Learning with the world, not just about it

iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) provides the digital infrastructure and support for global, collaborative, project-based learning with the slogan: “Learn with the world, not just about it.”

Jennifer Geist first recruited me into iEARN training when I was a volunteer with the International Education Coalition of Washington State. We provided iEARN training for teachers at the Sheridan Elementary School for International Language in Tacoma, WA and presented on our work at the 2006 Washington Association of Foreign Language Teachers (WAFTL) conference. Since then, I’ve been able to meet iEARN country directors from Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and present on “social media in education” at the 2013 iEARN Arabia conference in Doha, Qatar.

iEARN is the most effective single organization I have ever seen for globalizing education because it works asynchronously, needs only intermittent access to the internet, and can work with any curriculum, in any subject, at any level, in any language. provides a forum for teachers to connect and plan joint projects together.

There are countless examples. In a fourth grade math class I observed, students were learning about American Standard to Metric conversion by collaborating with a partner class in India to measure the dimensions of their playgrounds. The US class would work together to convert American Standard measurements into metric and then convert the Indian class’s playground dimensions from metric into American standard in order to build a model. This activity was obviously directly related to their course content but also taught global competence and connectedness. Other ongoing projects involve documentary film-making, the natural environment, writing about recipes or heroes, and comparing family trees or national histories.

Here is my dear friend Ms. Khitam al-Utaibi, the iEARN Jordan national director, hosting a Project Expo and Hands-On Workshop at the Grand Hyatt Amman Hotel, Zara Expo. You can follow them on Facebook here and follow Khitam’s educational links here.


How are we the same and what makes us different?

Originally posted for Globalwise Communities, 6/30/14

The study of human differences usually leads to discovering similarities! One of the most interesting findings in the last few decades is that humans (and primates) are wired to express emotions the same ways. Psychologist Paul Ekman spent his professional life documenting universal nonverbal emotional responses. He compiled scientific evidence that humans across world cultures express fundamental emotions using the same range of facial muscles. The seven universal human emotions are: sadness, anger, surprise, contempt, disgust, fear, and happiness.

Ekman and his consulting company The Ekman Group inspired the FOX television series “Lie To Me,” which ran from 2009 to 2011. The protagonist Dr. Cal Lightman (played by actor Tim Roth) consults as a deception expert who could “read people” and see when they are consciously lying. Ekman writes an analysis for each season, noting the scientific basis of each episode’s script including indicators of false (simulated) or masked emotions. Emotions that do not match the characters’ statements are called “hotspots” that need resolution. Ekman cautions Lightman’s character to remember that visible emotions may have many different reasons.

Although human faces may express these emotions the same ways, expressing more complicated values and reasons (like respect, patience, honor) are not universal. In his episode reviews, Ekman warns that different people showing the same emotion can have very different motivations. Although facial expressions are clearly universal, Ekman acknowledges that emblematic gestures (shoulder shrugs, head nods) vary across cultures.

As Ekman says, “One caveat about emblems: they are a culture-specific body language. You won’t recognize emblems from another culture. Even worse, sometimes the same movement has a radically different meaning in two cultures. The finger to thumb emblem which Americans know to be ‘A-OK’ in Sicily is an insulting reference to another person’s sexual practices.”

Image source: Paul Ekman Group, LLC


Johnathan Haidt and the five human moral values

In his 2008 TED talk, psychologist J. Haidt talked about the moral roots of liberals and conservatives and human psychology in general. He identified five basic human moral principles:

1. Harm/Care
2. Fairness/Reciprocity
3. Ingroup/Loyalty
4. Authority/Respect
5. Purity/Sanctity

Haidt talks about the moral mind and how liberal/conservative morals develop. He did a study of “endorsement” of these five moral values and found similarities across the globe:

– Self-identified liberals endorsed Harm and Fairness as important.
– Self-identified conservatives endorsed all five values as important, with harm and fairness the highest.
– “Moral arguments within cultures are especially about issues of ingroup, authority, and purity.”

You can take the quiz here:

The way he speaks is a bit brash and definitely playing to his majority-liberal crowd and assumes an irreligious or atheistic audience.

“Once you see that liberals and conservatives each have something to contribute… they form a balance on change versus stability … that’s the essential move to cultivate moral humility… if you want to change people’s behaviors.”

This ‘moral humility’ approach echoes what I’ve written earlier about conflict resolution. Conflicts over “values” are never because one team has values and the other doesn’t. Value conflicts are over the expression and prioritization of values.

My dissertation will argue that one needs to appeal to sympathy and change people’s sympathies if you want to change their behaviors.

Haidt says that moral self-righteousness and exclusive teams are the natural human condition, but doesn’t explain the role of ideology (assumed moral truth) in human societies. Cultural ideology makes us assume that anyone different from ourselves is either irrational/crazy or stupid because we can’t see things from their point of view.


