Educational Technology: Communication and Collaboration
I’m a huge fan of technology. If technology was a band, I’d probably be its groupie. No doubt about it: Technology’s makes teaching communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking skills more interesting for me, and I hope, for my students.
BUT, before I delve into what technology has done for me in the way of two of the four C’s of Learning and Innovation (as defined by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) I must digress and stress to those reading that I do not view technology as any kind of magic bullet, savior, or total solution for education. If it is used improperly, it can actually distract us from our educational goals. Instead, I see technology merely as a vehicle to reach learning goals. Whether the internerts* implode one day or not, I want my students to have a strong knowledge and skills set that they can apply in any given situation, whether that situation involves technology or not.
That being said, I still think technology is totally rad.
In what follows, I only scratch the surface of what technology can do in the way of developing students’ skills in communication and collaboration. These are mere thoughts, observations, and anecdotes from my personal experience.
I want my students to be effective communicators. I teach English, drama, and Forensics (competitive speech and acting…not crime scene investigation), so communication and collaboration are obvious foci in my classroom.
Because I believe that modeling is one of the most powerful ways to reinforce learning, I try to model effective communication on a daily basis. I say TRY because sometimes the use of technology for communication backfires, when one encounters an audience who is not-so-tech savvy or has no interest in using technology for communication. This is why assessing each student and his or her family for preferred communication methods and being upfront about MY preferred methods are so important. An important part of communication is understanding one’s audience. If I send out a notice to a parent about a discipline issue via email. but that parent only checks his/her email once per week, that can be problematic, so I have to know who uses email and who does not.
Communication with students, and their parents, colleagues, administrators, the media (because we, in education, do not get enough positive press, in my opinion), and the community are priorities for me. Technology, for the most part, makes communication more efficient. Don’t get me wrong–there are times when a face-to-face visit is necessary–but email, Twitter, my classroom website, and my blog have proven to be dynamic ways to stay in touch with people and broadcast information en masse.
As far as communication skill acquisition is concerned, practice is important. Blogging is one excellent platform for young writers to practice and improve writing skills and it provides an authentic audience for them as well. Blogging tends to be less formal and therefore less threatening than traditional in-class writings, so students can practice with the ease of extemporaneous writing paired with the pressure of writing for people other than their teacher. That’s a helpful combination because blogging is more enjoyable for most students (in my experience) but they take it more seriously because they know that other people outside of our classroom may read it. That usually makes for some quality writing. Suddenly the importance of editing and revision are elevated. The interactive quality of blogging is also helpful in nurturing dialogue between students through the commenting features most blogs provide.
Twitter is an excellent tool for communication, as I have touted recently both here as a guest blogger and at my own blog. It can also be used as a way to practice brevity in written communication too. If one is limited to 140 characters or less, one must be cautious about the words one chooses. This takes some control, and it forces the writer to think about word meaning, and writing real estate. The writer of a concise tweet must decide which words will pack the most punch and which words are expendable. Thirty 140 character or less responses to a question you’ve posed, can be a true blessing for an overwhelmed teacher.
In my AP English class, at the end of the year, the students get into groups based on poets in which they are most interested. Students then must collaborate on a presentation about their chosen poet based on some liberal parameters I give them, as well as a rubric. One of the requirements is that they share resources and sometimes groups choose to do this outside of class. Because the nature of the AP student tends to be the busiest of the busy, this can pose a challenge. Technology assists in overcoming this challenge.
The students can choose a digital forum for collaboration such as Wikispace, TodaysMeet, iMessage, or good old-fashion … email. These types of technologies allow the groups to forgo face-to-face meetings in favor of digital ones. Do I believe that meeting face-to-face is bad? NO! Do I think our kids (including my own) are over-scheduled? YES! But, technology can provide a solution for groups that are struggling to find time to collaborate in person due to conflicting schedules.
Mostly, the collaboration my students do is about resource sharing, so this can easily be done asynchronously as long as it is paired with regular follow-up meetings during class time. Sometimes it’s not an issue at all and the students are able to get everything they need to get done in class, but it’s helpful to have the options available when necessary.
Technology helps us to collaborate outside of our classroom as well, opening doors that were soundly shut prior to the advent of the Internet. Now more than ever, networking with people in other cities, other countries, other continents is easy. I am involved in a collaborative adventure called The Global Novel Project in which students from around the globe collaborate on novels. It started several years ago with a small group, and has steadily expanded since then. (I am currently seeking additional coordinators for this project! Interested? Email me! email@example.com.) So far, my students have collaborated with students in Australia, Russia, Pakistan, and Canada.
Technology makes the world smaller and connections like these promote understanding about other cultures–differences and similarities. So, not only is this another excellent means of providing practice for writing for an authentic audience, it also gives students an awareness that a world outside their classroom and outside their community exists in a very real way. In this day and age, a little understanding and awareness could go a long way in changing our world for the better.
So is technology the answer for all of our communication and collaboration woes? Certainly not. But, if the tool is available and adds another layer of skill in our students’ repertoire, we should use it.
I feel fortunate to have front row tickets to Technology’s concert. If you need me, I’ll be in the mosh pit.
* “Internerts” is my quirky pet word for the Internet. From where it came, I know not.
Jodie Morgenson is a drama, English, and forensics teacher and theater director at Platteview High School near Springfield, NE. She’s been (sporadically) documenting the experience of Platteview’s first year as a 1:1 iPad school in her blog iTeach. iLearn. iWasHere. She blogs (off and on) about her family life on her Tumblr Morgetron Family Theater. She tweets under the handle @morgetron–(probably too much). You should digitally interact with her some time. She’s a pretty all right gal.