If you Google “Digital tools for collaboration” you can find hundreds, if not thousands, of ways that teachers are using digital technology to enhance their classrooms and learning. The issue is that some teachers use them just to use them, and never really take the time to think about why they are useful; can they be applied to standards? Are they just taking place of an old school lesson but really teaching the same factual information, rather than teaching 21st century skills? It’s hard to decipher what is really actually collaborative and useful until you practice them in your classroom, and of course, it all depends on who and what you teach. A 6th grade math teacher will find use in different tools than a 2nd grade learning support teacher or a 12th grade English teacher. It just takes time and research to find ones that work for you. I decided for this discussion to find tools that might actually be of use to me when I return from maternity leave, and I will outline two of them below:
This seemingly cool interactive digital tool is described as a “collaborative online whiteboard” (Walsh, 2014). You can add anything you like as the backdrop and then whomever was invited to the “chat” can mark up the image, document, webpage, etc. I think this would be a really fun way to peer edit essays. We could go to a computer lab to do this (we don’t have classroom laptops always available) and in small groups, students could upload their essays and mark it up as a group. This would work a lot better than having to print (not eco-friendly!) 4 copies of an essay, passing it them to group members, and then having to look at all four copies for suggestions, critiques, etc. I am really excited about this one! (Walsh, 2014).
This is a group planning website, which I think sounds awesome for any group assignment. Something that always irks teachers and students during group work is how group projects can become disorganized and negative learning spaces where one or two people end up doing all the work. I assign group projects all the time in my class, and they can use this website for “meetings, to-do lists, messaging, calendars, polls, and file sharing” (Walsh, 2014). I love this idea! It sounds like it really might work for many different kinds of group projects.
One way to ensure safe online practices in my classroom is requiring all group assignments to be completed on a site such as Google Drive where I can see all history of the assignment. This way, I can see if someone has completed more or less work than other group members. I can also see if anyone has made any inappropriate remarks on the assignment and then tried to delete them (trust me, this has happened, and it’s really awkward for everyone involved). The most important way, however, to ensure safe practice is to teach it. Because this is all really somewhat new, students might not actually know what is right and wrong, or at least they may not be aware of the potential consequences. The learning process should cover topics from all areas, from plagiarism to cyber bullying. Schools could offer this as kind of a professional development, but for students. I had the technology director come into my classroom to talk to my students in an intimate setting about their digital footprints and what they really are. I think a full assembly where one person talks to hundreds of students would be less effective because I can guarantee no one would listen! (Ironically, they’d probably just all be on their phones!). But in a smaller setting, like individual classrooms, I think students could really be positively affected, as they were in my classroom.
Walsh, K. (2014, May 14). 20 Fun Free Tools for Interactive Classroom Collaboration. Retrieved from http://www.emergingedtech.com/2014/05/ 20-excellent-free-tools-for-interactive-collaboration-experiences-in-the-classroom/