Connecting Continents: Russian and U.S. Teens Meet Online

Russian students from Lyceum 590 located in St. Petersburg and U.S. students from Toll Gate High School in Warwick, Rhode Island have a unique opportunity to meet in the virtual space and expand their cultural horizons.

The project was initiated in fall 2013 by Elizaveta Friesem, a researcher at the Media Education Lab. She helped R.I. teacher Patricia Huntington and Russian teachers Inna Kadovbina and Nadezhda Skorodumova to connect their students using as a digital platform. In this collaborative space Russian and U.S. teens created individual pages with artwork (drawings, collages) and short stories about their lives. Commenting on each other's pages, students were able to start a dialogue with peers from another continent.

"This was an exciting opportunity to inspire students to interact socially with their peers from another culture," said Patricia Huntington, Toll Gate High School teacher. "The overall effect was to ‘humanize' the students [from the other country] and make them feel like individuals with unique and personal experiences." According to Russian teacher Inna Kadovbina, "Students learned to articulate their experiences and use them to initiate creative discussions; they learned to express themselves, give and receive feedback."

The project demonstrates how much learning can occur through cross-cultural collaboration. "We have had our highlights and lowlights, but even at this first stage I could see how students can benefit from reflecting on their assumptions on another country and its people," said Elizaveta Friesem.

Connecting Continents is closely aligned with the Media Education Lab mission to help students reflect on the place of the media in their lives, express their voices and communicate with the world around them using digital tools. Media Education Lab team is currently working with a number of teachers and schools in Rhode Island, helping teachers to introduce discussions about the media into their curriculum, organizing conferences and professional development workshops.

The project is to continue this spring with new groups of students. In addition to working in the online wiki space, U.S. and Russian teens will be able to have real-time conversations using Skype.