eTwinning - A New Path for European Schools


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Author: Anne Gilleran.
This paper examines the eTwinning action against the background of 21st century educational and social forces in Europe. It describes in detail the evolution and structure of eTwinning, the opportunities it offers to teachers in terms of pedagogical practice and professional development and the achievments of the portal

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eTwinning - A New Path for European Schools

  1. 1. eTwinning – A New Path for European Schools Anne Gilleran European Schoolnet Summary This paper examines the eTwinning action against the background of 21st century educational and social forces in Europe. It describes in detail the evolution and structure of eTwinning, the opportunities it offers to teachers in terms of pedagogical practice and professional development and the achievments of the portal eTwinning began as an initiative of the European Commission in 2004 with the express purpose of twinning schools in Europe in a non formal way, enabling teachers to work with each other without the major commitment to the type of long term work normally undertaken in the context of a Comenius project. It is designed to offer a very flexible approach to school collaborative work and has quite a unique structure in terms of the level of support offered to the teacher. One of the unique qualities of eTwinning lies in the existence of very active support services at both National and European Level provided by the National Support Service (NSS) and the Central Support Service (CSS), as well as a number of built in incentives for teachers in the form of quality labels. The professional development programme for those involved in eTwinning includes workshops at both European and national level which provide a platform for teachers exchange and growth of good practice. Core to the success of this action is the portal, a highly sophisticated communications platform available in 20 languages and offering a wide range of specific tools for teachers. Is eTwinning successful? The answer has to be yes when one examines the statistics in relation to numbers of schools and teachers registered. Teachers find it is an easy, non- bureaucratic way to realise projects together in a highly developed online platform. Keywords eTwinning, online collaboration, Innovation, digital literacy, pedagogy, platform, school, teacher eLearning Papers • • 1 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  2. 2. 1 Introduction The challenge to schools in the shifting educational landscapes of the 21st century is formidable. The familiar structures of family and society which our generation grew up with are quickly being eroded and more and more parents look to schools to provide a social stability to the lives of young people. This fact, taken together with the growth of an information society where much knowledge is transitory, puts educators in the position which reflects in the purpose of their work and the nature of their institutions. Alongside the changes in social order and knowledge delivery come the ongoing changes in the social structures of Europe, where people are migrating and moving on a monumental scale. This too has a profound effect on the life of schools with a population from diverse backgrounds and cultures. A central aspect of 21st century learning is the concept of Lifelong Learning, in which the learning flow goes from the informal learning that takes place in a family and social situation to the formal learning that takes place within educational institutions and in the workplace, back to the informal learning which can now take place anywhere, due to the ubiquitous delivery of information and knowledge. Coupled to this are the educational expectations of the 21st century Europe. Ján Figel, the European Commissioner for Education, Training, Culture and Multilingualism has said recently that, quot;Globalisation, new technologies and demographic developments constitute an enormous challenge; one of the answers to this problem is the access to lifelong learning.quot; [1] The Lifelong Learning policy of the European Union has at its core the desire to provide open access to high quality learning opportunities, to all people regardless of age or ability. Coupled with the promotion of learning new technologies the aim is to make the EU the quot;most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the worldquot;. This is an ambitious aim and can only succeed if the educational institutions at every level begin to re-examine their goals and objectives. Together with the Lifelong Learning policy is the publication of the EU framework reference of the eight key competencies recommended as goals for European education [2]. They are: 1. Communication in the mother tongue 2. Communication in foreign languages 3. Mathematical competence and basic competences in science and technology 4. Digital competence 5. Learning to learn 6. Social and civic competences 7. Sense of initiative and entrepreneurship 8. Cultural awareness and expression Alongside the underpinning educational policies of Europe is another growing challenge for educators: the 2004 enlargement brought about the single biggest change in the European Union since its formation. These changes are both economic and social. Large number of people have uprooted, left their homes and