My first eTwinning project began as a work-related ICT assignment while studying for a Masters in Education Degree (M.Ed.) at University College Dublin. However, it wasn’t long before I realised the huge educational potential of eTwinning. In this article, I hope to give you a brief overview of eTwinning and a flavour of how inspirational it can be for teaching and learning.
What is eTwinning?
eTwinning www.etwinning.net is a highly dynamic and successful initiative of the European Commission (2005). It provides teachers and children with a free, simple and effective framework for informally ‘twinning’ schools throughout Europe, to explore curriculum themes collaboratively, using ICT. Currently, over 60,000 schools are registered for eTwinning, at pre-primary, primary and post primary level.
What can an eTwinning ‘project’ involve?
Flexibility and variety are at the core of eTwinning. Designed within the context of any curriculum subject/s or theme, using ICT, your project can be as simple or elaborate as you wish.
The first eTwinning project I worked on was very simple. It was designed around a ‘story’ with a science/environmental theme and linked two Junior Infant classes together (Ireland and United Kingdom):
‘eTwins Magical Mission’ Project
The story: 2 alien ‘eTwin’ teddies crash land to Earth after falling through a hole in the Ozone Layer. One eTwin lands in Ireland, the other in the UK (complete with flashing lights, parachute and space dust)! The eTwins want the children to learn about environmental topics and exchange project activities with their new friends in the partner school. The eTwins also want to engage the children in collecting recycled materials (paper/card) to ‘build a small rocket’, so they could eventually return home to ‘Cyberzone’ and become reunited…
Captivated by the eTwins’ story from the start, the children were eager to help and quickly became absorbed in the project-based tasks. In groups, the children painted pictures of the eTwins’ tasks and activities, took turns to bring an eTwin home and made little ‘environmentally-friendly’ picture-books. In each of these activities, there was also a very basic element of ICT usage. For example, computer paintings were made and printed using free downloadable software called ‘Drawing for Children’ http://drawing.gamemaker.nl and the picture-books contained photos which the children had learned to take on a digital camera. The ‘rocket’ was also made as part of a class activity! Samples of the work were then exchanged between the classes, by the teachers, using email. This project was very easy to manage because it linked a number of subject areas together in a thematic, creative way, and didn’t require a high level of ICT skills or equipment.
One of the great benefits of eTwinning is that there is no limit to what can be achieved. Projects can be aimed at any age and ability. For example, if you teach older children, you may like to concentrate on one specific topic (eg European culture) and work with a number of schools/countries. The eTwinning framework also gives teachers and children the freedom to ‘experiment’ with ICT as a tool to facilitate the project-based tasks. This means that you and your partner can either use email to collaborate or avail of the facilities on the eTwinning portal www.etwinning.net to exchange project work, upload photos (TwinSpace) and blog (TwinBlog), in a secure, user-friendly way. Alternatively, a wider range of innovative technologies can be incorporated into a project. Some examples of how this could be done include: exchanging presentations using ‘Open Office’ (http://www.openoffice.org); digital story-telling using ‘Microsoft Photostory 3’ (http://www.microsoft.com); podcasting using ‘Audacity’ (http://audacity.sourceforge.net) and live internet class links using ‘Skype’ (http://www.skype.com). As well as working with a partner school, it is also possible to share project progress with teachers, children and parents in your own school, through a school website or newsletter. You can even integrate the project with an existing ‘Whole School’ initiative such as the ‘Discover Primary Science Programme’ or a Transition Year initiative and maybe encourage other classes to become involved in eTwinning too! The choices are endless, but it is completely up to you and your partner school to decide what will best suit the project, based on the needs and interests of everyone concerned.
How can schools become involved in eTwinning?
If you would like to get involved, you should first visit the eTwinning Portal at www.etwinning.net. It is very user-friendly and has everything you will need from Information and Support to Project Ideas, Resources, eTwinning Partner-Finding Facilities, ICT Tools etc. When you register for eTwinning, you will receive a personal desktop which you can use to plan and manage your project. Throughout the process, there is support for teachers at national and European level:
Léargas, the National Support Service for eTwinning in Ireland firstname.lastname@example.org offers assistance and information for teachers during the project process. Projects may be awarded a Quality Label by the support services at national and European level and can also be entered for a European Prize. Irish schools have achieved significant success in the European Prizes competition.
The eTwinning Ambassador Network is facilitated by teachers (primary and post-primary) countrywide, who provide local support in the form of information meetings, workshops and networking.
Teacher Professional Development is also available in the form of eTwinning ‘Workshops’ which take place throughout Europe and for which funding is available. There is also a range of ‘Learning Events’ which are short intensive online courses on themes such as ‘podcasting’ or the ‘creative use of media’.
eTwinning offers many educational possibilities and can inspire new ways of teaching and learning. For me it has been about working innovatively and creatively, an idea well-captured by Dr Conor Galvin (UCD)http://www.ucd.ie/education/staff/conorgalvin in a recent blog post when he noted:
‘Innovation is not just about doing more. It’s about doing things differently; in an interesting, motivating and more effective way’ (2009).