Breaking out of the classroom – Part 1: virtual connections

With the school holidays fast approaching and thoughts turning to sun, sea and sand, I was inspired to write a piece around ‘breaking out’ – exploring how teachers can use technology to support student learning outside the classroom in both a virtual and physical sense. As there’s quite a lot to cover, I’ve divided it into two parts, the first concentrating on stepping out virtually, and the second looking at how you can take the class outside, while staying connected.

Forming connections with people – whether old or young and anywhere in the world – who have direct experience of topics covered in the classroom helps bring those topics to life. Speaking to experts or peers will likely have a greater impact than second hand information presented to learners in textbooks or other media. Traditionally schools went on trips to discover information first-hand, or to meet people working in the field.

But today’s technology also allows teachers to build these connections online and deliver a similar level of interaction with a fraction of the effort. We see two areas where these connections are particularly fruitful: community partnerships and international collaboration.

Fostering links with the local community provides learners with direct access to real-world experts and provides a useful external viewpoint – adding a layer of authenticity and context to their learning. We’ve seen schools connect with local community leaders, businesses, cultural organisations, sports clubs and artists via simple technologies like video-conferencing to bring to life the subjects they are studying. What’s more, it can help introduce older students to potential career paths, while also making the community more involved with its young people.

Take a recent pilot project between two schools from the United Learning Group. Students at Lambeth Academy were able to participate virtually in GCSE and A-Level astronomy classes using Google’s Apps for Education tools, whilst the lessons were being run from nearby Surbiton High. Teacher Dr. Rob Bastin, who was leading the course said: “The part I’ve found most exciting is the multimodal aspect of the environment. Videos, slides, collaborative tasks, live conversation and group chat all combine with an easy workflow to make this a very enjoyable teaching and learning experience.” With the scheme, the group is able to offer this specialist subject to a group of interested learners without having to invest in more staff or resources.


International collaboration offers similar benefits. An obvious example would be the language classroom, where learners can interface with peers around the world to mutually improve their foreign languages and learn about other cultures. But it needn’t stop there.

ePals is a site dedicated to linking schools around the world via the web, and offers a range of products, starting with the free ePals Global Classroom. Similar sites also exist. iEarn unites students to collaborate on projects that have a positive societal impact, while the Global Read Aloud project connects schools around one book, allowing them to collaborate on different projects related to it.


And it seems like we can’t mention technology in education these days without mentioning Minecraft. The build-and-play environment is a hit with children round the world, but we already know of classes in Brazil, Indonesia and Guatemala meeting up to share replicas of local temples they had built.

There are billions of teachers and learners around the globe, you’ve just not met them yet! I hope this post has inspired you to get online and make new connections near and far.

Are your students collaborating using digital tools? Have you tried any of the ideas mentioned in this blog? Let us know in the comments below, or via our Twitter or Facebook page.