Can globally connected classrooms take on the echo chambers?

by Gemma Bradshaw

There is an overwhelming feeling right now that the direction of our online lives is making us more isolated.

Rather than freeing us to connect with the world, we’re finding echo-chambers that focus and reinforce our own ideas.

But that opportunity to connect is still there. The challenge is to find an open path to people from different cultures, with different life experiences, and see where the conversation takes us.

The idea of inspiring curiosity and empathy among difference is at the heart of global education. With the central question, how do we give students the tools they need to become lifelong learners for a tolerant and inclusive world?

EXPLORING THE WORLD

At SIMA we’ve seen how documentary can challenge audiences to investigate the world in this way.

Film Still from NOBODY DIES HERE

Whether it’s experiencing the daily lives of workers at a gold mine in Benin (NOBODY DIES HERE) or seeing how a yo-yoing subculture provides escape from gang violence in East Baltimore (THROW), creative social impact films build immediate empathy and start to open a path towards seeking different perspectives.

EXPLORING TOGETHER

We wanted to take that one step further and see what happens when students start investigating with someone from another part of the world? How would this open students to mutual, intercultural understanding and inspire them to seek out more?

Virtual Exchange is the term used for making this happen.

The tech — video chats and forums — that make it possible for your class to share an activity (like watching a film) and then connect with another class in another country to start a conversation and shared activities.

To test these ideas, we partnered with the International Film Club (a project of iEarn) to pilot the use of SIMA films for our first virtual exchange.

Schools participated from Morocco, Palestine, Israel, and the USA. Classes all watched the documentary SUNFLOWER SEEDS, and they were then paired up to work together on collaborative activities.

SUNFLOWER SEEDS follows a group of Syrian children surviving on the streets of Athens by selling sunflower seeds in the city’s suburban parks. It explores complex issues of war, migration, and xenophobia through the children’s eyes.

Students were given multiple opportunities to meet and discuss the themes of the film through an online web forum and facilitated cross-classroom discussions.

By watching the film students reported that they learned not only about the refugee crisis, but also about poverty, education and how people were treated differently. Many of the students also reacted to the film emotionally, surprised that children were in this situation.

They were able to build on this understanding and learn from others through the virtual exchanges that followed.

This interaction between students responding to the film, speaks for itself:

“Instead of putting the blame on others and misjudging them and their cultures , we should try to explore , ask , and know more about them .”
“I love your positive outlook on this issue! I also agree that people should go towards their fears and not be afraid to ask and talk to people from other cultures, and I think it is very true that ignorance is a cause for hate.”
“I feel the same way. If the world viewed refugees as equals, we’d be better able to support them in their time of crisis. Blaming the refugees for leaving their country is irrational, and it will do nothing but harm.”

This process of reflection and dialogue allows students to come to their own understanding, building on ideas from other students and creating a new worldview.

In this instance in particular, the intercultural dimension of the interactions about the film SUNFLOWER SEEDS reinforced the benefits of seeing everyone as equals.

Social impact films give students a window into people’s lives around the world.

Connecting classrooms amplifies the impact of these films. Allowing the films to become a springboard for building shared perspectives, and giving students the freedom to make discoveries about themselves and the world beyond their classroom walls.


TAKE PART

If you’re interested in SIMA films and virtual exchange, it would be great to hear from you.

Email gemma@simaawards.org or find us on Twitter @simaclassroom.