Belief and Knowledge

“One of the best predictors of what people believe is what they know”

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Posted by on September 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


Social Media in Education panel

Social Media in Education panel, iEARN Qatar 2013

The first week of July, I attended my first iEARN (International Education & Resource Network) conference in Doha, Qatar. I joined iEARN in 2005 as a K-8 French teacher and teacher trainer, presenting about iEARN and using technology to “Learn with the world, not just about it” at the Washington Association of Foreign Language Teachers conference in Seattle. It was an absolute pleasure to go to my first iEARN conference and work with my other panelists on social media in education. My section of the talk is in the video, 9:55-28:11.

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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized


“Knowledge is an absolute good.”

Ken Jennings on TEDx Feb 2013

<<Trivia whiz Ken Jennings has made a career as a keeper of facts; he holds the longest winning streak in history on the U.S. game show Jeopardy. But in 2011, he played a challenge match against supercomputer Watson — and lost. With humor and humility, Jennings tells us how it felt to have a computer literally beat him at his own game, and also makes the case for good old-fashioned human knowledge. (Filmed at TEDxSeattleU.)>>

“On the one hand we can choose between a new golden age – where information is more widely available than it’s ever been in human history… – and on the other hand we have the potential to be living in some gloomy dystopia – where the machines have taken over and we’ve all decided it’s not important what we know anymore… because it’s all out there in the cloud… We make that choice by being curious, inquisitive people who like to learn…after the class is over.”

Ken Jennings gets at one of the most important things that will impact education in the future – we have easy and immediate access to information processing and artificial intelligence. What does this mean for education? How should we teach students to learn and think? We MUST equip students with the ability to think in more complex, creative, and innovative ways. It used to be that teaching and learning was straight forward. If kids asked “Why do I need to learn this?” the answer was because there was no other way to know the information. Now there are other ways, and we need to have a better answer than, “It will be on the test.” The answer? So that you can be more than a machine programmed by others.
“So that you can dream and do anything you dream of.”


“Global Dexterity”

In a Harvard Business Review video, they interview author Andy Molinsky of “Global Dexterity” about “fitting in without giving in” when doing cross-cultural work. Molinsky says there’s a “zone of appropriateness” within a culture instead of a “bullseye,” so there’s a range of possible appropriate behaviors that you could do while still being comfortable and feeling authentic.

As an example, when I was living in Paris I discovered that the French have a blank, neutral, “public face” and keep their laughing and smiling for intimates. When Americans walk around grinning at everyone, it’s an impolite affront, claiming an intimacy that hasn’t been earned. It’s the equivalent of me going to my neighbor and asking them to wash my car and watch my dog “because we’re neighbors” – which would be read as an egregious overreach since they’re not *that* close. I had the good fortune of living with a family in a smaller town close to Paris and working at a rather close-knit institute, so had many close connections with French businessmen and women, faculty, and neighbors. There was a huge difference between my experience of chatting, smiling, and handing over the two-year-old I was babysitting to the baker while picking out my bread and the experience of American tourists who complained about the “snobby, cold French.” I also heard the French perspective of Americans as loud, superficial, and brash that often had to do with American “politeness” (smiling and offering loud greetings) being read as impoliteness and French politeness (neutrality and poise) being read as impoliteness.

In the Middle East, one must also practice global dexterity and learn how to fit in with the local zones of appropriateness – which can vary substantially from Beirut on the beach, to Rainbow Street in Amman, to a farm near Mafraq. I’m generally a very modestly-dressed person anyway and have a sedate, professional poise when doing research so the teachers with whom I work have commented on my good behavior (even complimenting my naturally-colored make-up). However, I’ve struggled with the cultural taboo against public displays of affection when out in public with my husband since I’m accustomed to his hand-holding, hugs, or even just resting against him. Thankfully, Ammanis are lenient with foreigners and used to tourists.

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Posted by on March 31, 2013 in international, traveling


Recommended reading

The Immanent Frame is a website run by the Social Science Research Council about religion, secularism, and the public sphere. I highly recommend reading their book blog here. Here’s a sample:

Just and Unjust Peace

“What is justice in the wake of large-scale injustice?” Daniel Philpott asks. Just and Unjust Peace is his deep and hopeful answer that question. Analyzing mainstream thought in the United Nations, developed countries, and the human rights community, Philpott challenges current peacebuilding practices. Instead, he introduces an ethic of reconciliation rooted in the three Abrahamic religious traditions and consistent with modern constitutional-democratic and international norms, presenting six practices to be applied in post-crisis contexts to effect a peace that is at once just, fulfilling, and long-lasting. This forum brings together academic participants from a range of related disciplines as they reflect on Philpott’s quest for a universal standard of reconciliation and soulcraft.


My favorite read of this week is a blog about academic research called patter. Sample blog titles include “thirteen reasons researchers get asked to write their methods chapter again” and “writing from the PhD thesis – the publishing plan

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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in grad life, reading, religion and politics


Where do you draw the line?

