SOE News

School of Education facilitates high-tech dialogue across Atlantic Ocean

Middle school students traveling in Europe talk to classmates at home

Middle school classmates held a conversation across the Atlantic Ocean as a group of 29 students traveling in Europe called home to speak with their French I and French II classmates at the R.D. and Euzelle P. Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill, March 23, 2007. The traveling students, led by French teacher Robin McMahon, shared stories and observations from their 10-day study tour of France and Belgium.

The local students gathered in the School of Education’s Carolina Center for Educational Excellence to connect with the traveling group via teleconference. Teachers, parents and grandparents of the overseas students joined the local gathering to see and hear the students speaking from a teleconferencing facility in Belgium, provided by Federal Express Europe.   

“An important goal of the Carolina Center for Educational Excellence is to facilitate global interaction among students,” said Björn Hennings, director of the Center, a technologically rich facility next to Smith Middle School. “We are fortunate to have the Smith Middle School adjacent to our building. We have developed a strong partnership with its principal, teachers and students, which benefits both sides in many ways.”  

The classmates enjoyed a lively 45-minute exchange. Holding up the European Union’s blue flag with a circle of 12 yellow stars, the overseas students spoke in French about the significance of the flag as well as other things they were learning about the European Union, a major focus of the trip. The traveling students also related stories about the people they were meeting, the places they were seeing and the lifestyle they were experiencing.

The Chapel Hill students updated the overseas students on school and community happenings since they had departed.

McMahon has taken student groups to Europe in the past, but this time she received a grant of 51,000 Euros (nearly $68,000) from the European Commission to help support the trip. The funds enabled her to take at least 10 students who otherwise would have been unable to participate because of financial considerations.  

McMahon learned about the national grant competition, “Getting to Know Europe,” when participating in a teachers' workshop on the European Union, hosted by World View and the Center for European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was one of nine grant recipients nationwide and the only grant recipient in North Carolina.

“We are very excited to help create opportunities such as this teleconference,” Hennings said. “International understanding and collaboration are so important in the 21st century, and these kinds of experiences can be truly transformative for students.”