Student Spotlight: Making Global Connections by Making Films

How might we leverage our class community to learn about and from each other?

In Global Online Academy courses, students from around the world gather in online classes to explore topics they care about. With so many people, places, and perspectives in one learning community, designing for global understanding is not only possible, but important. One of the most effective strategies we’ve found is building community through meaningful projects. These projects have some essential traits:

  • Relevant: students are working with or on material that matters to them and their goals.
  • Challenge-based: students are given a dynamic problem to solve.
  • Networked: students are asked to connect to people, places, and information that has value to their learning.
  • Relational: students are building strong personal relationships with teacher and classmates.

What does this kind of learning look like?

In our Filmmaking course, GOA teacher Brendan Gill of Catlin Gabel School in Portland, Oregon, envisioned a project that asked students to work not only with their own material but also with the work of their classmates: “The ‘Where We Are’ film project is so exciting from the film teacher’s perspective, because one of the greatest joys of cinema is its international diversity, and it’s always been my dream for my students to share work with filmmakers their age around the world.”

The “Where We Are” project has two phases. In the first phase, “Where I Am,” Brendan asks students to film 30 one-second-long moments from their own lives and assemble them into a short film that paints a clear picture of their local communities. The second phase, “Where We Are,” is a remix: students select footage from all of their classmates’ “Where I Am” films and create a new film, one that captures the variety of places the class represents. Throughout, students are reflecting on their work in Process Diaries, blogs they create and maintain throughout the course.

The project’s design ensures students build important editing and composition skills while immersing themselves in the places that matter to their classmates. “This project builds community,” Brendan said. “Our many differences are apparent, from the palm trees to the subways to the variety of ways we all constructed our films. What’s much more striking are the similarities. Why did most of us include our commute to school, and why did it feel so familiar?”

We asked three students to share both their “Where I Am” and “Where We Are” videos and reflect on their work.

Koa, American School in Japan (Tokyo, Japan)

Koa, a member of ASIJ’s class of 2019, wants to pursue a career in film, and came to GOA after completing all the filmmaking offerings at his school. Learning online “has been a new experience for me. I do like the freedom to do work whenever I want to, and how casual and friendly everyone is, even though we’ve only known each other for about a month.”

Inspired by the rapper G-Eazy and the singer Johnny Cash, Koa decided to focus his “Where We Are” work on finding footage with dark colors. He wanted to create a tone more than a story. In watching his classmates’ videos, he learned “everyone has differences. Differences are not limited to their gear, or their shooting technique. Differences include the smallest things, such as what FPS they use, the shutter speed, or color profile.”

Shireen, West Point Grey Academy (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

Shireen, who will graduate this year from WPGA, has always been interested in filmmaking, but has never had the time to do it. She saw Filmmaking, her first GOA course, as a chance to spend structured time on a personal interest. “It’s so different from my regular school because it allows me to be a lot more independent, which is something that I really appreciate. I do like being in a physical school as well, so the program really works for me in the way that I still have my normal classes, but I’m also taking this course online.”

Shireen latched onto Brendan’s goal for the project immediately: “The fact that all the people in my class made a completely different film from the same footage is quite amazing to me.” Read more about Shireen’s work in her Process Diary.

Yas, Columbus Academy (Columbus, Ohio)

Yas, a senior at Columbus Academy, fell in love with filmmaking after completing a few short videos for an English class at her school. She came to GOA for her first online course with little filmmaking experience. “My teacher is fantastic, and incredibly helpful, and unbelievably motivating. I also love the structure of the class, since there’s a good balance of talking about technical aspects of film and actually making films. The class is really driven by the students, since a lot of our lessons revolve around us discussing information with one another and critiquing each others’ work.”

For her “Where We Are” project, Yas found that all of her classmates had included footage of living things (people, animals, trees), and, inspired, she envisioned a video focused on life. “Bringing that vision to life and portraying the theme of life through editing and narration felt incredibly exciting, and it was my favorite part of making the film.”

The Impact on Class Community

This kind of close collaboration launches a semester-long process of learning about and from each other. “From this point on,” Brendan said, “I notice that students seek out responding to particular classmates’ weekly reflection blog posts. Getting to know one another via the media we share in this online environment is not unlike discovering the characters of a great film as it unfolds.”

Global Online Academy (GOA) reimagines learning to empower students and teachers to thrive in a globally networked society. Professional learning opportunities are open to any educator. To sign up or to learn more, see our Professional Learning Opportunities for Educators or email with the subject title “Professional Learning.”

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