US-Pakistan Collaborative Project-A tool to improve perception about each other

Your Name and Title: ARSHAD BASHIR
 School, Library, or Organization Name: APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY
Co-Presenter Name(s): N/A
Country from Which You Will Present: USA
Language in Which You Will Present: ENGLISH
Target Audience (such as primary school teachers, high school administrators, students, etc.):

HIGH SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS AND RESEARCHERS
Short Session Description (one line):

HOW STUDENTS AND EDUCATORS IMPROVE THEIR PERCEPTION ABOUT EACH OTHER WHEN THEY ARE ENGAGED IN COLLABORATIVE EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL EXCHANGE PROGRAM?

Full Session Description (as long as you would like):

DEVELOPING US-PAKISTAN EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL EXCHANGE PROGRAM

 

ABOUT ME:

My name is Arshad Bashir, a Fulbright doing doctorate in educational leadership. The doctoral program and my engagement in US-Pakistan Educational and Cultural exchange program is a life changing experience for me. Coming from Pakistan where most of the people carry anti-American emotions, I went through a great transformation in my life. Living and spending three years at Appalachian has greatly changed my perspective about the Americans and their way of life. During these few years, I learn to live in a different culture, improve my cross cultural competency and above all global awareness. Having a background in teaching at K-12 level, I decided to do something that can make the same difference in the lives of other Pakistanis and Americans that I believe happened with me. I initiated an online educational and cultural exchange program among young students of Watauga and Ashe county schools, and Education city, an educational complex in Pakistan. The program went very well and I feel a sense of accomplishment when students in both countries expressed signs of change in their lives through this program. Earlier this year, based on this program, Office of the International Education received a grant of $ 266, 197 to transform this online program into face-to-face interaction. Now educators and students in both countries will get the opportunity to visit each other. I am grateful to RCOE, OIED and Appalachian for their excellent education that brings a great transformation in my life and help me to continue creating the impact and bringing the change in lives of others.     

INTRODUCTION:

Appalachian State University has received a grant from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad to implement exchange project between three schools in Watauga County and three schools in Taxila, Pakistan. The grant activities are based on an online educational and cultural exchange program initiated by ASU-Public School partnership and Office of the International Education and Development (OIED). The program features collaboration among students from grade 6 to 12, and teachers of Watauga County schools and Education City, a school in Pakistan. Language Arts, Social Studies and Science are indentified as core subject areas. Initially, participants in both countries used online communication tools like NING and Skype to identify common curriculum contents to develop a semester long projects in which students are engaged in collaborative learning experience through cultural activities like digital photo sharing, storytelling, cultural and artifact exchange to improve their cultural competency and development of global citizenship. Through this grant, a group of Pakistani educators will visit NC and Washington DC in December this year and NC educators will visit Education City in Pakistan in February next year.  

PROGRAM GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

The main goal of the project is to strengthen academic, professional, and cultural partnerships between K-12 educators and students in North Carolina and Taxila, Pakistan. This partnership leads to cross-cultural exchange, educational collaboration, and relationships based on knowledge, empathy, values, equality and trust between educators and students in both countries. The project is intended to bridge the gap between two cultures through educational and cultural exchanges supporting mutual respect among learners, encouraging appreciation of other cultures and developing participatory and cooperative skills. We plan to use this grant opportunity to deepen our existing online collaboration into a face-to-face connection by visiting each other’s schools in Taxila, Pakistan and North Carolina; and later consolidate the partnership through sustainable technology connectivity and links. The objectives of this project are to:

Provide the opportunity to improve the relationship between two countries and open new avenues for future joint ventures in addition to improving perceptions about one another;

  • Offer educational and cultural opportunity to educators and students in North Carolina and Pakistan to obtain first-hand knowledge about each other’s education and culture via immersion into a different cultural and academic environment aimed at improving their perception about each other; and
  • Improve cross-cultural competencies and broaden the world-view of educators, students and the communities.

