Collaboration. We hear that word all the time now, but do we fully understand the meaning or the motivation? It’s encouraged in our workplaces, our classrooms, and communities. When some people hear that word, they roll their eyes and dread the activity that is about to ensue. Other people (myself included) are excited to embark on the collaborative task at hand. Whether you love collaboration or don’t, if it’s not facilitated in a purposeful way, then it can fall flat and add chaos for the people involved.
Oxford defines collaboration as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” This definition seems relevant, but broad. In our current digital world, collaboration holds a whole new meaning. Online collaboration needs to allow students the opportunity to work together in a safe, inclusive, engaging, and creative digital space. Dr. John Spencer says “when students are not collaborating with classmates, they miss out on new perspectives, new ideas, and new approaches to solve problems.” Even though collaboration looks different online and adds new challenges, it is vital for successful and meaningful online learning.
Improving Online Student Collaboration
There are important ways we can empower our students to dive into the collaborative process so that they are set up for success. Here is a breakdown of Spencer’s “Rules for Improving Student Collaboration,” which still holds true in an online setting as well.
1. Ensure Individual Accountability
Each student has something to bring to the table and can contribute to the goal of the task. Encourage them to contribute to the brainstorming process and share their ideas with the group.
2. Empower Teams to Set Norms and Expectations
Group members should decide on shared expectations and roles so that there is unison and understanding within the group. The teacher can provide guided support to encourage these team expectations and roles. Students can give feedback to their group members, but requiring them to “grade” one another puts unrealistic expectations on the students.
3. Empower Teams to Own the Project Management Process
Encourage students to examine their goals and problem solve together. Spencer says “as students own the process, they develop the skills of collaborative self-management.”
4. Empower Teams to Own the Communication Process
Communication is vital when it comes to online collaboration projects. It is important to give students the variety of both synchronous and asynchronous communication tools, as you can see in the Synchronous vs Asynchronous video by Dr. John Spencer.
5. Empowered Teams Still Need Check-Ins
It’s important to empower students when they are taking part in online collaboration, but it’s also important to check in with them during the process. Teachers still need to facilitate the learning and guide students along the way.
Just like the collaborative activities in the physical classroom, online collaboration needs structure and guidance. Even though it takes time, practice, and patience to facilitate online collaborative learning, it’s worth it because “opportunities for student collaboration are a key factor in building and maintaining relationships among students and teachers” as Catherine says.
Using Padlet for a Purpose
There are many ways we can facilitate collaborative learning in an online setting. We can use platforms like Google Classroom, Seesaw, Flipgrid, and many more, as you can see in the “Best Student-Collaboration Tools” list from Common Sense Education. Bates reminds us that online collaborative learning can develop skills like “critical thinking, analytical thinking, synthesis, and evaluation, which are key requirements for learners in a digital age.” One of the ways we can encourage meaningful online collaboration and cultivate these digital skills is through online Discussion Boards. It gives students the chance to use the 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning by allowing them to collaborate, communicate, use critical thinking, and fuel creativity.
Recently, I tried out the collaboration tool called “Padlet,” which allows people to use creative tools to share knowledge and information while having the ability to comment and communicate with others. What I didn’t realize about this tool was how adaptable and user friendly it would be. This is the perfect tool to implement into my Digital Literacy for Kids course.
I set up a Padlet to mirror the activity I will teach at the end of my Digital Literacy course. I titled the Padlet “So You Want to Start Your Online Journey…” and asked the questions:
- “What would you tell kids who are just beginning their online journey?
- “What advice would you give someone who has just started creating their Digital Footprint?”
I made the Padlet public so that when I posted it to Twitter, other people could share their answers and comment on the other responses.
I was impressed with the amount of settings that were available in order to tailor it to the type of activity you want to create. The process of creating the Padlet was simple and straightforward.
Start with a blank canvas, such as a “wall,” “canvas,” “backchannel,” and so much more.
Choose the title, description, and appearance. You can then change the settings of the interactions that can take place. Change the settings to allow comments, comment approvals, likes or stars, and change the privacy settings of the Padlet itself. The ability to change the privacy settings and interaction features allows for more flexibility based on the grade and experience of the students using it.
Once you have your Padlet created, you can share it with a public link, add members privately, embed it into a website, or share it to a platform like Google Classroom. As you can see below, the Padlet I created about digital literacy and digital identity had captivating responses and interaction from people online.
The purpose for my Padlet was to create conversation surrounding digital literacy and digital identity. This activity is something I will incorporate into my Digital Literacy for Kids course. It can be used in so many ways to create discussion and cultivate community. For example, when students finish all of the lessons and activities in the course, they will share their one piece of advice on the Padlet for other kids to learn about digital literacy. It can also teach young students how to comment and interact with each other online in a positive way. With its ability to share photos and videos, students can empower others with images and videos about real vs fake news, social justice and student activism. The list goes on!
It is evident that collaboration can lead to meaning, empowerment, and confidence. It’s important that we encourage these opportunities for our students, especially in an online setting. Once you realize the importance of facilitating an environment of online collaboration for your students, you will realize that the possibilities are endless.