When I started to collate my list of principals, collaboration was the first thing I put down, only to realise I am not sure why it is so important. This lead to a quick bit of research into collaboration.
In the previous post about immediate feedback, I touched on learning theories and explained how technology fits in with behaviourism. Another learning theory that is supported very well by technology is social constructivism. While working together, students build new understanding by challenging each other’s ideas and defending their own. Collaboration happens when students share in the process of knowledge creation.
As teachers, we know certain things increase the depth of learning during a lesson. For example, when learners are forced to vocalise their thinking or to communicate their ideas in either verbal or written form, they are compelled to internalise the content and make their own connections. This has a positive effect on both the depth of their understanding and their long-term retention of the information. If they have to take it one step further and defend their thinking or incorporate other’s ideas into their framework, authentic learning start to take place.
Except there is no time. If you have a 45-minute lesson and a class of 30 learners, each student can speak for 90 seconds at the most. (That is if you do not speak at all!) Not only is 90 seconds not nearly enough to explain your thinking, but it is also very unproductive to sit the other 43,5 minutes passively listening to the rest of the class.
So collaboration is just a big new word for group-work? Well yes and no.
Collaboration is working with another person towards a common goal or solving a common problem. Here are some ideas for collaboration that is not necessary traditional group- work. These activities are not technology specific, most of them can be done without using any technology. But it is clear that technology can play a significant role in removing the logistical hurdles.
Without technology collaboration is limited to lesson time, between the four walls of the classroom. With students living far apart and having full extra-mural programmes, it is tough for them to get together to work on a problem, outside of school hours. I can still remember when we did group-work in university; each person did a section and one person was assigned the job of putting the whole document together. Often none of the other members of the group ever saw the completed product. This is assembly-line work sharing, not collaboration at all. Ten years on and Google Docs allow everybody in the group to work on the same document at the same time, without being in the same geographical area. Since you can read the rest of the team’s work, it is easier to make connections and challenge each other’s ideas, which leads to a better end product and more learning taking place.
Technology removes the need to work at the same time and place, which open a lot of doors collaboration. So when you design a new activity, don’t just try to recreate the pen-and-paper activity electronically, but ask yourself, would learners understand this topic better if they can learn with and from each other and how would technology make this possible.