“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” Helen Keller
What is Collaboration?
Globalization and the rise of technology have made collaboration necessary for the success of our 21st-century learners and educators alike (National Education Association [NEA], n.d.). According to Fullan and Scott (2014) “collaboration refers to the capacity to work interdependently and synergistically in teams with strong interpersonal and team‐related skills including effective management of team dynamics, making substantive decisions together, and learning from and contributing to the learning of others” (p. 6). Through collaboration, teachers can work together to identify gaps in curriculum content and learning, thereby improving curriculum and student outcomes. The increase in knowledge through collaboration can be accelerated with the use of technology.
From an educational perspective, collaboration is key to maintaining a quality learning system. A quality learning system can be ensured when instructional leaders (e.g. principals) are hands-on in working with teachers directly on curriculum – that there is a collaborative effort in understanding the standards, content, engagement, assessment, and other factors (Hooper & Bernhardt, 2016). Leaders must be able to identify the strengths and gaps in the capacity of the faculty so they can utilize everyone’s capabilities appropriately and give intentional feedback to inform and adjust instructional practices. It is the leaders and the faculty enjoying a shared purpose for enabling students to perform at high levels that contribute to a quality learning system and faculty. Well known educational researcher, John Hattie, also indicates that teachers, principals, and classrooms who work collaboratively have the biggest impact (TEDx Talks, 2013). Thus, in order for the highest levels of collaboration to take place, having the right tools at one’s disposal is critical in making this happen.
According to Korucu & Cakir (2018), “collaborative learning has a social constructivist philosophical background. It defines learning as constructing knowledge in a social environment. According to Vygotsky (1987), learning in social circumstances involves knowledge construction which supports interaction, inquiry and discussion, and provides enhanced learning with active participation” (p. 93).
Collaboration can lead to an increase in knowledge for both learners and educators. Through collaboration with peers, learners are held accountable for their participation in the learning process. Failure to properly prepare for collaborative sessions can lead to discord with group members. Knowing that others are relying on their participation can increase the likelihood of the learners following through with the commitments they have made to their team.
One key benefit of collaboration between teachers within districts is to establish common assessments that are practical and relate to what has been taught in the classroom. Sharing best practices can help build collective capacity by improving pedagogical practices for the participating educators. Collaboration might also help educators discover gaps in their curriculum or student learning within their courses.
The outcome of integrating Common Core State Standards and the Career and Technical Education instruction is that it requires collaboration between students to develop critical thinking skills and practical applications to their skills learned. In addition, the standards, “will help colleges and professional development programs better prepare teachers; provide the opportunity for teachers to be involved in the development of assessments links to the standards; allow states to develop and provide better assessments that more accurately measure whether or not students have learned what was taught; and guide educators toward curricula and teaching strategies that will give students a deep understanding of the subject and the skills they need to apply their knowledge” (Reese, 2011, p. 19).
Whether a student learner or an educator, technology can help accelerate learning and lead to deeper learning. Collaboration through technology affords time flexibility allowing learners and educators to schedule team meetings outside of normal course hours. Technological collaboration can also allow learners access to individuals of diverse populations leading to knowledge from different perspectives. Distance is no longer a barrier allowing learners to collaborate from anywhere in the world. A variety of interaction is made possible through technology including but not limited to: student to instructor, student to peers, student to resources. In order to prepare learners for the 21st century workforce, technology is essential as many companies utilize various technological platforms in their daily business proceedings. Lastly, the integration of technology into the classroom allows for students to gain practical application skills which is valuable to their future success in the workplace.
With the introduction of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), we began hearing about the 4Cs (Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, and Communication) that should be incorporated into all education to prepare students for 21st century skills. Fullan (2016) takes this one step further by adding two more C’s: Character and Citizenship. These are what he calls the 6C’s, the Deep Learning Competencies. “Deep learning involves using new knowledge to solve real-life problems and incorporates a range of skills and attributes” (Fullan, 2016, p. 83). Developing learning goals that include these six competencies will be the right recipe for deep learning. Collaborative learning is a critical strategy that has been integrated into effective classrooms with group projects, group problem solving, group questioning, and group presenting. The opportunity to collaborate in the classroom creates a real-world scenario for students that prepares them for college and career life.
