Dr. Paul Wallace, professor in the Department of Leadership and Educational Studies, received a grant to include a global collaborating activity within his course, ITC 5220 “Digital Technologies in Education”, which provided opportunities for graduate students to discuss topics related to digital media literacy with peers around the world.
Launched by Appalachian State University’s Office of International Education and Development in the fall of 2021, the App State Virtual International Program Award is a small grant opportunity designed to support faculty in incorporating a global virtual exchange into their course or to develop new courses.
“Education majors in the U.S. are routinely some of the least represented students in study abroad programs, so the goal of this collaboration was to develop a global mindset in educational leaders through online collaboration activities,” noted Wallace.
“The overall goal of the project was to bring the world into our classroom, and offer an authentic international activity providing App State students opportunities to value diverse perspectives and cultures and understand how events around the world are interconnected through discussing the topic of essential digital skills with others from diverse perspectives and cultures,” he added.
Increasing Digital Skills Around the World
While working with the Mandela Washington Fellows on campus in June 2022, Wallace met Chipo Paradzai, founder of Refined Hearts, a non-profit in Zimbabwe dedicated to increasing and strengthening leadership opportunities for young women in Zimbabwe. They decided to bring students from the ITC 5220 course together with members from Refined Hearts to identify digital skills that are essential for youth in Zimbabwe to be successful and discuss differences in culture and society between our two countries.
The project kicked off with a video conference meeting. From there, students were divided into groups of three App State students ad two Refined Hearts members. After three weeks of working together, the App State students gave group presentations comparing and contrasting essential digital skills in the U.S. and Zimbabwe.
Impact Across the State of North Carolina
From reflections on the project activities and online discussions, many students expressed how this project helped provide perspective on how fortunate our lives are in the U.S., increase in empathy with others, and how many in the world do not have access to technology, education, and employment opportunities.
The App State students, many of who work for various school districts across the state, noted how this experience would impact their work in the classroom and schools.
"As a media specialist, it is important that I represent all countries, geographic regions, cultures, beliefs, skill sets, and economic information in my media collection whether it be through books, e-books, and online resources," noted Landon Meadows, a student enrolled in the library science graduate program and Head Media Specialist at Southwest Elementary School in Jacksonville, North Carolina.
For Caroline Aycock, a student in the instructional technology graduate certificate program, and K-12 Digital Teaching and Learning Coach in Nash County Public Schools, she gained more empathy for the teachers in her district who have moved to her school from other countries. “I think that I can use what I’ve learned from this project and empathize with those new teachers and help them through this big transition."
Continuing the Connection
Wallace and Paradzai plan to submit the results of this project to present at an international conference, as well as to seek funding to assist the foundation in acquiring computers in order to conduct workshops and classes on digital skills for members of her organization.
"There are so many ways to network and meet people of different cultures, this project has been unique in that we used a digital platform for American students and young Zimbabwean women to share and exchange the beauty, similarities, and differences of their unique cultures," noted Paradzai.