sought work in other parts of the EU. Some have come alone but others have brought their families, often into a completely unfamiliar world. As a result of this migration, the challenge to the countries of Europe is how to best observe and respect each other´s culture, not merely at a distance, but actively, implementing the principals of inclusion and respect for diversity within their own schools and workplaces. What are the implications for schools of these expectations of both 21st century education and 21st century Europe? One implication is that the traditionalist approach of “chalk and talk” is no longer viable. Schools must embrace the use of new technologies as a tool for teaching and learning on a wider scale. Perhaps even more importantly, they must continue to explore new models of didactic practice involving greater use of problem solving eLearning Papers • • 2 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  3. 3. techniques and collaborative practice. We cannot continue to feed information to our pupils; we need to revert to the Socratic method of question and discussion. Another implication is that it cannot be taken for granted that every child comes from a traditional family setting. Schools have to assist more than ever in the socialisation processes of children, and a creative approach as how best to do this must be addressed by each school. Yet, another implication is that not every child in our classrooms necessarily speaks our language. To combat this schools have to consider their approach to programmes for cultural appreciation and inclusion, but in particular for the acquisition of foreign languages. The language we speak is a core part of our identity and culture; to understand the language some people speak is to understand them and accept them. Another consideration in this question of foreign language acquisition is the notion that language is primarily for communication, and in the growing Europe of the 21st century, our emphasis must concentrate, at first level, at teaching the language of communication for oral interchange. I pose a question. Is it better to have a communication level of four European languages than an in-depth knowledge of one? In order for schools to begin to address the challenges discussed above, they must begin to address the real situation in their school. How many of the teaching staff are competent with technology and use it in their classes? How many of them utilise teamwork, collaborative teaching techniques and a constructivist approach to teaching with their pupils? How open are they to contact with other schools in their own countries and others? What is the approach to foreign language acquisition, do all students get the opportunity to study another language? How do schools begin to introduce such elements into their everyday work? 2 eTwinning It is against this background that the eTwinning Action will be examined in the light of its aims, structure, processes and results. 2.1 Aims eTwinning began as an initiative of the European Commission in 2004 with the express purpose of twinning schools in Europe in a non formal way, enabling teachers to work with each other without the major commitment to the type of long term work normally undertaken in the context of a Comenius project. It is designed to offer a very flexible approach to school collaborative work and has quite a unique structure in terms of the level of support offered to the teacher. It was officially launched in January 2005, at a large conference held in Brussels. 2.2 The Structure of eTwinning One of the unique qualities of eTwinning lies in the existence of very active support services at both national and European level. The National Support Service, or NSS, promotes and helps to consolidate the eTwinning action within each country. Currently there are 26 such NSS with other countries waiting to set one up. These NSS offer training, assistance, support and advice to their teachers and they monitor the progress of their schools and projects. They also organise National conferences and competitions related to eTwinning, publish newsletters and promotional material, as well as maintaining a national eTwinning website. An increasing feature is their organisation of regional workshops with neighbouring countries, which are experiencing great success. At European level there is the Central Support Service (CSS), run by the European Schoolnet 3 on behalf of the European Commission, and it fulfils a number of roles. Firstly, it eLearning Papers • • 3 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  4. 4. is responsible for the development and maintenance of the European eTwinning portal,, where all the schools register and work together with their European partners. This will be examined in more detail in Section 2 below. The CSS works in close collaboration with all 28 NSS to promote and support the eTwinning action across Europe. As well as the functional end of the portal there is also a wealth of information and news about eTwinning. The CSS publishes a monthly newsletter and runs a European helpdesk aimed at solving practical problems people may encounter when using the portal. Another aspect of the CSS work is to organise in conjunction with the NSS a series of European Professional Development Workshops (PDW) where teachers come together from all over Europe to learn more about how to run a collaborative project using