Field trip: From Banff to Peru

Thanks to a unique online learning project, schoolchildren have the opportunity to learn about themselves, each other, and their environments.

By Betty Rice
June 2015
 

The familiar ringtone signals a Skype session about to begin. Two groups of children sit in eager anticipation as they wait to see the images come to life at the other end of the line.

In an instant, the 19 students of Sandra Duggleby’s Grade 3 class at Banff Elementary School are connected to their new friends, who just happen to be 8,000 kilometres away in Peru.

It’s the last time the linkage between the classroom in Banff and a similar one in Lima will be made, as a research project into how each group looks at their own environment as well as the others’ comes to a close. The lessons learned by students, teachers and researchers in the Werklund School of Education will be remembered for a long time.

Unique local collaboration forged

Duggleby has also worked as a sessional instructor in the Werklund School of Education, and as such was acquainted with Jennifer Lock, Werklund’s associate dean of teaching and learning

Duggleby and Lock co-designed a research project to explore the concept of quality of life — what it might look, sound and feel like for young students, both in their communities and in another community more distant and distinct from their own. “We wanted to develop online interaction and digital connection,” Lock explains, “and to have students reach beyond the curricular goals, develop critical thinking skills and explore the relationship of the physical environment on quality life in an informed manner within an international context.” 

“A key goal of this work is for students to develop an appreciation of each other’s surroundings and how they interact with it.”

Lock and Duggleby discussed the possibility of undertaking a project where Duggleby’ s class would interact with another class in another country and decided to focus on Lima, Peru — both because of a compatible curriculum and the fact that difference in time zones was minimal — a critical issue since some of the work involved Skyping and connecting through Google Hangout.  

A chance meeting at a conference led Duggleby to Werklund student Andrea Mann, where they discovered their common connection to Jennifer Lock. Mann, who had received a University of Calgary Program for Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) award last year, focused her project, Bridging Pedagogy and Media Design, on the investigation of digital storytelling within education, which tied in perfectly to the research project Lock and Duggleby were developing. 

Working together, the partners agreed on three goals: to look for ways in which international online collaboration might promote deep inquiry; to understand the impact collaboration, both in the classroom and online, has on student understanding of curricular topics; and to discover what factors influence student learning in technology-enabled learning environments.

The next step was to find a compatible school with which to connect.

Partners in Peru

Through local community connections, Duggleby was put in touch with a teacher at Lima’s Colegio Roosevelt School. Duggleby says the class was a perfect fit for the project. “The teacher, RJ Rongcal, was also enthusiastic about having a collaborative team approach to teaching, where the students could learn together and from one another,” she says.

The project then got underway.

The student groups began by sharing PowerPoint presentations that described life in their respective countries. Students collected pictures that reflected how their environments affect their quality of life and the community around them; these pictures were posted with commentary on a Quality of Life Blog. They used Google Docs to create stories and share them with others, and learned how to take photos of their physical environment using iPads. Finally, they recorded their voices and shared their own stories too.

Andrea Mann worked with the students on the process of creative and technical production in digital storytelling. “The students quickly become conversant in the terminology and techniques used by professionals,” she says. “They also seemed to gain a sense of confidence in using the iPads for storytelling, as well as the knowledge-sharing dialogue required to troubleshoot issues and improve their work.”

“By the end of the digital storytelling project, each student was able to successfully create their own iMovie of their story,” says Duggleby. “And they were all able to upload their story to their Google Drive so they could share it with others. They also uploaded their stories to YouTube so that they could provide a link for our blog.”

Lessons learned all around

The students connected live with each other four times over the course of the project. Duggleby says her students learned a lot about their Peruvian counterparts — and themselves as well. For example, her students were amazed to learn that the Peruvian students like to surf on the desert sand, something they didn’t realize could be done. “They were surprised that pink dolphins lived in the rivers of the Amazon and that monkeys would jump onto your boat to eat your fruit as you floated down the river.”

The most important learning, in Duggleby’ s mind, is that both groups of students came to realize that participating in activities with family and friends in the natural environment is key to their quality of life. “They realize that despite the differences in our physical settings, we all make use of the outdoors to maximize our quality of life.”

The students also became more proficient in using technology to connect with each other and the world. Says Duggleby, “They realized that by working together they could accomplish anything at all."

Banff Elementary School principal Dean Irvine says the connection between his school and the university is important, giving teachers the ability to collaborate about and engage in current best practices of teaching and learning. “Access to and learning from post-secondary thought leaders to support our work and the Canadian Rockies Public School Division’s  focus on nurturing a culture of excellence in teaching and leadership is essential.”

“Connecting research is crucial in advancing our knowledge of best practices with students,” he continues, “and research must align and support where we are going and give us further clarity on directions to proceed.”

 

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