Five years ago, EF launched weShare, a personalized learning experience that combines elements of project-based and inquiry-based learning to make our tours even more engaging for students. It was, we hoped, a way to promote and gather evidence of the transformative power of educational travel.
weShare helps students develop a question to investigate during their tour, and gives them a place to reflect on their travel experience once they’ve returned home. Every student who submits a post-tour project is automatically entered into a competition.
One of the originators behind weShare is George Stewart, EF’s Director of Program Development and Curriculum. While the head of the Spanish department at Middlesex School in Concord, MA, George organized tours to broaden his students’ horizons and help them learn Spanish. “As part of those trips I always encouraged students to seek out answers to questions they wondered in class, or to have adventures they could only dream about at home,” he said. At this time, George’s dream was to build an online platform that inspired students to work on projects driven by their own passions, and share their work with fellow students. When he left Middlesex in 2012 to join EF, creating this platform was his top priority.
Later that year, George’s vision came to life as we piloted the weShare concept with a handful of groups. These early versions were built with a learning management system that allowed us to quickly test a variety of content and approaches. Student questions remained at the heart of every version, though, and every year more and more Group Leaders wanted weShare to be part of their tours.
As interest rose, the limitations of the learning management system became clear. In 2015, we decided to take on the exciting (and daunting) task of building something completely unique to EF. We continued to encourage students to submit projects, but shifted our focus slightly to put more emphasis on question development. Group Leaders told us that developing a question helped students prepare for their tours, put a personal lens on their travel experiences, and learn at a deeper level, even if they didn’t complete a project when they returned home.
Last year, thousands of students participated in the latest version of weShare and next week we’ll announce which EF student traveler won this year’s grand prize — a free trip — for their work. While earning prizes or high school credit is the motivating factor for some, the desire to explore a topic of personal interest and discover one’s passions is often more important. (Some students have told us that weShare was the first time that anybody ever asked them what they want to learn!)
The curiosity students express through weShare is endlessly varied and inspiring. Whether it’s digital communication in China, the relevance of the waltz in modern Austria, or the secret to long life spans in Costa Rica, every student can use weShare to get more out of their tour by pursuing interests that we could never predict.
As we begin a new year of weShare, our commitment to the concept only gets deeper. We have recently added a new “personality quiz” to help students discover new interests. We’re developing new ways to get teachers involved. We’re working with Tour Directors to make the student voice more prominent on tour. Most of all, we’re always looking for new ways to ensure everyone who travels with us has a uniquely amazing and personal experience.