by Florian Dalstein, Diana Koppelt, and Mike Ravitsky
“Open education, open innovation, open to the Atlantic”
Our team proposes the delivery of a new learning format to high school students in the United States and Germany. We aim to connect students across the Atlantic and facilitate intercultural exchange by converting standard, individualized school assignments into a paired assignment on which the student can collaborate with an overseas student. This can be achieved by partnering with existing virtual exchange organizations to drive adoption in German and US high schools. The proposal outlines why this is necessary, explains implementation steps, and elaborates on future developmental avenues within the sphere of transatlantic education at the high school level.
BACKGROUND AND STATEMENT OF NEED
The Atlantic Memo “Transatlantic Relations in a New Era: The Next Generation Approach” published by fellows of the first Atlantic Expedition describes the proliferation of destabilizing, anti-globalist sentiments within the United States and Europe, and it expressed the need for better communication and dialogue as to the political, economic, and security gains associated with the transatlantic relationship. This includes involving all stakeholders, one of which is the future generation of businesspeople, politicians, civil servants, and community members: current high school students.
Intercultural exchange and study abroad programs help young students meet each other, recognize commonalities, build relationships, and see how nations work together to solve problems. These experiences typically manifest themselves at the college level. However, only around 33% of Germans and US Americans will actually complete a bachelor’s degree after finishing secondary education, meaning ⅔ of the new generation may never experience a study abroad trip, foreign cultures, or courses on languages and macroeconomics. Yet, around 90% of individuals do attend high school, presenting an incredible educational opportunity.
This project focuses on high school students with emphasis on low socioeconomic areas, since these individuals are less likely to attend college. The objective is to create a simple process by which teachers can issue standard assignments based on existing curriculum, but as a paired project on which the student can collaborate with an overseas student who is taking an analogous course. This can be done via free tools like Skype and Google Classroom, and there are existing virtual exchange organizations (YFU and iEARN) with whom a potential project champion could work to refine the integration mechanism per US and German educational standards and drive program delivery in these countries.
PROJECT DELIVERABLES AND BENEFICIARIES
The team seeks to ultimately produce an instructional packet that provides high school principals and teachers with a process for:
- Converting existing, curriculum-appropriate assignments into a version that can be approached as a pair using solely digital collaboration tools
- Identifying educators overseas who lead analogous courses to communicate and align on mutually-appropriate assignments
- Helping their students access and understand how to leverage the selected communications tool to work on projects in a digital environment
- Efficiently capturing deliverables so as to issue grades
- Providing support resources in case of technological issues
For example, if a US high school teacher is implementing a computer science course and normally assigns students to code a simple app or program, the teacher would be able to partner with a computer science teacher in Germany to align on a coding assignment that would be mutually appropriate for collaboration between the US American and German students. The same logic could be applied to a variety of assignments, such as a US history paper (a subject taught in both countries), a song for a music class, a book review, a calculus worksheet, and so on.
Students are shaping the transatlantic relations of tomorrow. Enhancing intercultural sensitivity and awareness are critical for this process. US American and German students will benefit from collaborative interaction with overseas partners, an experience that is known to contribute to intercultural understanding. Beyond that, this learning format is a lesson in digital collaboration and partnership within a context of differing perspectives – ultimately, this will help build out a critical skillset for tomorrow’s college students, researchers, civil servants, and business professionals. Finally, high schools will receive a simple format for delivering a richer and more contemporary educational experience to their students, ideally one for which critical metrics (graduation rates, future income, college attendance rates) can be captured and tracked.
Our team has identified two organizations hosting a virtual collaboration program at the high school level: Youth for Understanding (YFU) and iEARN. Because they both leverage time-tested methodologies for connecting individuals digitally, the main project partner should cooperate with one or both in order to explore synergies and see how existing processes can be modified to accommodate the International Tandem group’s mission.
As outlined earlier, we seeks to create a format by which high school teachers can self-manage the process of connecting with corresponding educators overseas, designing a mutually-beneficial program according to each side’s existing curriculum, and provide support to students engaged in a project. The primary difference between this format and those implemented by YFU and iEARN is that the former is relatively independent of any individual high school curricula, while the latter is based on an existing archive of about 150 projects that teachers can adapt to their needs. However, we seek to explore avenues whereby the intercultural exchange process occurs within the framework of assignments that would have been issued on an individualized basis regardless of any broader program. This is to minimize administrative costs and reservations associated with adopting a supplemental educational process.
A project champion’s role, then, would be to leverage their expertise on US-German relations, high school educational requirements, and cultural objectives to adapt the existing delivery mechanism to the specific needs of US and German schools. The project partner would then leverage its relationships to help drive adoption in these countries, beginning with a pilot program, possibly in cooperation with the Houston-Leipzig Sister City Association. Such a beta test would help capture feedback associated with subject matter integration, teacher satisfaction, and student performance against intercultural learning objectives. The partnership could then re-implement the program in Houston and Leipzig and use the knowledge captured to scale outward using existing connections with education officials at the high-school level.
