On World Global Collaboration Day September 17, 2015, students with special needs from Finland, Sweden, Germany, South Africa and the United States shared videos with each other introducing themselves and their school. The event kicked off an extended online global collaboration between the students, called the SMARTee Project. The students use SMART Amp technology to collaborate online and teach each other about their local cultural traditions and events.
The six special education teachers from around the world first met and formed the idea for the collaboration at SMART Technologies’ Exemplary Educators conference last summer. While attending the conference, they found they had more in common with each other than with the general education teachers in attendance.
“We were talking about some of the challenges that we have compared to a general education teacher,” said Brianna Owens, a special education teacher at Petroglyph Elementary School in Albuquerque, NM. “We do things so differently, but special ed really does look very similar on the global scale, be it South Africa or Germany or Finland, and so we talked about how we could meet some of the challenges by having our kids work together.”
Other teachers around the United States and the world have also discovered the power of online global collaboration projects for students with all types of special needs. Students who have severe or multiple disabilities, those in inclusive classrooms, and those who struggle with verbal communication and face-to-face socialization are using technology to connect with all types of kids around the world, and are feeling more engaged in the learning process through this inclusive online environment.
Connecting Across Cultures
Students in the SMARTee Project are using SMART Amp software to share their work with the other classes, create workspaces for each other to use and collaborate within a shared workspace. Owens’ students taught the other classes about the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, an annual event featuring hundreds of hot air and gas balloons. “This is a project I would teach my kids every year, but this year it really took it to that next level because they had to understand it at a level to be able to go back and teach other students,” said Owens.
Many of the students in Owens’ class have learning disabilities or other special needs such as autism that create challenges with communication and socialization, so they often use pictures and other visuals instead of spoken or written language. Owens said those communication differences can create barriers to interaction with the general education students in the school, but they actually facilitated communication with students in non-English-speaking countries because all of the students could understand picture communication, regardless of their language. Owens’ quoted Jörgen Holmberg, one of her SMARTee Project colleagues, who said, “Many of the students have problems collaborating with a student sitting next to them or even talking to the kid next to them. That’s a huge barrier. But with our kids it’s easier for them to collaborate with a kid sitting in another country.”