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative was first introduced in 2011 and adopted by most states across the United States over the following years. The standards are what students need to know, not how they will be taught. Individual districts and campuses have the responsibility to adopt curriculum and textbooks that meet the new standards. When CCSS was first introduced it only covered Math and English Language Arts with the plan to later incorporate Science and Social Studies. The goal of CCSS is to ensure that students are college and career ready, which is defined as the ability “to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce-training programs” (Common Core State Standards Initiative, 2011, p. 1).
Collaboration & Examination
Now that the state and federal governments have handed down the curriculum standards and guidelines, it is up to each district to establish an effective pedagogical method to increase rigor, and add meaningful, authentic learning. One effective way to make change happen is through collaboration between teachers, administration, districts, and the state. Pedagogical partnerships between teachers allow them to draw on their expertise and best practices and develop new pedagogies that bring the best from each source. In addition, teachers need to take on the role of an activator of knowledge and learning versus that of a facilitator. This shift in teachers acting as activators has had a positive impact of 87% over that of 17% with regards to engaging student learning: “The collaborative expertise of teachers had the highest impact of all of the 150 or so practices he examined” (Fullan, 2016, p. 91).
The partnership between teachers, students, and families has an extremely powerful effect on student outcomes. One key component is providing feedback to students, either verbally or in written form, on a daily basis. Timely feedback can help direct students to their next step. Whether it be revisiting a concept or moving onto the next, “timely feedback that challenges the student to consistently higher levels of performance” is the key to their success (Fullan, 2016, p. 92). According to Fullan (2016), districts that implement new learning partnerships have exponential growth in student engagement and success. Learning partnerships include students taking responsibility for their learning process, while teachers support them by setting expectations for their learning goals, providing the necessary tools and resources for them to gather data, and creating an authentic learning environment. Learning is related to local, state, and global settings and students are becoming active participants. The digital component in the classroom is used to gather and analyze data, create scenarios and simulations, and facilitate the problem-solving process. Some districts have implemented a BYOD (bring your own device) policy where students can bring their own computer, tablet, or other digital resource to use in the classroom. This method reduces expenditure and liability for school districts. In addition, students become even more actively involved in their own learning, expectations, and develop a sense of belonging through caring environments (Fullan, 2016).
Instructional Coherence & Implementation
Once districts develop learning goals and establish pedagogical practices, they must then determine how it can be implemented. It will only work if everyone in the district is on board, from the superintendent, to the principals, to the teachers and paraprofessionals, as well as to all other classified support staff. Here are some important questions to consider:
- Do our teachers currently possess the knowledge and skills to implement the new procedures, develop learning partnerships, and use digital resources?
- Does the school site possess the resources to develop an actively engaged learning culture on the campus, a collaborative culture amongst staff, and effective practices and opportunities for sharing?
- Lastly, does the district have a clearly defined set of learning goals, high performing pedagogical practices, a culture for learning, and a collaborative spirit?
If schools adopt these elements, they are on the right track for creating deep, authentic learning (Fullan, 2016).
Technology tools/strategies/lessons to accelerate learning
As we seek to prepare learners for 21st-century workplaces, developing their collaboration skills is essential (Stephens & Roberts, 2017). There is an abundance of digital tools that are available to facilitate this kind of work. This section, will explore the use of video conferencing, collaborative writing applications, digital whiteboards and cork boards, wikis, and social bookmarking tools.
The ability to take students on field trips used to be restricted to where one could travel geographically. Today, educators can “take” their students to visit places around the world or have them collaborate with each outside of the classroom. We can also welcome guest speakers into our classrooms, or hear from learners in a place very different from our communities.
Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)
The CILC provides teachers and students with the opportunity to take virtual field trips to the far-reaches of the globe through interactive video conferencing software. There are multiple content providers who have partnered with CILC that provide free live presentations, such as the Alaska Sealife Center, The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and the Pro-Football Hall of Fame. For a small fee, you can connect your students with authors, astronauts, and deep-sea divers.