 

PROGRAM BACKGROUND & DESCRIPTION

 

Phase I: Preliminary Discussions and Exchanges Using Technology

 

The North Carolina-Pakistan Educational and Cultural Exchange Program build on the pilot online collaborative program between Pakistan and North Carolina that started in 2010 under the “US-Pakistan Educational and Cultural Exchange Program.” Through the US-Pakistan Educational and Cultural Exchange Program, participants in the North Carolina schools and Pakistan have had the opportunity to exchange ideas, subject matter contents, and cultural artifacts. Initially, students in middle and high school at the Heavy Industries Taxila Educational City (HITEC) in Taxila (Pakistan) and Ashe County in North Carolina were selected for this program. Three groups in the core subjects of science, social studies (geography and history), and language arts (English) collaborated with each other through an online forum called NING. Educators and students created their profiles, wrote blogs, uploaded pictures and videos and collaborated with partner teachers and students in the context of common assignments and projects. The pilot program was aimed at deepening cultural ties and to improving perceptions of each other between Pakistan and the U.S. Participants is engaged in online collaborative activities for cultural exchange by using communicative technology in the form of digital photo and video sharing in addition to their participation in curriculum-based collaborative projects.

 

The impetus for the pilot program between North Carolina and Pakistani schools came from the initiative of Mr. Arshad Bashir, a Fulbright doctoral student in Educational Leadership Program at Appalachian. During the initial meetings coordinated by the Partnership, issues related to evaluation, monitoring systems, challenges, expectations, areas of collaboration, professional development for teachers, website, software, online activity, partnership agreement, code of conduct, religion and terrorism, family relationships, development of relationships and trust were discussed and agreement reached on how to address them.

 

The program was initiated among the educators and students of Ashe County Middle School in North Carolina and HITEC Cambridge School in Pakistan. In the first phase of the project, students engaged in cultural artifacts exchanges, the sharing of their daily lives and the creation of digital profiles on collaborative software “NING”. This online exchange of cultural elements of their lives was a wonderful experience for students in both countries. It served as an ice-breaker and helped students and educators on both sides to better know one another. At the same time, they examined similarities and differences in their daily lives. Above all, the project resulted in narrowing the gap between peoples living in two different geographical areas of the world. It was the beginning of addressing the stereotypes that exist in both places.

 

 

Later on, educators in both schools were connected through Skype meetings in which six teachers were engaged in dialogue to design curriculum-based projects of mutual interest. After several Skype meetings, teachers developed some projects in subject areas of science, language arts, and social studies (geography and history). During the curriculum-based projects, all students developed digital stories, uploaded images and wrote blogs to accomplish their assignments. Additionally, students provided their feedback and reflections on each other’s work. During this process, teachers on both sides used Message Board, emails, and NING for communication which improved their ability to integrate technology into their teaching. In spite of the 10-hour time difference between Pakistan and the U.S., teachers from Pakistan were engaged in real time conversation with the classes in Ashe County Middle School in the evening from their homes in Pakistan. However, live conversation between students could not occur due to the 10-hour time difference.

 

After the successful collaborative experience, the program has been extended to other public schools in Boone, North Carolina, which includes Watauga High School, Green Valley and Hardin Park School. Similarly, HITEC High School and HITEC Girls College have been engaged in this collaboration. During the first phase of this project, North Carolina schools and HITEC will continue to collaborate and to learn from each other using the online environment.

 

B. Phase II: Exchange Visits to Pakistan and North Carolina

 

Although the technology-based collaboration has created a visible impact on educators and students in the U.S. and Pakistan, there is no equal to face-to-face interaction or to first-hand experience. None of the teachers and students in Pakistan who are engaged in the online collaboration has visited United States. Similarly, their partner U.S. teachers have never had the opportunity to visit Pakistan. The seven-day exchange visit to HITEC in Pakistan and three weeks visit to schools in North Carolina will, therefore, strengthen the developing relationship between educational institutions and the communities in both countries. Given the security situation in Pakistan, none of the U.S. students will travel to Pakistan. However, nine U.S teachers and administrators will visit HITEC in Pakistan.

