Saturday, November 17, 2012

ePals -- Global Community Where Learners Connect

To "Safely Connect With Classrooms Around the World for Collaborative, Project-Based Learning", ePals has built a global community of social learning networks, making it possible to enhance students' engagement and raise their global awareness through collaboration. 

To start with, we can find a classroom and match the students according to their age group, location, first language, etc, enabling them to "break" the wall of traditional classroom, and invest their efforts to collaborate with students from different corners of the world to accomplish their projects. Hence, more and more students can become members in this global learning center and get engaged in this cultural exchange community. Through participation, they can not only share resources, but also contribute and complete projects as a team. Also, in this global community, learning happens 24/7  and beyond the physical boundary of the traditional classrooms.

After establishing an account on ePals, we can start a new project or join a project. Since students from different parts of the world can be connected, they can interpret an issue through multiple angles. It can give each individual participant a wider perspective and an open mind through intercultural dialogue, making it possible for them to have friends all over the world, through which their cross-cultural communication skills can be improved to a large extent. I find the cultural center fascinating, where we can find a wide range of cultural projects. For example, we can let students to create a cultural profile or make make a video of their daily lunch routine.  Moreover, I think it would be beneficial for students to get a sense of accountability as global citizens, if we could put the Global Citizens unit into our teaching practice, where students can know more about the outside world by exploring the facts about certain counties or global issues. For instance, we can let students to do this Global Community Country Investigation, in which students can have a closer look at the social, cultural, political, economic and physical aspects of their chosen countries.

We can use ePals in EFL classrooms at different grade levels. For example, if we teach American holidays to a group of middle school students in China, we can initiate a project with students from America (Jennifer Nypert's students for example), who have been brought up in the target culture. We can assign our students a task and let them to conduct a questionnaire or interview with the cultural partners and make a summary about the American traditions in terms of holidays according to the response from the partners. Plus, we can let the students from both classrooms to make a compare and contrast between two cultures together and present and publish their works via other social media, like Prezi or class Voice Thread. 

If we teach English speakers Chinese in an American high school, we can use ePals to build connections with a group of students in China (Peter Scott's class for example). We can design a series of cultural activities together. For example, we can let our students to do an examination of the Education systems in both countries. In this study, they need to do a research first to have certain background knowledge on the schooling system in the target culture. Then, they need to make a survey or conduct an interview with their partners to get a closer image of the given topic according to their partners' response. After they analyze the data they collected, they will be required to write a report and make a presentation on Prezi/ googledocs and share the link on class blogs. Hence, by completing this project, our students can not only get more authentic input from the interlocutors but also get more opportunities to use the target language, thus enabling them to improve their proficiency and communicative skills as a whole. Through interaction, students from both classrooms can learn new cultural knowledge from their partners.


  1. I like your integration of other web tools into an exchange between students in different cultures. Having them create a Prezi or Googledocs presentation on the results of their own research sounds especially interesting since they could get feedback from the students of the other culture. Knowing that you will have an "authentic" audience often motivates students to put more effort into their work.

    1. Thank you, Dr. Burgos! It would be very exciting for students to think they could get the opportunity to use a second language to interact with the real people from the target culture, which indeed a motivating factor. Epals also grant students chances to cooperate with native speakers with similar minds from the relevant age group, hence enabling them to gain linguistic and cultural knowledge to a large extent.