As many may already be familiar with, given the pervasive nature of Google, the first collaboration tool is the easy-to-use Google Hangouts (or, colloquially, Hangouts). Hangouts actually include (or rather, included) a variety of tools, including instant messaging (IM), video chat, SMS (AKA text messaging), and VOIP. As Google seems to be shifting its focus to organizational users (Google for Business or Google for Education) rather than consumer users, some of these features have now been divided into separate applications (e.g. Google Allo, Google Duo, etc.).
Google Hangouts is, of course, supported by the use of email — specifically, a Google account — and an internet connection. In a video conference, users can see all participants simultaneously and synchronously, with a text chat feature also available. As one might imagine, the effectiveness of communication is enhanced when visual cues are available (Forsyth, 2016), so since video conferencing enables participants to see each other, it can be a better option than audio-only (e.g. telephone) or text-only (e.g. email) experiences. Not only is communication enhanced, but since the meeting is virtual, there is no travel time and no impact on travel budgets (Forsyth, 2016), making Hangouts or Meet a preferred solution when dealing with non-collocated groups.
Originating in 2003, Skype software provides Internet-based phone service (VoIP) between computers, phones, and other devices (Skype, n.d.). Most of the service is free to use and can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection, but additional features are available through a paid subscription (Charron & Rashke, 2014). If you have a webcam, Skype also features video chat and provides video conferencing. In addition, users can exchange documents such as text and video. Since being acquired by Microsoft in 2011, Skype functionality has been integrated into many Microsoft applications, making it easily accessible for people who already use Microsoft Office products. However, because of this integration, the Skype application has changed many times on Windows (Skype, n.d.).
From an educational perspective, Skype has unique features for teachers to utilize. “Skype in the Classroom” is an online community (or social network) that enables teachers around the globe to use Skype for things like virtual field trips, lessons, guest speakers, and collaboration with other teachers around the world (Skype in the Classroom, n.d.). For example, students could practice a foreign language by connecting with classrooms in other countries, make note of weather patterns from various regions, or even practice music with musicians from other schools. Aside from uses in the classroom, Skype can be used for parent-teacher conferences or tutoring opportunities. Teachers can also use Skype in the Classroom for professional development by staying in collaboration with other educators.
Similar to Skype and gaining in popularity is Zoom which was founded in 2011 (Zoom, 2018). Zoom is a cloud-based video and web conferencing service that can host a maximum of one hundred participants for up forty minutes at no cost (Zoom Video Conferencing [ZVC], 2018). Participants can log into a Zoom meeting using a desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device equipped with the Zoom software or call a designated phone number if the software is unavailable (ZVC, 2018). For an additional charge, cloud storage can be purchased to maintain recordings of meetings conducted, and Zoom rooms can be used to facilitate breakout, small group sessions (ZVC, 2018).
Zoom can be used in educational arenas, businesses, and is even used in telehealth since it can be easily tailored to meet group needs (ZVC, 2018). Educators can use this platform to facilitate collaboration and the incorporation of breakout group sessions using Zoom rooms. Participants can easily share their screens to aid in collaboration however, host settings can be adjusted to maintain control over the session. The Zoom help center is equipped with useful how-to narrative and one minute videos providing instructions for a variety of Zoom applications (ZVC, 2018).
Collaborative Writing Applications
The experience of writing collaboratively can be a powerful experience, for teachers and learners alike. Collaborative writing applications take the powerful features of word processors and then allow for teams of people to create a document together. Individual contributions are tracked and a revision history is kept. But, as new ideas enter into a new document, they are reflected to anyone who visits the document in real-time.
Word processing in the Google ecosphere takes place on Google Docs. Documents can be created and shared among students, which can be accessed on whatever device they are using. These files can also be exported into other word processors and file formats, such as Microsoft Word and PDF.
Zhou, Simpson, and Domizi (2012) conducted a study involving Google Docs which utilized a writing exercise that took place outside the classroom and revealed students had a positive association with the use of the word processor. Students were found to have used Facebook and text messaging less frequently while collaborating using Google Docs.
