My Pal

I find it interesting that not much changes with us humans, specifically with students. When I was in school, I whined and complained, “How is this applicable in the real world?” “When am I ever going to need to know this again?” Now that I am a teacher, I hear the same thing from my current students. As an English teacher, I do not hear these questions concerning my subject area but more from math, biology, and other courses. I have become a sounding board, so to speak, but only because students know they need to know how to read and write well. Either way, I believe these are valid questions. Today, with the integration of ISTE standards, the function of a digital tool in a virtual classroom is essential (Pearce).
ISTE standard 4 states, “Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems. Educators: use collaborative tools to expand student’s authentic, real-world learning experiences by engaging students virtually with experts teams and students locally and globally” (ISTE 4c). The one thing that struck me was the standard using the words “authentic,” and “real-world.” I then began to ask what is considered “authentic” learning? I appreciate that the ISTE site does gloss their phrase “authentic, real-world learning experiences” by saying, “For example, solving real-world local or global problems, career/workforce related projects, and skill-building, design projects and processes” (ISTE). Through working on projects together to solve an issue which could affect the world is a great way to make classroom learning more “authentic.” I looked at two collaboration tools, GridPals and Explain Everything, to see if students can achieve authentic learning experiences.
GridPals is a tool from Microsoft that is located within their main app–Flipgrid. Flipgrid is excellent in allowing students to participate in discussions through video in place of in-class discussion. For students who may be attending class virtually or asynchronously, Flipgrid is a great way to offer input from each student. GridPals is located within the Flipgrid site and provides the same tools as Flipgrid, but students can connect with other students worldwide. With the addition of collaborating on a real-world project, there is also the added ability to communicate with different cultures–the main point of GridPals. Real-world learning could be beneficial with students working together with their classmates. Still, I believe the learning experiences become even more genuine when students cross cultures to work with classmates in another part of the world.
Some things that could make the learning process challenging might be timing. Gone are the days of “snail mail” pen-pals, yet, even so, there may be internet issues, or maybe the other student can only retrieve the message at certain times, so communication slows considerably. There may also be some language barriers. While most students should be able to speak English, maybe their English is not quite up to par with other students. Having lived in another culture for many years, more “affluent” teenagers do not always understand what life is like for someone in a third-world country. Of course, the teacher can prepare the students and help them be culturally sensitive, but the challenge can be there. With just these three issues: time, language, and cultural sensitivity, the length of time to have a good learning experience may take half to a whole school year, depending on how often the teacher can assign work for the students. GridPals does also require collaboration between the two teachers of each country. Regardless, having the ability to see and communicate with someone on a project, specifically a real-world project, can genuinely offer students authentic learning.
Explain Everything is another tool that I will not spend too much time discussing. Explain Everything is a “whiteboard” tool that allows for collaboration in real-time. Explain Everything makes it easy for teachers and students to add audio and video, and animations to a board to help enhance the collaboration experience. If a teacher is lecturing asynchronously, they can record their presentations for students to access in their own time. If students work on a project together, the same applies to the students for teachers. I believe Explain Everything falls short in moving outside the borders of a classroom, which can be somewhat limiting. It is excellent for virtual teaching and for students to work with their classmates, but this may not entirely create the best learning experience.
GridPals wins out in overall ability to answer ISTE 4c, although, to meet the goal of the standard, it does not state that students have to work with another culture. For me, I would like to see my students prepared for life outside the classroom globally. They may not ever leave their home country, but I would like them to be exposed to other cultures to see how they might contribute to the society around them and the community that is the world.


Armant, Jornea. “GridPals: Connect with Educators and Classes around the World!” Flipgrid Help Center, April 6, 2021

“Interactive Whiteboard with Real-Time Collaboration.” Explain Everything, 16 Dec. 2020, April 6, 2021

Iste standards for educators. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2021, from

Pearce, S. (n.d.). ACEL. Retrieved April 11, 2021, from

2 thoughts on “My Pal

  1. Karen says:

    Great post, Jeff!

    I agree that a tool like GridPals would more naturally create moments for students to have authentic real-world learning experiences. If you look at the FlipGrid Partners page for what groups also create content, you see a broad range of activities from groups like the Equal Justice Initiative to the Met, or even various National Parks, like Yellowstone or the California State Parks System creating content in a variety of languages.

    I think a whiteboard tool could also create opportunities for authentic real-world learning, but it’s not really clear on how you could it, but we’ve seen similar tools like JamBoard and how easy it can be to create a collaboration space for many people to co-author and share content together. I haven’t used Explain Everything because we have a tool at work that overlaps with what Explain Everything provides, at work we have a screen capture tool that allows someone to talk and record at the same time, so creating demos like this could be done through a variety of different methods and not necessarily an application like this. I find myself wondering if there are times where you might choose Explain Everything or a similar tool over gridpals for creating an authentic learning experience?

  2. Mun Shing CHEONG says:

    Hi Jeff, thank you for choosing these 2 tools to evaluate! I have not come across either of them but learnt a lot from your comparison of both GridPals and Explain Everything. I agree with your observation that in and of itself, Explain Everything may be a great tool but it may not necessarily deliver the best experience if an “authentic learning experience” is the main goal. Inspired by your sharing, I found this handy guide online about GridPals with instructions on how to use and connect with others on GridPals


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *