Triggering Event Question: How can I use contemporary technology tools to strengthen small group collaboration and cooperative learning experiences for my intermediate elementary learners?
When imagining my future classroom, two dichotomies emerge: a pervasive atmosphere of group collaboration and creativity, and a persistent challenge to incorporate more useful, transformational technology into instruction and learning. I’ve always been comfortable with planning for collaboration; I’ve never been comfortable using technology. However, in considering the second ISTE Teaching standard, which states: “Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessment incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the NETS•S,” I realized that technology could actually play an incredibly valuable role in promoting and allowing access to new platforms for group collaboration. After I made this connection, entirely new worlds of planning for small group instruction opened up for me, and a plethora of online resources and apps emerged.
My research illuminated three main activity categories in which collaboration through technology seem to be most transformational. They are digital storytelling/blogging, project-based learning, and online collaborative competition. Digital storytelling is part of a greater phenomenon emerging known as “new literacies.” (Zoch, et. al, 2014) This term is defined as the “new ways of reading and writing made available by technology as well as the competencies associated with them, such as design, navigation, and collaboration” (p. 32). Through digital storytelling, students are provided an online platform on which to imagine, develop, revise and publish their own writing – either stories, reports or blogs. Most web-based programs that allow for this also involve an element of interaction from other students with accounts. One well-recommended program is kidblog.org.
Like most blogging sites, this one lets students design a blog to their liking, post writing on the blog, and comment and interact with other blogs through the same site. This could be a great resource in the classroom for helping move kids through the writing process, including peer revision and editing. As the website states, “Kidblog gives students’ writing a meaningful purpose and an authentic audience. Students are motivated to write for their peers and engage with a global network.” (kidblog.org) Blogging and digital storytelling is clearly a highly effective instructional tool for students to engage in both writing and collaboration.
Another element of classroom activity in which digital collaboration could play a powerful role is group project-based learning. Anytime students are asked to work together on a meaningful, authentic project with a purpose they engage in high levels of collaboration and group thinking. Sometimes the most difficult part of this process is the first stage – planning. With so many different ideas and levels of organization, it can often be very hard for groups of students to get on the same page in order to progress to the development stage. This is where certain tools exist to provide an online space for this kind of chaotic planning. The best one I found is basecamp.com. Mostly marketed for businesses to collaborate in planning, Basecamp provides just that – a base camp for all of the driving ideas and inspiration in group learning to be collected in one place. From there, the tool makes it easy for individuals to develop their own portions of an overall project while maintaining a cohesive group dynamic. The video below includes an overview of the tool, as well as a demonstration of its use in a business environment. I can imagine repurposing Basecamp for the classroom by giving students similar log-in information for each group, and encouraging them to access the site both during classroom work time, as well as while individually working from home.
Another great tool for project-based collaboration was recommended to me by a peer, Megan Highsmith. The common Microsoft program called OneNote is already known to be great for organizing many different ideas in one place, but as Megan noted to me, OneNote has developed a tool geared specifically toward a classroom environment, called OneNote for the Classroom. This program offers many different strategies and abilities to teachers for organizing lessons and classroom work, but it also includes a space called the Classroom Notebook, where students can collaborate with each other, engaging in shared thinking and brainstorming, as well as commenting and interacting with each other’s work. (onenoteforteachers.com) This could definitely be an easy-to-implement technology with a lot of opportunity for digital collaboration.
The final area of classroom learning that seems particularly applicable for incorporation of technology is friendly competition-based games and projects. As Mote, et. al (2014) state in their article for the ISTE’s journal, “Two of the biggest and longest-standing hurdles facing educators are integrating technology into the classroom effectively and developing authentic collaboration within the classroom. Online competitions and camps can help meet both of these challenges” (p. 17). Competitive collaboration can be an excellent way to motivate young students and engage them in academic production which they might otherwise be intimidated to pursue. Allowing for competition in the classroom also helps foster positive social skills and strategies for coping with disappointment. One program that has been used to allow for online competition is Scratch, a program which introduces students to coding through tutorials, coding activities, and even video game creation. (Mote, et. al) Of course any technology used to cultivate friendly competition in the classroom should allow for teacher oversight, and should be monitored closely to avoid negative interactions or bullying. However, the benefits from competitive collaboration certainly make it a valuable use of technology in the classroom.
Although I am intimidated to incorporate technology into my instruction, I certainly recognize the value that it will add to many of the strategies that I already plan to rely on, such as group collaboration. Students of the 21st century not only must learn to collaborate digitally, but they will inevitably be more motivated and excited to engage in digital-based learning and production as well.
Basecamp. (2016) Basecamp. retrieved from https://basecamp.com
Kidblog. (2016) Kidblog: Safe and Simple Blogs for Your Students. retrieved from http://kidblog.org/home/
Microsoft. (2015) OneNote for teachers. retrieved from http://onenoteforteachers.com
Mote, C. W., Kafai, Y., Burke, Q. (2014) Epic Win: Inspire Engagement through Online Competitions and Collaborations. Learning & Leading with Technology. 16-21.
TechnologyAdvice. (2014) Basecamp Project Management Review. YouTube. retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGf6tI5XU_E
Zoch, M., Langston-DeMott, B., Adams-Budde, M. (2014) Creating Digital Authors. Kappan. 96(3) 32-37.