Other Collaborative Writing Applications
While Google Docs is the most widely used cloud-based word processor in education, there are plenty of other services that provide similar functions. Office 365 has enhanced the collaboration functionality of Microsoft’s familiar word processor, Word. Dropbox Paper and Write About are also worth considering when evaluating various collaborative writing applications.
Digital Whiteboards and Cork Boards
Before learners ever get to the writing process, it is essential to brainstorm and capture ideas. Digital whiteboards and cork boards offer a space for multiple learners to contribute in that shared space. Using them is similar to handing each of your students in the class a whiteboard marker and had them write something on the board. Or, in the case of digital cork boards, it is as if you gave each student some push pins and had them post their masterpieces up on the bulletin board for others to see.
Padlet is a cloud-based, multimedia design wall that can be used to develop individual or collaborative digital cork boards. One of Padlets main features is that it allows real-time and whole class participation (e.g., digital sticky notes for brainstorming). There are several instructional strategies that can be utilized in Padlet. Strategies like think-pair-share, graphic organizers, self-assessment, and paraphrasing research are a number of strategies teachers can utilize while using Padlet. Overall, Padlet can be used within collaborative classroom activities and instruction. With proper know-how and ability to model Padlet to students, it has the ability to encourage participation and involvement from all students in the classroom (Fuchs, 2014).
An example of a digital whiteboard tool is Whiteboard Fox. Whiteboard Fox a free online and real-time whiteboard that takes users straight to a blank canvas to begin drawing. There is no setup required, which makes it easy for users to quickly access Whiteboardfox.com. Within Whiteboard Fox, users are able to draw, erase, and undo previous actions as well as add text and pictures from elsewhere by using a feature called “copy all” that places everything you have copied from another resource onto your clipboard and then provides the option to copy that content onto the digital whiteboard.
Whiteboard Fox can be used collaboratively by allowing users to invite new members to collaborate on the whiteboard or to observe what’s being drawn on the whiteboard. All users must do is to generate a unique link and send it to guests via email or text message to access the whiteboard being worked on. In addition, Whiteboard Fox allows users to utilize social media like Facebook to save and share their whiteboards to their social network. Also, Whiteboard Fox is accessible to tablets and mobile phones.
Overall, working collaboratively on digital sketches have demonstrated that they can help individuals working together receive constructive feedback as well as help in the area of idea generation and task motivation (Karakaya & Demirkan, 2015). Moreover, within collaborative digital environments like digital whiteboards, as more designs were drawn collaboratively and critiqued by members of the group, it helped enhance the creativity of the work product (Karakaya & Demirkan, 2015).
Wikis are a collaborative website where users write, collect, organize, and revise information on a specific topic. Wikipedia is the hallmark of Wikis because it allows users to create content as well as revise content on almost any topic imaginable. Collaboration takes place on Wikis by helping groups of individuals solve problems, create new content, revise content, conduct preliminary research, and develop databases on relevant topics. One major advantage of Wikis is that users within a group can develop content independently from another while working on the Wiki article because Wikis contain a revision history function. Due to this feature, contributors of an article may feel a sense of community and ownership of the article because they have contributed to it and have seen how it has developed over time.
Some online programs for building Wikis are Wikispaces Classroom, Wikidot, and PBworks. In each of these cases, teachers can have students work together as an entire class to create content on a particular topic. In addition to text, students can also add digital media such as pictures and links to videos on their Wiki page. A number of activities teachers can do using Wikis is to assign students to write a collaborative story, conduct research together as a class, write a biography on a historical figure or a current celebrity, participate in a book or film review, or even take group assessments.
For decades, teachers have been tearing articles out of magazines and placing them in filing cabinets for later reference. Today, information that we come across online can be stored and sorted, in order to synthesize the knowledge. We can bookmark digital resources and assign tags to them. These tags categorize what we are storing, making it easier to find what we are looking for in the future. This section explores two popular social bookmarking tools: Diigo and Pinterest.
Diigo is an online social bookmarking tool that allows users to independently or collaboratively research and capture online content, articles, and media, tag them with categories, and annotate or highlight the text. It’s based on the idea that users can annotate through social means, which means users can work together collaboratively to scan through information as well as add notes to stimulate conversation on the information at hand.