technology. Many eTwinning partnerships also begin at these Professional Development Workshops. In the school year 2006/2007 eleven such workshops were organised (as seen in Table 1 below). Table 1 Professional Development workshops 2006/07 Country Date City Language Theme Age of pupils 2006 29sept - 1 Oct UK Nottingham English Special Needs Education 4 - 19 12 - 19 PT 19 - 21 Oct Lisbon English Science SE/DK 17 - 19 Nov Malmo/Copenhagen English Cross Curricular 4 - 19 2007 BE(FR) 8- 10 Feb Brussels French Cross Curricular 4 - 19 NL 15- 17 Feb Amsterdam English Social Sciences 12 - 19 22 - 24 March IE Dublin English Head Teachers 4 - 19 FI 12 - 14 April Helsinki English Vocational subjects 15 - 19 SL 19 - 21 April Nova Gorica English Language teachers 12 - 19 Cross Curricular DE 4 - 6 May Bonn English 12 - 19 Cross Curricular SK 10 -12 May Bratislava English 4 - 19 EE 7 - 10 June Tallin English Primary Teachers 4 - 19 In addition to the European PDWs, each NSS also has a well worked out professional development programme. In some countries such as Spain and Poland there is also an extensive online training available, which in the case of Spain is linked to the national training for teachers. Another unique aspect to eTwinning is the range of awards that the participating teachers and schools may achieve. Firstly, there is the annual eTwinning prize, which attracts hundreds of entries each year. The prize for this is participation by the winning teachers and pupils in an eTwinning camp that takes place in April in a warm and sunny European location. Secondly there is a Quality Label which may be awarded for the professionalism and quality of the work carried out within an eTwinning partnership. The process for achieving the quality label is relatively simple. The schools apply to their NSS for the award and the NSS evaluates the quality of the work done. If both schools in an eTwinning partnership are eLearning Papers • • 4 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  5. 5. awarded the quality label by their NSS then they also receive a European Quality label from the CSS in recognition for their achievement. The Central Support Service for eTwinning has also published two books for teachers on eTwinning [3] design to enable them to begin to tackle the challenges of working on a collaborative European project. There is also a series of three books entitled Reflections on eTwinning, produced by the Pedagogical Advisory Group (PAG), on the evolution of eTwinning.[4] The PAG consisted of a group of experts who identified issues and suggested solutions for the pedagogical enhancement of school collaboration in eTwinning. 3 The eTwinning Portal Figure 1. eTwinning Portal entry page. Core to the success of eTwinning is the eTwinning portal (see figure 1), a highly sophisticated communications platform available in 20 languages which offers teachers a wide range of tools to help them in their work. These include a partner finding function, a secure working environment for teachers, as well as a range of project kits to help to get the process started. It acts as a one-stop-shop for teachers, NSS, CSS and other actors involved. By its very nature eTwinning is an ICT oriented action, with online tools, processes, outcomes, communication, collaboration and everything ICT and the Internet can offer. The portal has three levels: Level 1 is the open public level, which contains information, news, a good practice - gallery, etc. Level 2 is a personal desktop, which is available to teachers as soon as they register - and which is described in more detail below. Level 3 is a Twinspace, which only becomes available when a teacher registers a - eLearning Papers • • 5 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  6. 6. project with another school, and this too is described below. Side by side with the main portal there is a training portal, which mimics the functionality of the main portal and is widely used as a training platform, as well as a set of tools designed to enable the CSS and NSS to monitor schools and their projects. However, the primary goal of the portal is to encourage and support schools to find each other and to design, develop, implement and run European collaborative projects. The eTwinning Portal has been in existence since January 2005 and has been improved and adapted many times, with regular releases and two major updates in the beginning of each school year. It is a complex technical and information infrastructure composed by various elements, all tightly interlinked. Among the features of the portal the following 3 main elements may be found: - The eTwinning desktop o Once the teachers register they get a password, which enables them to go to a personal desktop where they can use a range of specific eTwinning tools designed to find partners, communicate and collaborate with them; TwinFinder, Profile, Chat, My Candidates, a Mailbox, etc. - Twinfinder o Is a partner finding tool which suggests partners to a teacher based on their profile details regarding, subject choice, language, age of student, etc. - TwinSpace o Once the teachers establish and register a partnership, they get a TwinSpace which is a private space devoted to a particular project where partners can work together. The tools found here are mostly project management and advanced communication tools which enable teachers to work together, invite pupils and other colleagues to the space and create web pages, photo galleries etc. The content of a TwinSpace can be published on the Internet by their administrators if they wish. 4 Results Is eTwinning successful? Certainly in terms of numbers of schools and teachers registered, the answer to this question has to be yes. The actual numbers may be seen in Table 2 below. Bearing in mind that in September 2005 the number of registered schools were 6.000 and the number of teachers involved were 7.000, the growth is phenomenal over a relatively short period of time, and the numbers are still rising. Teachers find it is an easy, non-bureaucratic way to realise projects together in a highly developed online platform. eLearning Papers • • 6 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  7. 