The ‘Ideal School’ project in initial teacher education – Susan Bridges
Building upon the success of the International Peer Review (IPR) project originally established in Dentistry, a dedicated team in Education has undertaken a pilot project to build an international learning community in Initial Teacher Education (ITE). Incubated under a series of Universitas 21 (U21)1 Education Innovation workshop grants and with implementation supported by a 2016-17 Dean’s Innovation Fund grant, the project aims to embed an international perspective in ITE within the ‘at home’ curriculum, in this case the undergraduate double degree programme. The ‘Ideal School’ project also responds to the University’s mission of developing global citizenship and intercultural competence among all undergraduates.
Possessing global attributes is paramount to professional education irrespective of the discipline. International mobility has created greater diversity among both the student and teacher populations in Hong Kong schools. Being able to leverage this diversity for productive learning in classrooms is becoming an essential attribute of successful teachers. The Faculty of Education sees itself as having a key role in developing global citizenship and intercultural competence among our initial teacher education students who will be our future educational leaders.
The 2016-17 pilot
After initial incubation by Faculty members across U21 partners (HKU and Lund University), the process of implementing the ‘Ideal School’ pilot project and international learning community involved three major stages. Firstly, in groups of 5-6, ‘at home’ students were asked to conceive and design an ‘Ideal School website (Lund) or assignment (HKU) for their own country’s context. To justify their designs, students had to think through several big questions such as their school’s philosophy and its theoretical foundations so as to guide the curriculum design. Secondly, HKU student groups piloted the revamped online peer review platform (diastemas.com) creating profiles and posting assignments for cross-class internal peer review. The new platform which was joint collaboration between The University of British Columbia (UB) and HKU can be seen as an amalgam of the social functions of Facebook, the professional interface of Linkedin, and some of the educational capabilities of Learning Management Systems. Third, shortlisted HKU groups then gave live webcast presentations to Lund University for judging and awarding of a Dean’s Innovation travel prize. Our winning HKU group visited Lund University in January 2017, presented their Ideal School to multiple undergraduate classes, visited local schools and spoke with pre-service and in-service educators. On return, the students reported that the exchange of ideas and interest in the Hong Kong education system was tremendous.
Devising a common task that was dependent upon local social and cultural contexts, such as in the ‘Ideal School’ project, has proven to be a great tool in developing global perspectives and cultural awareness among student teachers. Students commented that the process was like ‘walking in someone’s shoes’ and required a careful and thorough reflection on the set of taken-for-granted assumptions. The project has situated undergraduates in academic discourse with their local and international peers in a complex interplay between theory and context. During the process, students learned to recognise and acknowledge their own cultural and disciplinary backgrounds and consider these perspectives with respect to local, national and international educational contexts. The online profile building in diastemas also has potential to develop students’ digital citizenship, another attribute that is increasingly in demand in today’s professional environments.
The ‘Ideal School’ pilot project demonstrates a viable approach to embedding international perspectives into the curriculum ‘at home’. Through collaborating within and across teams, students developed meaningful projects, showcased their work, and critiqued and challenged one another through peer review. Based on the experience of the pilot project, four successful factors can be observed:
- A meaningful project
Students need to be given a meaningful project to engage with. Powerful designs include projects which are highly relevant to their immediate studies and future profession; and require higher-order thinking skills, such as creating, designing, evaluating, and reflecting.
- Collaboration with overseas teaching partners
The collaboration with the overseas partners needs to resolve a wide range of issues: the conceptual issues (e.g., pedagogical debates; meaningful tasks); the collaboration process (e.g., language, platform, action plans); and the logistics (e.g., time zones, term/ semester arrangements).
- Supporting technologies
The design of the online platform has to support both social and professional functions so that students can showcase their work as well as enter into professional conversations with peers from different social and cultural backgrounds. The new platform was based on the design concepts used in ‘International Peer Review’ project in the Faculty of Dentistry which now uses this new version.
- The reflective process
Students are encouraged to constantly and critically reshape their approaches and views about education. In this pilot, the local sharing across classes produced varied interpretations and applications of how an ideal school may operate. Some based designs on perceived flaws in the current system while other looked to curriculum theory or ancient philosophy to rethink schools and schooling.
The international peer review model as adopted in both Education and Dentistry is consistent with Betty Leask’s (2015) view that
An internationalised curriculum will engage students with internationally informed research and cultural and linguistic diversity, and purposefully develop their international and intercultural perspectives as global professionals and citizens. (p.7)
The “Ideal School’ project demonstrates that this ambition can be achieved in the ‘at home’ curriculum through virtual exchange and, where possible, follow-up physical student exchange. The Faculty of Education is hoping to continue building from this positive pilot project experience with Lund University and expand to other partners in its international network.
Funding: Universitas 21; Faculty of Education, HKU, Dean’s Innovation Fund
Teaching staff: HKU – Drs Dan Wang, Jisun Jung, Li Jun; Lund University – Dr Anna Houmann and colleagues
Project leaders: Dr Susan Bridges & Professor Stephen Andrews
Leask, B. (2015). Internationalising the Curriculum. Abingdon: Routledge.
1U21 – Universitas 21 is the leading global network of research-intensive universities. http://www.universitas21.com/