Diigo’s “My Group” feature provides the option for users to collaboratively research by allowing others within a group to share sticky notes, bookmarks, and forum discussions. In addition, users can message each other through Diigo’s messaging system, which allows users to see if friends are online as well as provides users the ability to share bookmarks.
Pinterest is an online social bookmarking website that allows people to find ideas for any new project or interest. Users have the ability to create their own “boards” by pinning photos, infographics, and graphics regarding a specific topic. Then, users have the ability to organize the different boards based on the topics they are interested in.
On Pinterest, users can create “Group Projects,” which involve a group of users creating their own Pinterest board collaboratively on the topic they choose. Users can send notifications for users already assigned a Pinterest account in addition to sending someone outside Pinterest an email to allow them to join you in pinning on your shared board. Through this feature, users are able to build a board on a shared topic, which allows each user to continuously add content on an ongoing basis to build a knowledge base on the topic collaboratively.
Collaboration has been shown to not only increase students’ likelihood of one day becoming more employable but also can improve learners’ social/emotional development (Dominic, 2016). Educational technology, such as video conferencing, digital writing applications, wikis, and social bookmarking tools can help to fuel students’ abilities to grow their collaborative skills.
Younger Students/Older Students/Adult Learners
Collaboration can benefit learners of all ages by keeping them actively engaged while promoting deeper learning. According to Fullan (2016), “pedagogy and digital are interacting to open radical new ways of engagement and deeper learning” (p. 78). In the past, younger students have worked together in groups to build with blocks which helps to stimulate problem-solving skills. In today’s classroom, with the addition of digital pedagogy methods, students can now work together on computer projects to create web pages, video game design, and go on virtual field trips. Students today have an excellent grasp of technology and often surpass their teacher’s knowledge. The traditional classroom is often boring and does not hold the attention of students. This highlights the need for teachers to collaborate in their PLC’s to develop lessons and activities that integrate collaboration with the use of technology to stimulate and challenge their students’ learning.
Older students and adult learners have more experience working collaboratively than younger learners; however, they can still benefit from working together. Students in secondary education need to develop 21st-century skills to be prepared to enter college and future careers. Fullan (2016) states that “the recent introduction of CCSS holds the promise of a shift to learning that is more authentic, rigorous, and meaningful” (p. 79). Collaboration has become an integral part of classroom pedagogy which can help teach students the real-world skills of working in teams to solve problems, manage projects, and create new products, to name a few. As teachers make this more of a norm for the classroom, it will also become a natural process for their students.
From Theory to Practice T2P
Incorporating collaboration into your classroom using technology requires patience and commitment. This is a necessary step in preparing students for the 21st-century workforce and learning to work effectively as part of a team. Please complete the theory to practice exercise below before moving onto the next chapter as a starting point for linking theory to practice.
- Why is collaboration essential for 21st-century learners and educators?
- What strategies do you use to address the Common Core standards in your classroom?
- How can technology be used to foster productive collaboration?
Consider the capacity in which you teach. Do you actively engage students in collaborative activities? Are some of the technologies discussed in this chapter familiar to you? If so, in what capacity have you used these technologies to accelerate student learning?
Have you observed others use technology for collaboration in an educational or professional setting? Were they successful in this collaborative effort? If so, what made this collaboration successful? If they were not, why do you think this collaboration was not successful? In what ways do you think you can use technology to make collaboration successful in your classroom?
Are you currently involved in a PLC or other collaborative group with your co-workers? What type of projects do you work on together? Is it helpful to work with educators within your same field? Is it helpful to work with educators outside of your field of study? How have your collaborative efforts been successful? If they were not, why do you think this collaboration was not successful?
After reflecting on how you can use technology for collaboration in your classroom, create an action item list of steps you can take to begin to incorporate collaboration through technology into your teaching. Describe ways in which you can motivate students to embrace technological collaboration while maintaining academic integrity.
*Theory to Practice Exercise Adopted from Hooper and Bernhardt (2016)