As an educator and a mother of three school-aged children, I've had a front-row seat to the countless adjustments that kids have made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We've made the best of our current situation with drive-by birthday parties, Zoom dance classes, and remote learning, but the desire for sincere human connection remains at an all-time high.
Further Reading: 3 Online Classroom Materials for the Virtual Classroom
My 9-year-old social butterfly immerses herself in learning the same way she does everything else she experiences: head first, with all five senses and a need for the back-and-forth dialogue that's sometimes hard to come by in a virtual world. She's ended many of her fourth-grade remote learning sessions in tears. She knows that she misses her friends, but she's not quite able to articulate why.
It's not just young kids who feel this way. The high school students I teach are experiencing a similar longing for the social aspects of education. On a fundamental level, kids simply miss being with other kids. But what they're really after goes beyond recess and proms—and they don't even know it.
The Dividends of Diverse Connections
As with wellness, educational wholeness is made up of many moving parts; the need for connection through learning is one of the most crucial. As the pandemic continues, parents and educators must provide the connection kids need, specifically ones that span cultures and geographic barriers.
Fostering diversity and cultural awareness in the classroom is always important, but I can't recall a time when it has been more necessary. Millions of Americans are restricted to their own little bubbles, limiting their interactions and perspectives—to say nothing of the political division plaguing the country. Multicultural connections are crucial, the Drexel University School of Education says, because they benefit learning and nurture empathy and open-mindedness.
I've found what I hope will help future generations grow into global citizens by way of today's learning: iDialogue. iDialogue is a free online platform that connects students from around the globe through interactive, collaborative learning. Once teachers register their students, they'll have access to simple, fun ways to build and learn from their multicultural pen pals.
Getting a Dialogue Going
There are four main sections of iDialogue: the Lectorium, Debates, Challenges, and the Community.
The Lectorium is where teachers create, upload, and share video lessons. It has a library featuring content on creative writing, coding, tech, virtual field trips, and more. Teachers can choose their form of assessment (e.g., informal discussion, quiz, or video responses) and track student views and interactions via iDialogue's detailed built-in analytics. Students interact with other videos like they would with social media posts, and they earn points for completing video lessons.
And if you're especially adept at creating this kind of content, you can sell it in the Lectorium for some extra cash.
Admittedly, the Debates forum's open nature could stress teachers to the point of heartburn, but the debates are monitored—and you might be surprised to find that students are more capable of discussing sensitive topics, such as politics, more respectfully than some adults. Students can also share their opinions on travel, education, the environment, and more.
Listening to another's perspective is an important learning tool regardless, and the opportunity to learn what students from other countries and other cultures think is a great way to build a bridge that connects everyone.
Challenges is my favorite part of iDialogue. Students not only learn from and about other customs from around the world; they build multicultural relationships with kids their own age, fostering an appreciation for diversity. For example, students from more than 140 countries participated in the #MagicWinter challenge, where they submitted photos and videos of their culture's holiday traditions and customs. Winners were chosen, prizes were awarded, and learners realized no matter how far apart they lived, they weren't so different after all.
Connecting Students and Teachers
The Community section functions as a discussion board where students and teachers can ask and answer questions about myriad topics. Readers have the choice to create a new post or respond to an existing post with a comment or love it, à la Instagram or TikTok. The Community would be a quick and easy way to poll a diverse audience on any topic and use the results for an assignment in courses such as statistics, humanities, or history.
Further Reading: To Make Remote Learning Work, Teachers Need More Training
Kids need the chance to connect with one another, maybe now more than ever. Offering a safe (and free) alternative for collaboration and communication—not to mention a fantastic opportunity to break through physical and cultural barriers—can add an important element to remote learning.