ISTE standard 2 focuses on students being able to use digital media and environments to communicate and collaborate as they learn individual and contribute to what others are learning regardless of distance. One of the most beneficial aspects of digital media and environments is that it allows classrooms to be global. Students are able to communicate not only with students at their own school when working on group projects from the comfort of their own homes, but they are able to collaborate with students from other cultures. And an added benefit to that is the culturally rich learning experiences students will be able to have when working through problems, researching and communicating with students from a different worldview.
This standard, and its emphasis on interaction, collaboration, communication, cultural understanding, and contribution with in an online setting, has me wondering: what kinds of skills do students need in order to successfully use digital media and environments to collaborate with other students? The most fundamental skill they need to develop is familiarity with the media/environment they will be using. This can be done by introducing it as early as the first day of school and having them interact with it during class time and through a series of homework assignments that ask them to navigate the resource, ask questions about it, and complete simple tasks. The more exposure they will have to the technology, the more comfortable they will be using it on larger assignments as the school year moves forward. Another essential aspect to this is modeling use of the technology for students (Medina, 2014). Teachers can demonstrate effective use of technology and collaboration by having their own account, participating in discussions and other tasks, and being a resource to students who may struggle. It is important not only for students to be comfortable with the technology being used, but teachers as well.
An important step to getting students comfortable with collaborating online is by developing a norm of collaboration in the classroom. If integrating collaborative technology is going to be part of the curriculum, making collaboration a classroom procedure during the school day can help students to develop skills they need to be successful collaborators online and in their futures. This could be done by providing group norms to students when they work in class or by having them create the norms on their own; either way this helps create accountability in the group (Alder, 2012). This is a skill that can easily be transferable into an online environment such a google docs where students are collaborating. They will need to establish the norms of their working environment and can either use the model provided by the teacher in the classroom or create one that fits the demand of the assignment. Alder (2012) also mentions three important things to teach to students: listening, asking good questions, and negotiation. Listening shows respect and allows for all students to be heard rather than having one student dominate the conversation (Alder, 2012). If students are using social media to chat they can use this skill to ensure that all members have the opportunity to provide their input and it could also be useful when synthesizing information into one greater idea. Students need to know how to allow all members of the group share their voice, even in written forums. Questions can help guide assignments into more interesting territory and negotiating helps students know how to not only listen, but how to be patient, flexible, notice similarities or patterns, think under pressure and most importantly, keep the group on track without major blow ups (Alder, 2012). These collaboration skills can benefit students as they work through collaborating and communicating with technoloty.
One thing I found while researching are five fundamental elements to being successful in a collaborative environment (Morrison, 2014). These aren’t necessarily skill related, but are important when it comes to expecting students to use technology to collaborate especially if they are collaborating at a global level. Morrison (2014) begins by stating the importance of students introducing themselves, making connections and establishing trust within their learning community. Similar to what I suggested about providing opportunities for students to become familiar with technology itself, the teacher can initiate opportunities for students to create this sense of individuality, community and trust. Another important key to success is having presence of a leader in the form of the teacher and a leader within the group (Morrison, 2014). Not only are these two things crucial for succession, it is even more crucial that teacher is providing the resources students need to be successful such as selecting seamless technology, providing purpose for the assignment along with clear instructions for the students to follow, and providing guidelines for communicating in an online enviornment (Morrison, 2014). Again, these are not skills, but they are important components to ensuring students are successful.
All of this research began with my initial resource sharing. Strang (2014) offers great suggestions and tips for students to utilize as they prepare for group work. Similar to what Alder (2012) suggests in her article, the first emphasis of Strang’s (2014) is setting ground rules as a group which the teacher can help facilitate and offer guiding questions started. Beyond this it is suggested that it is important to be clear, concise and enthusiastic (Strang, 2014). These definitely are skills that can be developed within the classroom through learning activities and challenges such as identifying what is most helpful when undergoing a task and then considering what can be challenging when undertaking the same task. An idea I came up with is providing students with good as well as bad directions and having them follow them, identifying what was easy to understand and what was too complicated or got in the way of understanding. From there they could work to write their own directions or instructions on how to do something and have a classmate follow what they came up with and provide them feedback as to what was good and what needed to be tweaked. Things like this can help them learn to be clear and concise. Another way to develop this is by limiting words to a specific number on writing assignments so that students are able to learn how to get a point across using fewer words. Enthusiasm could be more challenging to teach, but this could be incorporated into group norms having one student assigned as group “cheerleader” and then making sure that role is rotated throughout the group so that everyone has a chance to play that role and practice enthusiasm. Strang (2014) also stresses the importance of students getting to know each other just as Morrison (2014) mentioned and ensuring that all group members are able to engage in the task at hand which is reminiscent of teaching students to listen and negotiate (Alder, 2012).
In short, it is important for the teacher to provide as many resources, examples, exposure and guidelines to students to help ensure their success. Teachers need to identify weaknesses and help to develop those weaknesses as students learn to help them be as effective as possible in learning environments. If you are interested in different digital media and environments, I included a list on my coggle mind map in figure one. Coggle itself is a tool that can be used for collaboration online, but it is also a great resource for organizing thoughts. It could be a great tool for students who are working together to complete a project online organize their plan and job roles!
Morrison, D. (2014). Five Elements that Promote Learner Collaboration and Group Work in Online Courses. Online Learning Insight. Retrieved from: https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/five-elements-that-promote-learner-collaboration-and-group-work-in-online-courses/
Medina, J. (2014). Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
Alder, R. (2012). Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom is Key. Edutopia Retrieved from: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/deeper-learning-collaboration-key-rebecca-alber
Strang, T. (2014). How to Successfully Collaborate Online. Cengage Learning. Retrieved from: http://blog.cengage.com/how-to-successfully-collaborate-online/