The other side of the implementation process would involve engagement with education officials, policymakers, and high school teachers and principals to explore ways in which this collaborative platform can be adapted to accommodate existing curricula.
The Second Atlantic Expedition and the upcoming Atlantic Action Plan coincide with a cultural campaign called Deutschlandjahr 2018, initiated by the German Foreign Ministry. This campaign is part of a series of programs that communicate and proliferate German culture abroad. In 2018, the United States will be the partner country, hence yielding promising synergies with the Atlantic Expedition’s agenda upon which our project proposal is based. The Deutschlandjahr will be executed by the Goethe Institute, an organization that has a far-reaching network of offices around the US with respective interested parties. Since it is intended for the tandem program to build on existing programs, the Goethe Institute would be, in addition to YFU and iEARN, a prospective partner institution. Access to their network of US Americans interested in German culture would help facilitate the matchmaking process for the tandem collaboration, and could serve as a reservoir of inspiration for project ideas. The campaign wishes to diversify the stakeholders of transatlantic relations and integrate stakeholders who have traditionally not been part of the conversation. This directly relates to the core imperative of the tandem program; namely, connecting high school students across the Atlantic who have not naturally shaped the German-US partnership. It also aligns with the Atlantic Expedition’s strategic approach to target new stakeholders in both countries. Third, the Deutschlandjahr 2018 will stress the importance of social responsibility of individuals within society, which reiterates our idea of student collaboration as part of a bottom-up approach to transatlantic relations. These student partnerships, depending on the specific project that people are working on, could go hand in hand with other Atlantic Expedition initiatives such as City-to-City Cooperation. In conclusion, the Deutschlandjahr 2018 and the international tandem program carry congruous spirits and complement each other and the strategic context of the Atlantic Expedition.
FINANCES AND COSTS
The principal aspect of our program is a school-managed virtual exchange platform based on free tools, such as Skype and Google Classroom. We expect that the majority of costs will be associated with central program management activities owned by partnership representatives from the project champion, YFU, iEARN, and/or the Houston-Leipzig Sister City Association. In order to fully determine a cost profile, the group will need to align on objectives with all project partners and formally approach these organizations to determine program structure and delivery model. YFU has not yet been contacted, but iEARN and the Sister City partnership have already expressed initial interest in collaboration.
LIMITATIONS AND CONSTRAINTS
This is an unsolicited project proposal with no specific project champion. Although it relies on partnerships between stakeholders who are clearly engaged in a common mission, the delivery of the virtual exchange program itself is managed by the high schools. The central determinant of success is likely the ease with which high school teachers can deliver assignments using this virtual partnership model. In accordance with initial research and feedback, considerable effort will need to be allocated to allow for seamless integration of projects. In other words, a high school teacher should be able to quickly reformat an existing assignment to adapt to a paired assignment that can be worked digitally. This includes retaining the fulfillment of any requirements against educational objectives issued at the federal, state, and local levels, along with retaining a format that provides for easily managed deliverables and grade assignments.
The other major barrier will be demonstrating the value-add to educational officials and teachers in the first place. At the high school level, there have been few empirical, longitudinal assessments of the effects of intercultural experiences on graduation rates, college attendance, SAT scores, future income, and affect (student self-confidence, satisfaction, etc.). Part of the rollout will require creating a system for accurately capturing these results to fold into future program collateral.
In short, this project enables students to better comprehend culture, history, and traditions by utilizing technological innovations in education, and it will enrich transatlantic relations while providing a deeper educational experience to high school students who might otherwise never have an international collaborative opportunity. It also provides a reproducible model for educational institutions and programs to follow with respect to delivering intercultural education to a broader range of students.
The transatlantic partnership needs engagement from new stakeholders in order to revitalize and modernize political and cultural relations. Projects-based virtual collaboration achieves this renewal through opportunities for intercultural exchange. The key to facilitating such an exchange is to utilize innovative multimedia technologies to overcome the dependency on location. This project targets high-school students and offers them an active learning experience, and it guarantees tangible insights into policy crafting, strategy development, and problem resolution. We remain exploratory with respect to the period of implementation and the cost outlays due to so far undetermined project modifications by eventual champions or collaborators.
 Camille Ryan and Kurt Bauman, “Educational Attainment in the United States: 2015,” U.S. Census, March 2016, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2016/demo/p20-578.pdf; and “Education at a Glance: OECD Indicators,” OECD, 2014, https://www.oecd.org/edu/Germany-EAG2014-Country-Note.pdf