Exchange visits between the U.S. and Pakistan will be a great opportunity for students and educators to consolidate the partnership which they have developed online over the period of two years. Visiting Pakistani students and educators will get the chance to experience the cultures, values systems, and environment as a virtue of which they will develop better understanding of people and their way of life. U.S. teachers and administrators will do the same when they travel to Pakistan. These visits will also change the way people think about each other and improve their perception on issues of mutual interest, and dispel or clarify stereotypes and myths about each other. Additionally, participants from both North Carolina and HITEC will be exposed to different educational systems. Academic and professional training sessions will be designed in which participants interact face-to-face to address issues related to curriculum, pedagogy, and partnership. The exchanges will help participants understand the two educational systems while visiting classrooms and communities.

 

Phase III: Follow-on and Consolidation of Relationships

 

During the follow-on phase of this project, participants who travel to the U.S. and Pakistan will implement their action plans. One of the first steps in that process will be to prepare presentations to share with their respective schools about their experiences abroad. As was previously mentioned in both Phase I and II, participants will be expected to develop and implement projects/ideas based on their action plans. The Project Manager will monitor the implementation of these action plans in collaboration with the teachers at respective schools.

In order to develop and maintain sustainable relationships, the collaborative partnership among educators and students in the U.S. and Pakistan will be consolidated by providing more access to technological tools and technical support to the participants and their institutions. The software that we are currently using in the pilot project will be upgraded and customized according to the needs of educators and students. Our current online software is commercially designed for social networking, but we are using it for academic collaboration. For more academic and professional interface, we need to develop our own software tailored to meet the exact needs of the exchange program and curricula projects. Principals, teachers, and students will work together to develop specified software, which suffice their academic and professional needs. They will be assisted by Mr. Muhammad Awais, a person in-charge of the Information Technology Center at HITEC, who will develop the new software. He has already developed several tailored software for HITEC including the central database, which is in process of implementation. The development of software for online collaboration will take two to three months and will be completed by the end of summer of 2013. Educators and students will be able to use it for the fall of 2013 semester/term. The HITEC technology team will maintain the software and conduct the necessary training for user for its smooth operation. Educators and students at HITEC will receive their training on campus, whereas videoconferencing will be used to conduct training for educators and students in North Carolina. HITEC will share the software rights with the participating schools in North Carolina.

 

In addition to enhancing and upgrading technical aspects of the project, a panel of partner teachers will be assembled to work on common curriculum elements and to develop semester-long joint projects. The panel will be co-led by the two school principals (one from each country). In addition to the principals, the panel will be composed of six teachers (three teachers from each country) to develop the common curriculum. During the initial phase of common curriculum development, the respective partner teachers in core subject areas of social studies, science, and language arts will work together to prepare subject-specific suggestions and then translate them into joint concrete academic projects. Later, the panelists will review these projects and submit them to all school principals for approval. The principals of each respective school will make final approval before these projects are implemented at the schools.

For effective implementation, the partner teachers will integrate their semester-long projects within their regular courses which will result in bringing creativity and innovation into their teaching pedagogies. Even though the common curriculum development is an ongoing process, the first common curriculum contents will be prepared during the fall of 2013, which will be comprised of at least six projects (two in each subject). The first common curriculum will be implemented in spring of 2014 semester/term.

The partner teachers and students will also be engaged in the development of a bi-national calendar (2013-14). The participants will identify local and national holidays, rituals, and festivals in both countries and celebrate these events together. Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Halloween are some of the popular American holidays, whereas the two Eids, Spring Kite Festival, Independence Day, Iqbal Day, and Ramadhan are some of the most popular holidays and rituals in Pakistan. The students will share the historical background, myths, philosophy and procedures about these events so that their partner fellows will learn more about the culture in context. Pakistani and U.S. students will prepare digital presentations about the holidays and rituals in their personal and family life and share them through digital exhibition on the eve of these events. At the end of academic year, all the digital work will be complied to make a comprehensive documentary of this project, which will later be presented during multicultural events at the participating schools. The calendar will be incorporated in the online software and integrated into the joint projects. This activity will keep the connection alive and strengthen the mutual relationship between two diverse countries within cultural, geographical and social context.

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