I think that we have reached a point where very little is limited by geography. Thanks to
technology we have the ability to communicate with others from around the world in real time.
This has opened up many doors, in particular, in the field of education (Higgins et al.)
There have been a number of studies conducted on the concept of collaborative cyber learning.
This is a fancy way of saying, learning by interacting with others using the internet (ibid.). This is
the basis of the Global Campus Network. Through GCN, students learn to produce, write, direct
etc. by interacting with other students from around the world. It's a collaborative process that
has been very positive. Collaborative cyber learning does have its limits, for example time zones
and language barriers, but its positives far outweigh its negatives (ibid.).
I researched two recent studies that looked at different collaborative cyber learning methods
and their effects on students. The first was "Opening the Doors to a Global Classroom: An
International Social Media Collaboration" conducted by Lindsay Higgins et al. and the second
was, "A blended synchronous learning model for educational international collaboration" by
Megan Hastie et al.
Bringing international collaboration into University classrooms creates an opportunity to have
guest lecturers from around the world (Hastie et al.) I like to think that we will reach a point
where professors no longer belong to a single institution, but instead teach multiple classes at
multiple universities around the world (ibid.). Having this open communication in the academic
community allows for international perspectives (ibid.). This method, in which teachers teach in
multiple classrooms around the world in both physical and cyber environments, is considered a
Blended Synchronous Learning Model (BSLM) (ibid.). A BSLM involves combining, "at least two
or more learning settings into a flexible learning environment." (ibid.).
The study conducted by Hastie et al. highlights nine different BSLMs (ibid.). These include
collaborations between students, and teachers in a variety of physical and cyber environments
(ibid.). Given that there are 9 modes, I will highlight my two favourites.
For me, the runner up is mode 9, or as I like to call it, the educational model of the future. This
method involves students and teachers participating in both physical and cyber environments
(ibid.). Students can go to class or participate from home (ibid.). Teachers can choose to teach
at a local institution where they are present in the classroom, or teach at an institution far away
via the internet (ibid.). I think that when it comes to explaining the importance of this model, the
study by Hastie et. al puts it best, "Multiple educational institutions can align themselves
strategically to recruit top faculty members from around the world and offer the best international
degree programmes for students." (ibid.)
My favourite is mode 3. I think it has the most immediate benefit to students. In this mode,
teachers conduct lectures in person (ibid.). Meanwhile, students participate in both physical and
cyber environments (ibid.). I think this mode can save students a lot of money. Going to school
in Toronto is fantastic, but it becomes an issue for those who live far away and can't afford rent
in the city. I have some friends who's daily commute can take up to four hours (not including
transit delays). These same friends have days with only one hour of classes. This becomes an
issue because students begin skipping class. It's not that they want to skip, it just makes very
little sense to travel 4 hours to school and back for a one hour lecture.
By incorporating model 3 into classrooms, students who live far away can still participate in an
online environment (ibid.). The use of a webcam and live discussion forum will allow students to
both view the lecture and ask questions all from the comfort of their home.
How much money could students save from this mode? Let's do the math. It costs me $20 to
travel from Markham, Ontario to Ryerson University in Toronto and back. Ryerson's semesters
are 12 weeks long. Assuming that I attend each lecture, I will be paying $240 in travel costs just
for that one hour class. This is on top of tuition and books. By incorporating model 3 into one
hour classes the University could potentially save students hundreds of dollars per semester in
travel costs. When put into practice, these modes prove, "how collaboration can enable time
and cost-efficient education programmes to be delivered to geographically dispersed
students." (ibid.) In addition, collaboration aids in, "Economic gain for schools, institutions and
governments..." (ibid.) and, "Professional development for other teachers ..." (ibid.)
The benefits of International Cyber learning extend beyond the classroom. Collaborative
learning helps prepare us for our future (Higgins et al.). The study by Higgins et al. points out
that as the world becomes more reliant on globalization, there is a greater need for people who
can work within a global structure (ibid.). Providing students with an opportunity to learn in a
global environment, will prepare them to work in one (ibid.). In addition, engaging in intercultural
discussions helps to improve problem solving skills (ibid.). The study showed that students were
more engaged in course material when they were given the opportunity to share their opinions
and engage in international discussion (ibid.).
I think its important to expose ourselves to as many perspectives as possible. Being in a
program that has a heavy focus on production means that you are never working alone.
Everything we do is a collaborative effort. This is also the case in a professional working
environment. Everyone works as a team to achieve a common goal. Collaborative cyber
learning puts these skills into practice and simulates the work environments we will be facing in
the future (ibid.).
Hastie, Megan et al. "A blended synchronous learning model for educational
international collaboration." Innovations in Education and Teaching International. Vol.
47, No. 1, 2010, 9-24
Higgins, Lindsey et al. "Opening the Doors to a Global Classroom: An International
Social Media Collaboration." NACTA Journal, 2010