7. Table 2. eTwinning statistics from the 6th August 2007. Apart form these statistics, the 400 delegates attending the annual eTwinning Conference in February were asked in an interactive session if they thought eTwinning was worth the time and effort involved. They gave it a resounding endorsement, as may be seen in Table 3 Table 3 83 90 80 70 60 Totally Disagree 50 Agree is only some ways Agree in many aspects Totally Agree 40 30 30 20 4 10 0 0 Is eTwinning worth the time and effort involved? At the same session, the participants were asked if they felt that eTwinning contributed to the International activities in their schools, and again the result shows a very positive opinion, as may be seen in Table 4. eLearning Papers • • 7 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  8. 8. Table 4. 60 52 50 40 40 Totally Disagree Agree is only some ways 30 Agree in many aspects Totally Agree 18 20 8 10 0 eTwinning makes a major contribution to international activities in our school Interestingly in relation to the ICT provision within the schools, the participants felt that their school’s equipment was adequate to run a project with an ICT focus as seen in Table 5. It could be said that eTwinning is arriving at a time when the level of ICT provision in European schools has reached a adequate level. This, together with the advent of high speed internet, mobile technologies and the increasing social dimension of internet communication, all lead to a climate ready to foster the development of school participation in an action such as eTwinning. Table 5. 47 50 45 38 40 35 30 Totally Disagree Agree is only some ways 25 Agree in many aspects Totally Agree 17 16 20 15 10 5 0 Our school's ICT equipment is sufficient to run an ICT project Are the professional development needs of teachers in relation to using ICT in their pedagogic practice being met? Again, the answer has to be yes, even though the scale is as yet relatively small. But the number of teachers participating in professional development activities related to eTwinning is constantly growing. Also, through their practice, the teachers themselve develop their own pedagogical skills and experiences and it may be said that eTwinning is a dynamic human group constantly growing and interacting [5]. Now the future of eTwinning is ensured as it takes its place under the Comenius umbrella in the new Lifelong Learning Programme, launched by the European Commission in May 2007. To be involved in eTwinning is to be involved in a European wide community of teacher practitioners, all of whom are committed to giving their pupils an experience of being in eLearning Papers • • 8 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  9. 9. contact with another young person in Europe; to learn about their ideas and exchange opinions on all the topics which enthuse young people everywhere. They are also part of a wider community of eLearning practitioners actively involved in seeking new and innovative ways to develop eLearning within their pedagogic practice. Above all, eTwinning is about people. Teachers, pupils, head teachers, parents, support agency staff, webmasters, teacher trainers and pedagogical experts from the 28 member states of the EU, all united in a common purpose: to bring the teachers and students of Europe closer working together, building a common identity and appreciation of what it is to be European. References [1] Available at [2] Available at [3] [4] Learning with eTwinning published in May 2006 and Learning with eTwinning- A Handbook for Teachers published in April 2007. Available as a download at [5] eTwinning has grown from having 6.000 schools registered in September 2005 to having 26.700+ schools registered in June 2007. eLearning Papers • • 9 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542
  10. 10. Author Anne Gilleran European Schoolnet, Belgium Citation instruction Gilleran, Anne (2007). eTwinning – A New Path for European Schools. eLearning Papers, no. 5. ISSN 1887-1542. Copyrights The texts published in this journal, unless otherwise indicated, are subject to a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivativeWorks 2.5 licence. They may be copied, distributed and broadcast provided that the author and the e- journal that publishes them, eLearning Papers, are cited. Commercial use and derivative works are not permitted. The full licence can be consulted on Edition and production Name of the publication: eLearning Papers ISSN: 1887-1542 Edited by: P.A.U. Education, S.L. Postal address: C/ Muntaner 262, 3º, 08021 Barcelona, Spain Telephone: +34 933 670 400 Email: Internet: eLearning Papers • • 10 Nº 5 • September 2007 • ISSN 1887-1542