“Morality, like art, means drawing a line someplace.” Oscar Wilde

I’m writing a chapter on cheating and academic dishonesty, and it’s made me reflective.

Professing belief in God doesn’t have an effect on justifying immoral acts, but saying God and your religious institution is important to you and engaging in religious behavior regularly both do make you less likely to justify immoral acts.

<<If it is the bulk of the world’s cheating, stealing, and deception you seek, says Duke professor of psychology and behavioral economics Dan Ariely, look not to the heinous acts of individual villains; look to the countless dishonest acts committed daily by the rest of humanity. “The magnitude of dishonesty we see in society is by good people who think they’re being good but are in fact cheating just a little bit.”>>     How and Why We Are All Dishonest
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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in moral philosophy


Clashing “values” and conflict resolution

This is my personal philosophy of “values”-based conflict and conflict resolution.

When a problem is presented in the context of clashing “values,” it is not really a clash over values but over the prioritization and expression of those values. For example, no one is really against freedom, justice, equality, or dignity. In a particular context, a person might prioritize freedom over dignity, for example, or justice over stability, or prosperity over integrity. It’s not that the other party does not have any values, and it’s not that they don’t value what you think you value. The issue is that they are prioritizing and expressing values differently than you are prioritizing and expressing yours.

Even the same value can be expressed differently in different cultures or settings. From my own experience, I’ve learned that to express public politeness in business culture in France you maintain a neutral facial expression with strangers. That contrasts to the Southern US culture where I was raised, where you meet strangers in public with a wide grin and greeting. It’s not that the French are arrogant or snooty, but that they maintain a reserved, neutral public composure and keep their belly laughs, grins, and familiar speech for intimates and friends. Many cultural miscommunications are based in different expressions of the same value, and what is considered an expression of politeness in France can be taken as rudeness by an American (and vice versa).

Conflict resolution in these cases can only be possible when each party is able to reflect and verbalize HOW they are prioritizing and expressing their values. Only when the values and expressions are explicated in this way can the parties talk through similarities and compromises. Perhaps Party A’s top priority is Justice and Party B’s top priority is Security, but they both have Mercy and Prosperity as high priorities. In that case, Parties A and B could compromise in order to provide each with a little Justice and Security by an act of Mercy.

I illustrate these points in my class by having role-playing scenarios, like a mock Arab Spring. In the Mock Arab Spring project, I have students sign up to play one of four possible roles in six possible countries set in the present day: to represent Journalism, the Government, the Military, and the People in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, and Bahrain. This project took one week, meeting twice a week for an hour and a half. On DAY 1, students were required to come to class having defined the membership of their group and prepared a list of six important priorities for the group they represented. They sat in groups (around their country’s flag I set on the tables) and work on group work for the day. DAY 1’s tasks were to 1) introduce who they represented, 2) explain the priorities they held, 3) go around the table role-playing a wave of protest/reform/revolution, in order to 4) reach an agreement on the TOP 3 values and priorities IN RANK ORDER (#1, #2, #3) for their country. The Journalist was in charge of recording what everyone said and keep everyone on track toward the country agreement.

For example, the People of Bahrain could hold protests demanding the release of political prisoners and protesting unemployment. Then, the Military of Bahrain would respond by attempting to peacefully break up the protest. The Government of Bahrain would release one prisoner and promise economic reform. The People would respond by staging a hunger strike sit-in outside the parliamentary building demanding the release of all political prisoners. The Military would violently disperse the crowds. Etc.

The students could decide when and how to negotiate together and make compromises, and the Journalist could comment on things like the Government going back on a promise to the Military made earlier. I made participation in this final project a substantial part of their term grade, and walked the room, answering questions and making notes about how prepared and engaged the different group members were.

On DAY 2, each country group was responsible for presenting an account of the Arab Spring in their country led by their Journalist, and the group decided how to present their process and final agreement to the class. Some of the agreements were very detailed, including a Peace and Reconciliation commission for Libya and the establishment of an international Economic Development Working Group in Egypt. The final agreements looked something like this:

#1 Economic Development – establish a public/private commission; #2 Democracy – rewrite election laws and devolve power to parliamentary bodies, #3 Stability – work slowly and in moderation to keep radicals from disrupting society and international relations

Then the students voted (and couldn’t vote for their own country) for the country that deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Each member of the winning country received bonus points.

The final exam of the course was a 4-6 page, take-home reflective paper on the project where the student talked about who they represented, and how they managed to balance their priorities and values with the need to compromise with the other members. I was very impressed by the papers, and especially surprised by the quality of reflection by the Journalists about the difficulty of objective recording.

Activities like the Mock Arab Spring are very effective at teaching students to take on a role, understand the implications of that role, and define the meanings of abstract values in practice.