Not long ago, I got a frantic phone call from one of the schools in our diocese. They were trying to hook up for a video conference between themselves and a Catholic school in Great Britain, but without any luck. They’d completed an error free “test” dialing the week before, but now both communities of school children were assembled in their respective gyms, and the technology seemed to be resisting all their effort to connect.
Great Britain called the school in Pennsylvania and asked the technology coordinator to repeat the number they should be dialing. 2-0-6 “dot” 1-5-4 “dot” 1-1-0 “dot” 7 “pound” “pound” 7-0-0-1-1. The teacher from Great Britain said, “Ahem … we don’t have a pound sign on our remote display!”
So both schools decided, despite the disappointment for the students, to cancel the video conference. After several dozen emails and phone calls to Great Britain, I realized what went wrong. They DID have a pound sign on their remote. But then again, they also have “the British pound sterling,” worth about $1.60 U.S. And thus the communications foul-up.
In the states, the “pound sign” is written as # — in Great Britain, it’s written (no surprise) as a “£”. In Great Britain, a “#” is called a number sign or a hash mark. This experience left me laughing quietly for days and brought home the importance and the meaning of authentic communication. Along with creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking, communication is one of the four “C’s” of 21st century global learning. And we can certainly see why!
Divided by a common language
This all calls to mind the famous (if difficult to attribute) quotation: “Two nations divided by a common language.” The point is well demonstrated in my #story.
The purpose of communication is threefold, according to a blog called Effective Communication Skills. Communication transfers information, conveys emotions and maintains relationships. In the story above, the transfer of information, the IP address of the video conference unit, was not successfully conveyed because of a lack of understanding of a specific word. I learned something in this exchange: even though you might speak a common language, understanding of that language can be obscured through culture, dialect, and experience. How many people in a public forum space have said something that seemed harmless at the moment only to offend others later? It happens over and over again.
The purpose of conveying emotions and connecting with individuals is also an integral part of communication. During a Ted Talk, Kate Hartman, an artist, technologist and educator, explains how she uses wearable electronics to explore how we communicate with each other and with the environment. For her, the way we communicate emotions is a direct expression of how we relate to ourselves, our bodies and the world around us. She goes on to explain that within the act of listening, as others convey their feelings, relationships are formed.
Communication in the new century
So, one can conclude that there is a hierarchy in communication. Relaying facts and conveying emotions to others while you listen actually builds relationships. Our bonds with other humans and our world, then, is the highest reason for communication. Pope Benedict XVI in his message for 43rd World Communications Day, May 2009, writes:
When we find ourselves drawn towards other people, when we want to know more about them and make ourselves known to them, we are responding to God’s call — a call that is imprinted in our nature as beings created in the image and likeness of God, the God of communication and communion.
From this perspective, communication creates a connection with others and with ourselves in a profound way. This, according to human relationship researcher Brene Brown, is the reason why humans are on the earth. The connections between us give us purpose and meaning to our lives. Our connections allow us to be intrinsically seen by others, which in turn promotes compassion and joy.
With the advent of so much “connected” technology in the 21st century, the ability to connect with others has increased profoundly. Pope Benedict continues: “In reality, when we open ourselves to others, we are fulfilling our deepest need and becoming more fully human.”
A great many of our students today can count on communicating at a global level throughout their adult lives. It’s our responsibility as educators of 21st century learners to help them become very aware of and sensitive to the cultural and behavioral differences that are inevitable when communication can take place instantaneously from any two or more points across the planet Earth.
I call upon all of us to seize the moment, to take advantage of blogging, texting and tweeting — to use wikis, google docs, evernote, edmodo, facebook and the entire plethora of social media tools — to connect and build relationships and explore what being human is all about!
Image: Digitalart (free w/ attribution)
Sr Geralyn Schmidt
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Skyping with other students and authors in other countries opens up the world for communication and understanding. Ideally, students should have studied about a particular place and the people’s culture, and be prepared to ask questions on skype for further understanding and knowledge. It is imperative for students to have global opportunities. The more worldly a student becomes, the more our world will achieve peace. Conversations cross-culturally are crucial. If technology breaks down, try again another time.
Yes .. I totally agree with you there! The school that I described in the beginning of this post did have their video conference about two weeks later. Both groups of students were amazed at each other!
Technology does make the world a smaller place indeed!
That’s a lovely story and maybe I should feature this and similar stories in our Absolutely Intercultural podcast soon. The quote is usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw.
But mainly I wanted to draw attention to the book by Davis and Lindsay which just came out called Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds. It tells the story behind the wonderful Flat Classroom project but includes enough detail, tips, advice and multi-media add-ons to enable you to adopt what they refer to as a global pedagogy. That was quite a Wow! moment for me because Lindsay and Davis don’t see these projects as one-offs, they see them as the normal way of preparing our children for the future in a globalised world so one Flat Classroom project is not enough. Highly recommended!
Anne – thanks for mentioning this work. Important.
Among other posts here at the Voices blog that promote global pedagogy: Primary teacher Kathy Cassidy…
Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell, Dylan Thomas… it appears that no one *quite* said it. 🙂
Thanks Anne for your input! I totally agree. Teacher our students that they are connected globally is such an important skill. This should be part of what our students should experience!
You’re right. There are some great stories on Kathy Cassidy’s blog. Inspirational, especially since she is working with first graders. If they can do it, anyone can!
Hey, now I know why that Twitter symbol is called a “hashtag”. Could anybody figure out why we call that number sign a “pound” key? I always have to think about which one is the pound key when the automatic voice is talking to me on the phone.
Seriously, lovely post. while I’m not the biggest fan of Pope Benedict, I very much like the spirit of his quote. We do have to open ourselves up to other people to continue to know ourselves.
Thanks for your reply Lisa!
I totally agree with you when you say, “We do have to open ourselves up to other people to continue to know ourselves.” For me, it as if they hold a mirror and angle it so that, if we are truly open, can see a side of ourselves that we don’t normally see. Kind of like those three angled mirrors one finds in clothing stores.
This also illustrates that fact that we are life-long leaners! We are constantly learning about ourselves!
this #-discussion has made me wonder whether my use of hash tags (pound signs in usa?) makes my school report writer .com web app difficult to use in the USA? For example the app uses #H in the statement bank to represent His/Her. Is this ok for a USA audience? The site was developed in the UK. Even in nthe UK the app uses the hash symbol on the keyboard rather than the actual currency pound symbol.
As far as I know….this would not be a problem here in the US. The problem that I expressed was between the spoken language. I realized what went wrong only when we began emailing – using our written language. … Thanks for asking about this!