feedback. The connection is the context of learning for both.
Open licenses let global collaboration become possible. The permission of re-mix and re-use means any one can improve their works or extend the content without asking. In E4E case, educators and learners are encouraged to modified the stories. This is exactly how open educational resources (OER) could change the way we learn. Actually everyone can lend a hand to help in a way you are passionate about.
Have you ever tried to do community services only to accumulate volunteer hours for your resume profile? Why not put a little more creativity into your kindness? To help others through actions that click with our interest and passion is a natural outflow from our hearts. For example, if you enjoy making games you can create games for a project like E4E, if you enjoy drawing or painting you can submit your illustrations for stories, or your art works might become a writing prompt…. as long as you mark your works with Creative Commons, they can contribute to a global collaboration in many ways. We won’t say that all creations are suitable for learning in the beginning, but anyone can add a little part to bridge them to learners.
The purpose of helping others, especially disadvantaged children, is a great context for learning. If you are an educator who appreciate student publications as a constructivism path of learning, why not use this cause to motivate your students. Your guidance, proof-reading, suggestions and commentary for student’s works could make them more useful for this cause. Also read the elaboration from Wikipedia’s page about “constructivism”:
The educator’s role is to mentor the learner during heuristic problem solving of ill-defined problems by enabling quested learning. The learning goal is the highest order of learning: heuristic problem solving, metacognitive knowledge, creativity, and originality that may modify existing knowledge and allow for creation of new knowledge.
Digital literacy is about how to use digital tools for your cause
When we talk about digital literacy or educational technology, it’s really not about transferring knowledge through fancy devices, what matters is what we can do with digital tools. Many online Web2.0 tools for creation, communication, management and learning are free or low-cost. Like John Seely Brown said, learners could put themselves in the flow – really utilize the tools to address a real problem, even it’s a small step – and learn from the hands-on experience and iterations. Project-based learning(PBL) is the answer of authentic education. When they care about a cause, they could try to tinker it through digital tools in this real world context. They don’t need to wait to do something good after they are qualified as professionals. Because the internet makes participation easy, also makes this connected world closer to an one-room schoolhouse.
Make this world an earth village
We know that this kind of help can’t reach children in rural areas without the internet. But mobile network and mobile devices are getting more available in the areas without traditional broadband infrastructures. Local workers (teachers, social workers, volunteers, parents…) who can provide face-to-face interaction are still very influential. Like technologies in classrooms, digital learning contents don’t aim to replace any teachers, they are to assist all kind of educators or local workers – in Taiwan, India, Africa or anywhere else.
Actually local workers(or neighbor workers) are important in the whole picture, E4E project works with local educators to help kids because they understand kids better and can remove some obstacles in learning environments. This kind of collaboration makes this world like an earth village, helping through the internet is a way of community service. At least, the kindness can be propagated through everyone that has ever been helped.
We don’t see why we can’t do the same thing like the E4E project for other countries if there are local workers can bridge the project to local children. There should be more ideas to make a contribution to the issues you care through the internet and cloud-based tools.
Call to action
Appreciating the spirit of E4E, we decide to sponsor their project – not in financial funding, they use free tools – but providing adults’ approvals or advices wherever they need them(mostly because of limitations coming from their age). The purpose of this article is spreading the words to call you, teachers or students, to action: become a volunteer, help create OER (writing, game making, illustration, or animation…), help improve OER, translation, or help bridge E4E to children in need in your countries.
The main theme of E4E blog is short story creation, it aims to publish English learning contents for children with no reading materials. Using blog platform is to enable interactions and bite-sized reading. An example is as below. Very possible you have better story or learning ideas than this one, submit them to : email@example.com. Your works will be licensed/marked as Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA).
Authored by Sarah Chen.
They tell me that she was quiet, possibly autistic.
I know she isn’t. And I’m not just saying this because she’s the youngest of my five little siblings and I wanted to defend her. I’m saying this matter-of-factly, because she was quite talkative around me. Sometimes I almost–almost–wish she was actually autistic.
They never hear her talk, because I told her not to. Because I made her promise to only ever use her powers around me. A gift like hers… well, I can’t imagine that people will like it any better than they like her silence. And things could go wrong in so many ways, I was afraid to think about it.
“Rain,” Emma said. And rain there was, instantaneously. The sky, breathtakingly blue and absolutely cloudless only moments ago, poured buckets outside, and I had to slam the window shut.
It had started with little things like that–reasonable enough to have a rational explanation, to be written off as acoincidence. But after the first thousand times–well, not anymore. Besides, her vocabulary expanded worryingly fast. She was always a bright child, no matter what the doctors and psychologists say.
“Platypus,” she said, and a platypus materialized on her lap. She smiled and scratched its neck, and placed it–of course–on my desk.
You might be thinking–okay, she can talk things into existence. Big deal. But I’m here to tell you–she doesn’t just create. She does verbs, too. She makes things happen, not just appear.
As to be demonstrated here.
“Dance,” Emma said. The platypus pulled sunglasses and a baseball cap out of thin air, dressed itself accordingly, and began break-dancing while making beat box noises. Emma clapped in delight. “Oh, very good.”
And that’s not the worst part–making things do whatever she wanted? No biggie. It was when she started on the adjectives that I began to panic.
“Gassy!” Emma said, pointing at the platypus.
I dropped my pencil and reared back, away from the poor animal. “Not again!”
Vocabularies in this story (故事中的英文單字):
autistic: (adjective, 形容詞) 有自閉症的
talkative: (adjective, 形容詞) 愛講話的，多話的
sibling: (noun, 名詞) 兄弟姊妹
silence: (noun, 名詞) 沉默、安靜
rain: (noun, 名詞) 在此故事用作名詞: 雨; 也可作動詞: 下雨
coincidence: (noun, 名詞) 巧合
expanded: (verb, 動詞 – expand 的過去式) 擴大、延伸
reasonable: (adjective, 形容詞) 合理的、適當的
rational: (adjective, 形容詞) 合理的、有道理的
platypus: (noun, 名詞) 鴨嘴獸
psychologists: (noun, 名詞) 心理學家
materialized: (verb, 動詞 – materialize 的過去式) 實體化、出現
existence: (noun, 名詞) 存在
happen: (verb, 動詞) 發生
dance: (verb, 動詞) 在此故事用作動詞: 跳舞; 也可作名詞: 跳舞、舞蹈
dressed: (verb, 動詞 – dress 的過去式) 穿戴
clapped: (verb, 動詞 – clap 的過去式) 鼓掌、拍手
delight: (noun, 名詞) 欣喜、高興
panic: (verb, 動詞; 在這裏作動詞,但也可作名詞) 驚慌
gassy: (adjective, 形容詞) 氣體的、氣狀的
This game is authored by Bernice Chen to test what you have learned. Give it a try!
Do you have a story idea? Submit your story written in English to us. Your story could be published here, probably with a mini game, and we will give you feedback on your writing. If you like to contribute your drawing or animation to this story, you’re welcome too.