This spring, students in the primary and lower secondary teacher education programme at UiA have collaborated with fellow Italian and Danish students through the European online portal eTwinning.
Primary and lower secondary teacher education students, who take the course Digitalization in school and the teachers professional digital skill, have collaborated with the teacher education at the University of Salerno in Italy and UC Syd in Denmark. Together, they have acquainted themselves with the opportunities the eTwinning portal provides while collaborating on joint tasks across countries.
"The plan was to start with eTwinning just before Easter, but when campus was closed in mid-March, we changed our plans and got going," says associate professor and course coordinator Cathrine Tømte at the Department of Information Systems.
She teaches the course together with primary school teachers Kari Midtsund Nordbø at Vigvoll and Susanne Stav Graasvoll at Vardåsen. The collaboration between them is part of the ProDIG project.
“We chose to use eTwinning for a number of reasons”, says Tømte, and explains that the course is about digitalisation in school and the teacher's professional digital skills. It is organised around the seven thematic areas that are part of the Framework for Professional Digital Competence (the PfDK framework), one of which is collaboration and communication.
“In this topic we emphasise how teachers and students can work in what is called the global classroom with pupils and teachers in other countries. eTwinning is truly unique in this context with nearly 800,000 teachers from around the world participating. Unlike social media such as Facebook, eTwinning is also a secure platform where teacher education students, teachers and pupils can interact and learn across borders”, says Tømte.
Nordbø and Graasvoll agree that eTwinning is a good tool for linking with the global classroom.
“Our students have established contact with teacher education students from other countries and they can continue these connections in their job as a teacher”, says Graasvoll.
She says the teacher education students have used the platform, among other things, to compare degree courses, career choices, classroom design and the organisation of the school working day with the students from Denmark and Italy.
“This gives insight into different cultures and is useful knowledge they can bring into their classrooms”, says Nordbø.
“They have also gained valuable experience using eTwinning as an educational tool and learned how to create and participate in various projects there. This will make it easier for them to start projects with their own pupils later on”, she continues.
An important aspect of eTwinning work, according to Tømte, is that the students established their own network of teacher education students from other countries and learned more about how the teacher education and education systems are organised.
“Using eTwinning has been instructive, not so much because of the tool, but because of the communication with foreign teacher education students”, says Magne Karsten Mørck.
He has worked in a group with his fellow student, Bente Bloch-Johnsen Lohne, and two to three students from each of the other countries. Across national borders, they have solved tasks related to how schools and teacher educations are organised, the different uses of technology, and outlined a common educational scheme.
“eTwinning is a well-suited tool for getting in touch with like-minded people, other teachers who are looking to make contact for possible collaboration or inspiration”, says Mørck.
Lohne agrees that the work with eTwinning has been both instructive and exciting.
“We got plenty of time to work on the project, which allowed Magne and me to test out many different features offered by the eTwinning portal. We also got the opportunity to get to know students from other European countries. It's a whole new way of working, which made it exciting, fun and educational, ”she says.
Nordbø explains that in connection with eTwinning work, one work requirement has been to blog about their experiences and how tool can be used in schools.
“In a blog post it is easy to present your own thoughts and reflections, and it is equally easy for others to respond to the posts”, she says.
“Writing a blog as a work requirement was motivating, and I was much more engaged than I would have been writing and submitting an assignment”, Lohne says.
Together with Mørck, she has spent a lot of time designing the blog and making sure it all hangs together.
“We have created a product that we are proud of and at the same time learned a great deal. This is a creative pleasure”, say the two students.
Students recommend teachers to use eTwinning.
“I want to use the platform myself when I am a trained teacher and start working”, says Lohne.
“Once you have connected with other teachers, you can let your creativity flourish. There are so many opportunities that will make teaching more exciting for the students”, she continues.
Tømte, Nordbø and Graasvoll also recommend colleagues in schools and higher education to use the opportunities provided by eTwinning.
“Absolutely! This is suitable for all those engaged in teacher education. One can work in a specific field, across subjects and classes or within different language domains”, says Tømte.
She says that the students on her course had many good ideas for how to use it in various subjects, such as neighbouring language training in the subject of Norwegian, exchange of experience regarding food culture and sharing recipes in Nutrition and Health, and comparing climate variations between countries in Natural Sciences.
Graasvoll and Nordbø are absolutely certain it will be very motivating for many pupils in school to have contact with peers elsewhere in the world.
“There are many existing and exciting eTwinning projects to participate in, and you can also create your own projects”, they say.
“Our best tip to other teachers is not to make it too big. Start small and participate in some finished projects before creating your own. In the first instance, it may be enough to establish contact with someone and allow the pupils to introduce themselves. Such contact is already facilitated on the platform”, the two primary school teachers say.
According to Tømte, it is important set aside time to get to know the platform before launching.
“We cooperated with teacher educators from Italy and Denmark to plan tasks for all the students to complete, while receiving very good assistance from Lisbeth Gregersen, the national eTwinning coordinator from the Directorate of Education”, she says.
Gregersen says that the goal of eTwinning is for teachers to collaborate and share experiences across borders. In project collaborations, both pupils and teachers can build their digital skills, they can network and vary the teaching.
“Through cooperation and cross-border friendship, the European Commission wants to contribute to the concept of European citizenship. Collaboration and sharing in eTwinning contributes to factual knowledge and understanding”, says Gregersen.
By registering on the eTwinning portal, teachers in basic education will have free access to a large network of teachers who want to collaborate, project ideas and activities of different lengths, webinars and learning activities.
“Each year there are also seminars and conferences around Europe that teachers can apply to attend. Travel and conference costs are covered by the national eTwinning service”, Gregersen says.
Gregersen believes that primary school teacher education students at UiA have been given a unique opportunity to acquire an international network and build digital skills through practical collaboration across national borders.
“By participating in eTwinning, teacher education students will become familiar with a platform and its applications for later use in the classroom where pupils are expected to have knowledge of internationalisation and collaboration through various tools and social media”, she says.
Gregersen also thinks it is valuable to include this type of experience on the CV when looking for work as a teacher.
The students themselves stress that the work with eTwinning has given them an opportunity to work with students from other countries and to gain insight into different ways of working and other people's thinking and school culture.
“What I take away from my experience with eTwinning work is not primarily the software or functionality, but what opportunities exist for collaboration between teachers, schools and pupils”, says Mørch.
“I have also received training leading a group across national borders, and practice in solving challenges related to language barriers”, Lohne concludes.
In order for teacher students to register in the eTwinning portal, an agreement must exist between the institution and the national eTwinning support service. Follow this link if you have questions or are interested in reading more about eTwinning!