Algeria-United States School Linkages Program Reveals Students Have Much in Common
August 27, 2008
Given the opportunity to engage in personal one-on-one conversation, today’s youth realize that they have more in common with their global counterparts than they ever knew. The US-Algeria School Linkages program (Linkages) has provided such a forum to approximately 1,000 Algerian and American students, most of whom have reported that the program has allowed them to create virtual friendships with students they otherwise might never have met.
Supported by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by Creative Associates International, in partnership with Michigan State University, the Linkages Program uses innovative technology to connect high school students and teachers in Michigan and Nevada with their counterparts in nine different states across Algeria.
Students communicated through an interactive website, participating in online discussion forums and exchanging PowerPoint community profiles during the 2007-2008 academic year. By sharing stories about their lives and their communities, students were able to not only see the similarities that exist between the two cultures, but learned to appreciate the differences as well. As one Algerian student said, “We got closer and appreciated each other much more. We also became more tolerant.” An American student also noted that the program helped them discover new ways to enrich their own lives: “We all learned that there are many things we can learn from Algerians about time and family and values to improve our own way of life in the U.S.”
The program drew a very positive reaction from both American and Algerian teachers and students alike. Eighty-five percent of the students and teachers who responded to a survey said they would strongly recommend the program to others. Teachers were also very satisfied that the program met its goals and provided them with an opportunity to communicate with their colleagues on important pedagogical issues and classroom strategies. Many noted that the program improved students’ ability to communicate cross culturally.
Katie Mitchell, a teacher involved in Linkages from East Grand Rapids High School in Michigan said: “The most positive part of this project is watching the students read some of the comments, and reading their thoughtful comments. It’s a nice break, and because my kids are honors kids, and sometimes want to see the purpose, it is a great opportunity to teach them that communication – particularly cross-cultural – is going to be one of the most important skills they have in the future, and they need to start thinking about how their ideas are being interpreted by a global audience.”
In addition to facilitating cultural understanding, the Linkages program also responded to two educational reform goals set by the Ministry of National Education in Algeria: making students the center of the classroom and utilizing technology to improve English language instruction. Because many students’ technology skills greatly surpassed those of their teachers, students were able to take the lead in preparing their community profiles. Linkages succeeded in bridging the gap between the traditional teacher and student relationship, helping them to work together. One Algerian teacher noted, “I think we learn much from our students, from other colleagues and we get closer to our students.”
Having weekly access to native American speakers through the website also improved the Algerian students’ ability to use English as a communicative tool. Teachers noted that by the end of the program, their students were expressing themselves more freely and using new vocabulary learned from their American counterparts. For 80 percent of students and 72 percent of teachers written English skills improved “quite a bit” or more. “By participating in this project, I learned many things. First, I feel very changed in my English, my pronunciation, my grammar and my vocabulary, and I really know more about how Americans live and specifically how students live, and more than that I know more about American culture,” said one of a number of Algerian students who said “they learned a lot of English” through Linkages.
Survey findings also showed the Linkages program improved students’ group work skills and a teachers’ abilities to facilitate group work. Teachers also found that the program helped students organize and present information better.
“They learned how to work in groups. For example, they learned to better complete each other’s work, to make suggestions, to think how to (better) other’s output, in one word how to make a collective production,” said one Algerian teacher.
By bridging the geographical barrier between Algeria and the United States through technology, the Linkages program was able to bring a diverse group of students together to explore issues that are important to them and today’s global society. “The School Linkages program is a great opportunity for citizen-to-citizen exchange (even without leaving one’s country). Thanks to this program, Algerian and American High School students have been able to learn a great deal about each other’s culture, history and daily reality,” said Rafik Mansour, Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Algiers. “They were better able to understand and appreciate their differences but they were also reminded of how much they have in common.”