Fifteen short years ago, our classrooms were relatively closed places. When we spoke of teaching students to collaborate with one another or exposing them to the world beyond our school walls, we were usually talking about a very limited number of options: either going out into the world to experience it first hand on a field trip, or bringing the outside world in via hosting a guest speaker. In rare and wonderful cases, students had the opportunity to go on exchange programs. In this way, “collaboration” meant working in small teams with fellow classmates.
Today, such collaboration is no longer dependent upon proximity or time of day. Online tools have brought down the many barriers to communication, allowing students, teachers and professionals to interact with and learn from one another regardless of location.
The potential for learning is mind-blowing to say the least. With a savvy educator as a coach and guide, the entire world can become the classroom, and peoples who populate it can be our co-educators. Even our students have the opportunity to become the teachers.
What do our students have to gain if we take steps to embrace online collaboration in our classrooms? We need only look to a few real-life examples to see:
Of course, these kinds of tools and techniques expose our students to all that the world—literally—has to offer. But just as importantly, in using these strategies we are helping our students establish the neural connections that will make these kinds of experiences second nature to them. We are strengthening their abilities to focus more on the meaningful content and creative ideas that come from these experiences as opposed to focusing on just the superficial “wow” factor. Not only that, but we are helping them develop the habits of mind for using these tools and techniques that will serve them so well as they endeavor to solve problems in the future.
For more ideas and articles about online collaboration, check out eSchool News’ collection of articles on the subject at http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/11/21/engaging-students-through-online-collaboration/
[i] Prabhu, Maya T. Will Skype eclipse fee-based videoconferencing? eSchool News. May 17, 2010. http://www.eschoolnews.com/2010/05/17/will-skype-eclipse-fee-based-videoconferencing/?ast=55
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