Designing Learning Technology to Foster Global Citizenship

Saya Iwasaki
4 min readDec 29, 2015

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman indicated in 2005 The World is Flat that global boundaries have become blurred and abstract with globalization. As people travel beyond their own communities physically or digitally, and collaborate with people from different backgrounds, what role can education and technology play in nurturing worldly citizenship?

Founder and executive director of the Global Language Project, Angela Jackson, makes a compelling point in her TedXProvidence Talk, Turning Urban Youth into Global Citizens, that in 15 to 18 years, the majority of children may grow up working abroad or with people from different cultures and societies with foreign languages. Although there are increasingly more people experiencing this , there are still children who don’t know the world beyond five blocks of their home. A poignant example of this is when Jackson took her students to Chinatown in New York City, and one of her students asked her: we are still in New York City?

The student is just one of millions who do not yet understand the vastness of the world — with fair reason. Learning global citizenship has never been an embedded component of a public, or most private, school education. Nevertheless, I argue that it should be and technology can play a pivotal role in making it happen.

Despite common misperception, a seasoned globetrotter does not equal a global citizen. To be a citizen of this world does not mean that one has traveled to exotic locations and racked up experience. It is much deeper: it is about being an engaged member of the global community, with the willingness to bridge differences and communicate. It is about being present, with the self-awareness that you play a part in resolving conflicts and building your community. Being a world citizen is a choice.

Future economies are expected to have more cross-national, cross-cultural, and cross-societal collaboration than ever. The economy will favor people who can be global citizens — those who can creatively and comfortably navigate between locations and communities. Additionally, thinking globally is more than just economics. It is about finding the universal values of being human — which includes — tolerance, sharing, caring and environmental awareness. When we encounter differences, we should accept those differences instead of categorizing ourselves as an exclusive group. We are moving towards a future where this will be the norm. However, not every child is prepared to live in this global economy.

That said, with the increasing use of technology worldwide, there is a lot of potential in how we, learning technology designers, can create tools that foster global citizenship for children from all backgrounds.As dwellers of the 21st century, we are all becoming unofficial diplomats of our society. As remarked by Meicen Sun at the fifth anniversary of the United Nations Academic Impact initiative, our perceptions of ourselves and our affiliated groups are continuously shaped by others, just as we shape their perceptions. This interdependence is intensified with the global increase in mobile and digital interactions.

In this interconnected world, how do we begin designing tools for learning environments that will encourage children to broaden their perceptions of the world? How can we move the discourse from just acknowledging global citizenship to applying it in the practical world?

Currently, Project-Based Learning (PBL) is paving its way as a powerful method to foster collaboration and communication in (mostly) progressive schools. Some classroom teachers around the world have taken the philosophy of PBL further, and have combined it with intercultural education and technology. Examples of some digital productions are global classrooms, international pen pal projects, and even intercultural professional development programs like KnowMyWorld. ChildFundConnect lets students in Australia and a few other developing countries upload videos of their days, and exchange experiences without necessarily having to leave their classroom. Kindergarten Around the World does something similar, but is aimed for younger children (here is a sample project).

There is a gradual movement towards bringing global interconnectedness into the classrooms, which indicates a paradigm shift in how we encourage global citizenship in learning environments. While many of these learning tools are used by a select few who (1) have access to capable teachers and internet resources, (2) understand the importance of global citizenship, and (3) use technology as means rather than as ends, it is a solid starting point to think about how we can design edtech fostering global citizenship for a broader community who may not have access, or not yet recognize the importance of being a citizen of the world.


*This post was edited by Stanford campus editor Jun-youb (JY) Lee



Saya Iwasaki

Always curious, always writing. Culture, Belonging and People Growth at @doordash. Formerly @bitski. MA @stanfordEd.