As technology’s role in the classroom continues to grow, many articles have been written based on education’s shift from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side.” Gone are the days of classrooms with desks arranged in rows facing forward to direct students’ attention to the teacher. Today’s classroom is – or should be – more focused on creating meaningful interaction and collaboration, often with the help of digital tools. Active learning environments aren’t necessarily easy to bring to life; they can require different classroom arrangements, a multitude of technology, strategic planning, and more. Needless to say, students need more than a “guide on the side” – instead, teachers need to take an active role in ensuring a successful atmosphere that empowers students and supports collaborative learning. Here are some starting points to consider:
Ensure strategic alignment.
Collaborative technologies hold promise in the classroom, but it’s important that decisions surrounding which technologies to incorporate, and how, start with desired outcomes. Having a shared mission and vision for the incorporation of collaborative learning tools can help ensure that everyone involved is aware of goals and aligned on efforts. Teachers shouldn’t be shy to express their hopes for the future or thoughts on how they might get there with administrators. Open conversation makes way for new ideas, noteworthy insight, and progress. Tom Daccord, director of EdTechTeacher, comments:
“A defining trait of effective leadership in successful school technology programs is a well-defined vision of technology-aided teacher and learning that is shared with various constituents: administration, faculty, staff, parents, and students. A well-defined vision communicated effectively and consistently provides a common mission for the entire school and a rallying point for change.”
Teachers aren’t the only ones in the conversation, but they need to have a voice.
Evaluate available tools – from the familiar to the latest technologies.
Technology and innovation often go hand in hand, and education should evolve at the same pace when possible. In an effort to spark student engagement and collaboration, the best teachers are constantly looking for ways to incorporate existing technology as well as bringing in new tools.
For example, the use of video is nothing new, but it is gaining in popularity as a means to boost collaboration, claims educational technology specialist Michelle R. Davis. Davis points out that use is extending beyond static, one-time viewing to include the ability to archive, tag, annotate, and provide feedback in interactive ways. Similar to video, web-based communication tools have also been around for some time. However, the use cases are becoming much more sophisticated. Dennis Pearce, an education and technology specialist, writes:
“Nearly everyone is familiar with Skype or Google Hangouts, but there are other Web-based conferencing systems that enable educators to connect with remote speakers without the need for expensive videoconferencing equipment. These services, which allow users to participate in a video chat or conferencing session using any device with a Web browser, are more scalable and reliable than ad-hoc calls using a free system such as Google Hangouts – but schools don’t need high-end equipment to use them.”
Tools such as Google Classroom, which integrates with apps like Google Drive, are constantly updating. Changes rolled out in August mean that “teachers will now be able to post questions to their class and allow students to have discussion by responding to each other’s answers.” The update also means that “teachers could post a video and ask students to answer questions about it, or post an article and ask students to respond,” according to CIO.
Learn from best practices.
Teachers still looking for opportunities and strategies to employ technology in the classroom can look to a variety of examples.
Fairlands Elementary School. At this school in Pleasanton, California, fifth-grade teacher, Nicole Dalesio has created a project that requires students to use technology to “collaborate in the production of movies, combining lessons in reading, writing, and technology.” Dalesio provides her students with a list of free digital tools so that they can work on the project, or other assignments, outside of her supervision.
Cary Academy. Cary Academy, located in Cary, North Carolina, has integrated Microsoft OneNote into classrooms as a way to encourage collaboration. Teachers note that the tool makes student-teacher, teacher-teacher, and student-student teamwork much more seamless. Colleagues are able to set an example by working together in real-time whether they are right next to each other or miles apart. Students’ notebooks allow them to cooperate on project work outside of the classroom and study together on their own time.
Sammamish High School. Sammamish High School, located in the suburbs of Seattle, has also used Microsoft OneNote in similar ways. An article from the OneNote Team shares one student’s perspective:
“The Collaboration Space in OneNote makes it possible for us to work on our group projects anywhere, anytime. Before this year we would be stuck if one group member lost the memory stick.”
Provide the training and resources to ensure student adoption.
Similar to a horse and water, just because you put technology in front of students doesn’t mean that they will use it – or at least, they might not use in the most advantageous way possible. Teachers need to consider student readiness before adoption of new technologies. Make sure to account for time to train students and explain tools before incorporating technology into everyday classroom activity.
Collaboration is an invaluable part of learning – and technology can certainly help facilitate environments that make collaboration more seamless, interesting, and meaningful. However, to determine technology’s role, teachers should tread carefully. Balance experimentation with technology with tried and true teaching methods; find a combination that maximizes the value of both. Set an example for students by using technology to collaborate with them, parents, and other teachers.
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2.“Google Classroom gains collaboration, class management features” CIO. August 24 2015.
3.“Report: Experience Teachers Soar in Tech-Enabled Classrooms” EdTech. July 31 2015.
4.“Video Gaining as Key Tool in Teacher-Learning Plans” Education Week. September 28 2015.
5.“3 Key Trends in AV Technology for Schools” The Journal. August 11 2015.
6.“Are 1-to-1 ‘Maker Space’ Tools the Next K-12 Trend?” Education Week. September 24 2015.
7.“Movies Made Easy with Technology” TeachingChannel. 2012.
8.“Lessons from the Digital Classroom” MIT Technology Review. July 27 2015.
9.“Wharton School Deploys Lecture Capture Tech to Every Classroom” Campus Technology. July 15 2015.
10. “Guide offer collaborative learning insight” eSchool News. October 7 2015.
11. “14 do’s and don’ts of successful tech integration” eSchool News. July 1 2015.
12. “Sammamish High School – six months of OneNote Class Notebooks” Microsoft Office Education Blog. March 19 2015.
13. “Take A Look at How OneNote is Powering Students and Teachers to Collaborate in Schools” Microsoft News. June 27 2014.