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Bucknell University

Collaboration Project - Name, technology connect Bucknell students with Virginia elementary school

Bucknell University Online Collaboration

By Andy Hirsch

LEWISBURG, Pa. - Bucknell University sophomore psychology major Lindsay Zajac admits she felt a little nervous as she waited for an unknown face to appear on her computer screen.

"Brittany was the first to pop up on the screen, and I was like 'Oh my goodness, it's working,'" Zajac recalled.

Brittany is one of several fifth and sixth grade students from Bucknell Elementary school in Virginia participating in an online learning collaboration with Bucknell University. The elementary school is part of the Fairfax County Public School district, the eleventh largest in the country. It sits on land once owned by the University, hence the shared name.

Using online educational tools, including technology similar to Skype, about 20 Bucknell University students have held virtual 'face-to-face' meetings with the elementary students.

"It takes pen-palling to a whole new level. It's much more personal," Zajac said.

"I really liked using the computer to talk because I could see that they were really excited to talk to me," said Paola, a sixth grade Bucknell Elementary student.

The new initiative between the two schools aims to benefit everyone involved, explained Associate Professor of Education Sue Ellen Henry. Henry, along with Assistant Professor of Education Ramona Fruja, helped organize the initiative. Their students who are participating come from two different classes: Multiculturalism and Education, and Immigrant Youth in the U.S. Society.

"I loved walking around the room and watching the students talk to each other, asking a wide range of questions. It was exciting to see how engaged both groups were." Fruja said. "This is a complex and potentially powerful endeavor and we're already beginning to see both sides benefit from the early interactions."

Henry agreed. "This relationship gives the elementary students direct access to someone who can help guide their paths to a college education, someone they may relate to in a way that differs from a teacher or a parent. At the same time, it gives our college students an opportunity to learn from interactions with younger students from a variety of socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds."

Nearly 43 percent of Bucknell Elementary School students qualify as limited English proficient, and more than 74 percent are eligible for free or reduced price meals.

"These students are future first-generation college students," said Sarah Talley, Bucknell Elementary's School Based Technology Specialist. "It is important for our kids to know the possibilities and realize that college is an option for them."

"This has already been a great learning experience," said Kelly Kalinsky, a junior psychology and education major. "It's so interesting to be able to talk with kids from different backgrounds and to see how that influences them in school and in the choices they make in their lives."

The two groups will work together throughout the semester. Bucknell University students will help fifth graders with their Global Awareness Technology Projects, and will work with sixth graders on their social studies curriculum, which is focused on the Revolutionary War. But everyone involved recognizes the potential impact of the program could reach far beyond homework assignments.

"We don't want to exaggerate the power of these interactions, but I do think that there's the possibility some of these younger students will start to see themselves as someone who goes to college, and for me that's really the aim," Henry said.

"It got me excited about college," Brianna, a sixth grade student said. "My mom and dad didn't go, but I want to go. I want to be the first in my family."

The two schools will evaluate the success of the relationship after this semester. Organizers on both sides hope to make it a recurring collaboration.