- Nancy Ruther, EdD
The Missing Link for your Learning Community: A linkr Home Base and Learning Launchpad
Choosing an online platform and technological tools for your learning community can be a challenge. We often have a wide range of disparate needs and must resort to multiple platforms and tools to meet them all. Gazelle International partnered with linkr in 2019, and we are proud to use our linkr platform both as a learning launchpad for our CLICK virtual exchange modules and as a home base for our community of international educators. Linkr has met multiple needs for our organization, for curriculum delivery from the outset and increasingly our operational needs. Read on to learn about our experience with linkr and to find out if this educational platform could be the missing link for your learning community!
How linkr understands international education
Linkr is a safe, GDPR compliant software that was created to facilitate the growth of international programming. The company describes themselves as “a deeply human ed-tech company providing an easy pivot into engaging, experiential learning online for international education organizations, institutions and communities worldwide.” The platform provides a way to manage, grow, and train communities and allows for member engagement and retention.
As you can see in the graphic, linkr enables instructors to find international teaching partners with whom they can collaborate, engage in interdisciplinary conversations, provide a platform and audience for student work, and more.
linkr as Gazelle International’s Educational Home Base
Gazelle International uses linkr for several operational purposes: to run our training workshops, communicate news, support teachers, and share resources among our growing community of CLICK teachers. We have an organization page that anyone is welcome to join (Make an account and then click here to join!). Through this page we can do a number of things to keep our community updated and connected. We share new blog posts, update offerings on our website, and highlight articles about CLICK modules from our teachers’ home institutions. We suggest conferences to attend in the field such as IVEC and CCID, as well as conferences in international engineering or agricultural education. We relay the heart of the story of key Gazelle International events visually with photos and graphics of teacher training, community socials, or CLICK “graduations.” And we post some basic resources and use the page to organize and archive our own and our community members’ classes.
Gazelle International finds the linkr platform especially useful as a place to host our teacher training workshops. We facilitate several series of virtual exchange workshops: Explore, Connect, and Design. Depending on the group of participants we can make an individual linkr class for the cohort and workshop in question, or we can create a class for an institutional client that spans the lifetime of several cohorts. The added value of this approach is when later cohorts join the class, they can see the conversation and publication tabs already in use and feel like they’re walking into an already established learning community.
Our teacher workshops are held synchronously on Zoom, and participants join linkr to get acquainted, find readings and assignments, read ahead or review PowerPoint slides and other important documents, crowdsource ideas, or brainstorm CLICK learning outcomes. It’s their hub for the duration of the training course and it carries on as CLICKers share success stories or problem solve with each other and our facilitators.
We use linkr for our training much the same way we suggest our CLICK teachers use linkr or other platforms for team-building activities in their virtual exchange modules. We incorporate several informal socializing activities into our workshops to model what this might look like for students. One of our favorites includes the prompt, “Answer the following questions and attach a picture: What city best represents your personality and interests? Is your teaching persona the same as or different from your personality?” We also use the Conversation tab to collect questions participants might have about virtual exchange and the material we present.
Finding a Match
linkr is all about community and collaboration. There is a Collaborate function that allows any members in the platform to seek out a teaching partner in order to link their classes. Gazelle International has taken the collaborative potential of linkr to the next level by setting up the CLICK Network. Classified as an ongoing “class” on the site, the CLICK Network is a community of CLICK virtual exchange teachers, accessible via an annual paid membership to Gazelle International. Members get exclusive access to resources and our organization’s intellectual property, including other Network members’ Faculty Profiles. Teachers can seek out partners by using these profiles and by throwing out ideas or requests in the Conversation tab. We look forward to developing our matchmaking process further with linkr’s features.
How Our CLICK Teachers Use linkr as Learning Launchpad
Beyond the operational uses, linkr serves us well in meeting the individual learning needs of our CLICK teachers and their students. Part of the design process for any virtual exchange includes a decision on what technology to use: which tools and platforms will allow the students to achieve the learning goals the teaching partners have designed for the module? While some institutions use an LMS such as Canvas or Blackboard as their educational home base, it is usually difficult or impossible to add members from another institution to the LMS for an individual teacher’s classroom. The international virtual exchange module requires the creation of a third learning space, and this learning space needs a place to live that both institutions can access! After using linkr for Gazelle International’s teacher workshops and the CLICK Network, some CLICK teachers decide to use the platform as the launchpad for their virtual exchange module.
One CLICK module that “lived” on linkr was the Fall 2020 module “E^3: Engineering Expertise Exchange” that over 11 weeks connected engineering students at Middlesex Community College in Connecticut, USA with those at Polytech Paris-Saclay in France. Students entered into their third learning space through linkr, engaging with their international team members and sharing the results of each step of the project. The CLICK modules require team-building exercises to help students get to know one another and build rapport. Similar to the Gazelle International training workshops, this CLICK module asked students to use the Conversation and Publications tab for these team-building activities. For example, students in the US Community College, in an introductory engineering course, used the Conversation tab to ask questions they had about various fields of engineering to their French Master’s level counterparts. Questions included things like, “What is the most impressive engineering accomplishment?” and “What is the most interesting part of the biomedical engineering field?” US students were encouraged to ask the French students about their apprenticeships, and they also asked about purely social topics such as playing video games. They used the Publications tab to share pictures of themselves or their interests and a more in-depth personal introduction, such as what they study and what they like to do.
As the CLICK module progressed, international student teams created a script for a presentation based on a topic that interested the team and ample research on that topic. As they exchanged ideas in writing, they also used virtual live meetings to brainstorm and finalize their shared work. The capstone project required students to record a video or talking PowerPoint to share their research with the other teams and to reflect on how each team member helped one another in the collaboration. To accomplish these tasks, once the international student teams had gotten to know each other, they used Publications to share their team’s group avatars and topics for their final projects, and, finally, the links to their recorded videos.
Linkr provided a virtual space for the students to learn from one another. It allowed teachers to share important learning guidance and documents (like the CLICK syllabus) and links (like pre- and post-CLICK surveys). The students submitted their major assignments through the Publication tab. Depending on the assignment, teachers could ask students to share their publication publicly, with the class, or privately with the teacher. linkr, in this way, solves many of the problems that international collaborating teachers encounter when their LMS are different or incompatible and they need an online platform for their shared CLICK module.
Joining the Community
We hope this case study helps show how a platform like linkr can provide support for individual virtual exchange modules, a growing teaching-learning community, and collaboration in general. For Gazelle International, linkr has been a fundamental part of our technological “ensemble”--we still use Zoom and other video conferencing applications for synchronous meetings, but linkr accomplishes the goals we have for a stable home base for our operations, helping us grow and serve our members, and for an international virtual learning launchpad for individual CLICK modules.
We have benefited as linkr has added new features. We look forward to their next improvements, smoothly expanding our options with each addition! This fall, for example, linkr plans to add synchronous collaboration tools to their site. To learn more, keep up to date with our Technologies for Virtual Exchange blog post as we continuously edit it.
Are you interested in learning about another technology that could be your missing link, how it could meet several of your learning community’s needs at once? If your campus is considering a truly collaborative learning and teaching platform to support your international program, we suggest reaching out to linkr to explore how they might help you develop a home base adapted to your needs much as they have helped us at Gazelle International. Teachers, please register for free at linkr if you want to try out their teaching and learning tools for your classroom and virtual exchange modules. We look forward to seeing you at Gazelle International’s linkr home base!
August 27, 2021