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Exploring the world with itslearning

How should schools deal with students that leave class to go abroad – for example on vacation? Is it possible to turn their absence into something positive? Yes, says Marit Spildo, the inventor of an itslearning-based project aimed at students who go abroad for shorter periods of time.

"A 12 year old student returned from a family vacation in the middle of a semester, and when I asked where she had been, she answered: "'The south, of course!'" explains Marit, a Norwegian teacher and speech therapist. "She meant southern Europe, but I was amazed to discover that she didn't know anything about the country or city she had been to."

On another occasion, Marit met the mother of a student who was planning two weeks of extra vacation. At that time, a heated debate was raging in the media about student absence due to irregular family holidays and, without being asked, the mother exclaimed in a sharp voice: "They learn just as much from travelling!"

Marit knew that could be true, but also knew that it was not always the case.

Learning away from home

Award winner
Marit’s Exploring the World project won an award in the Creative use of itslearning category at the Share & Use Conference in Sandvika, Norway, in 2011.
Based on these experiences, Marit began to imagine the outline of what was to become Exploring the World – a project for holidaying students that ensures they remain focused on learning during their vacation and uses ICT as a motivating factor.

Marit has now developed the course as part of her "ICT in Learning" MA, and uses it with her students if they vacation during term time.

As part of the project, students receive assignments tailored to their destination before, during and after their vacation. The assignments differ depending on the age, but the principle is basically the same. And even if the student doesn’t have access to the internet during the vacation, they can still experience a positive learning outcome because of assignments before and after.

Upon return, the new knowledge is turned into learning resources, for both fellow students and teachers.

Positive parents

Marit is clear that the student’s new knowledge should be valued as an important contribution to the school community, but this should not happen at the expense of the family's vacation.

"The assignments are created with the whole family in mind so the student can carry on with usual vacation activities," she says. "All I ask is that they bring a notebook, mobile phone or digital camera during the day, and use a couple of hours by the computer in the evening or morning. This enables them to create things about their experiences – an online photo story, for example."

But what do the parents say when their children have to work during their vacation time?

"The project hasn’t been tested thoroughly yet," responds Marit. "But those who have done it have been positive. The learning activities are meant to be fun and interesting for the whole family."

Learning in a secure environment

Some parents may be worried that images and video from their family holiday might be available on the internet, but Marit tells them not to worry. itslearning requires a username and password, and anything created by students is only available to others in their class.

There are other advantages with itslearning, too. While on vacation, students can participate in discussions with teachers and other students – in a secure environment – and so follow what’s happening during the class while they are away.

Marit hopes that Exploring the World can meet the students' and parents' need for vacation during the school year, and help teachers see this type of absence as a benefit, for both the holidaying student and the rest of the class.

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