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When it comes to education, there are few topics that can get students excited quite like other countries and cultures can. If you really want to get an interesting classroom discussion going, tell your teenage students that in Bulgaria, people nod when they disagree with you and shake their head when they agree. Or inform them that in Eastern Europe, people there believe that drinking very cold drinks can make you get sick. Then, when your students remark that those behaviors seem strange, offer them the opportunity to email a teenage pen pal from one of those countries so that they can learn more about these and other beliefs. One of the best ways to promote the development of young, open minds is to expose them to other cultures by establishing a dialog between these young teenage pen pals.
Establish International Teenage Pen Pal Exchanges with ePaLs
While much of the Internet has advanced in terms of social networks and blogging communities, for some reason the world of international student dialog has fallen by the wayside. If you sift through the web for any advanced, high-quality resources for parents or teachers to connect their teen students with other teenage pen pals from around the world, you’ll quickly realize that the pickings are very slim. MakeUseOf has covered a number of great resources for adults to meet up with other adults, such as BuddyStumbler, or Simon’s review of 3 virtual worlds that are great for meeting friends. But when it comes to young students and teenagers, special privacy rules apply in order to protect the privacy and security of those students. Finally, a service has arrived that fills that important niche – and that service is ePals.
Connect with Teenage Pen Pals Through Blogs, Email and Other Means
Throughout the years, a number of amateur web designers attempted to create an online service where students in classrooms located anywhere in the world could establish a connection with students in other classrooms. Unfortunately, almost every site created had a major flaw. Most of them were horribly designed, others were lacking in functionality or features, and far too many of them allowed teenagers (even those under 16 years old) to post their contact information (such as their email address) directly onto the unprotected website. In this day and age, that kind of lack of privacy or security for under-aged kids is unacceptable. Thankfully, every classroom across the world can now turn to ePaLs for a pen pal communication portal that answers all of those concerns, and provides all of the features that students should have had access to long before now.
Unlike just about any other pen pal website out there, this website has a very clean design with advanced features everywhere you look. Students have access to forums, blogs, and teachers can initiate contact between students by searching for other classrooms that are participating in the ePaLs service. Finding a classroom is simple – all teachers have to do is click “Search by Map” under the “Connect” menu item. On the next page, the teacher is offered a world map, or a drop down box, to select what part of the world they would like to establish a line of communications with.
Clicking on any area of the world will allow you to drill down to a specific country. Once you click on a country or region, you’ll be able to view hundreds of listings created by teachers in other classrooms who are looking for an International exchange of ideas with other students. In many cases, classrooms are taking part in a collaborative project through ePaLs, and they’re seeking out additional classrooms to collaborate with. The listing profile below is one example of such a project.
In this case, students from many parts of the world are collaborating on a project related to global warming. If you believe that your student teenage pen pals would have something significant to add to any of the ongoing projects on ePaLs, then sign them up! In the process of collaborating with students who are from other cultures and hold, at times, very different belief systems – the students could end up learning far more valuable lessons than they could ever imagine.
The best feature of this service, by far, is the secure email system that it provides to all students who are part of the service. The email system is called “SchoolMail” and the features include monitoring and content control, privacy, free email accounts, virus protection – and best of all an instant 8-language translation feature, much like Gmail’s new translation feature that Varun reviewed recently.
Finally, a social network that not only encourages teenage pen pals to connect internationally, but it’s also a well designed portal that protects the safety and security of those students. Not only does this service allow students and schools to make full use of the power of social networking, but it also serves to move the global community one step further from border walls and conflict, and that much closer to a global community of online friends who respect each other.
Do you know of any other safe, high-quality pen pal websites for students? Did you ever have an International pen pal when you were in school? Share your opinion in the comments section below.
Image credits: Linda Cronin (away till Friday)