Collaboration, a 21st Century Skill: Three Free Sites To Help Students Understand Collaboration


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I am sitting in Wichita, Kansas after providing a day long tech integration in-service to an amazing  and creative group of middle school teachers. While I hope I was able to facilitate technology infusion to a group already at the cutting edge of education reform, I too walked away with new ideas they indirectly taught me. This experience reminded me of “The Wisdom Of The Crowd” and how collectively we are much more effective as a group than we are as an individual. In this posting I would like to share with you the idea of collaboration and how we may wish to ask students to collaborate, but we first must show them how and why. Please enjoy the post and add any response on how you facilitate collaboration.  As always you can follow me on on twitter at (mjgormans) and I will be sure to follow back so we can learn from each other. Also, please join me at my 21centuryedtech Wiki, it’s filled with great resources that are free and effective!  – Mike

This first paragraph contains reflections on the definition of collaboration, if you wish to go to links that help students understand collaboration. If not, go on to the second paragraph. Collaboration is a Twenty-First Century Skill. It is also a  process and that all students need to experience it in order to fully comprehend its potential.   Wikipedia defines collaboration as “a recursive process where two or more people or organizations work together in an intersection of common goals — for example, an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature —by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus”.  In the definition, the word recursive is found. The definition of recursive involves the idea of an  “infinite statement using finite components” Looking at collaboration in this sense sure makes collaboration sound a lot more powerful! The definition ends with  the idea of sharing knowledge, learning, and building consensus. Most teachers have the sharing portion down pretty well, and is  inspiring to note  the learning component. What is most impressive, but possibly underused, is the last concept of  building consensus!  Further into the article there is a reference to a Roth and Lee study in the 1990’s that “led to changes in learning and teaching design in which students were encouraged to share their ways of doing mathematics, history, science, with each other. In other words, that children take part in the construction of consensual domains, and ‘participate in the negotiation and institutionalization of … meaning'”. (Roth, W-M. and Lee, Y-J. (2006) Contradictions in theorizing and implementing communities in education. Educational Research Review, 1, (1), pp27–40.) In other words, learning communities were being recognized for students. So, how do we develop and show importance for developing collaborative learning communities.? I suggest the following three free web sites that may allow teachers to begin to build a foundation for the understanding of collaboration.

I have spent time with James Surowiecki‘s book “Wisdom of Crowds” which I will say is an important read for educators. Your students can enjoy listening to portions of the book. In fact, PBS has created a page that highlights the important concepts of the book for students. You will find it at Nova’s Science Now Site. Here you will find relevant videos and a few activities. Students can watch a video including  Surowiecki’s book highlights or another video that includes a case study of a WWII submarine.  Included are activities entitled Counting CabsOne Minute Expert, and  Differences Between Mean and Median. There is even a transcript of the video. Be sure to check out the related Random House Site because it contains questions and answers with the author along with excerpts and even audio clips that could be used in podcasts.

If you are not aware of TED.com , be ready to visit  an awesome site of  amazing technology and innovation videos. If you are aware, you must be sure to visit the theme devoted to The Rise Of Collaboration.  TED is a small,  but rapidly growing, nonprofit group devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from the  three worlds of  Technology, Entertainment, and Design. In the theme devoted to The Rise Of Collaboration you will find Jimmy Wales telling  the story of perhaps the movement’s most famous example, Wikipedia . Also included is Richard Baraniuk as he envisions a  free global education system to which thousands of teachers could contribute. In an awesome presentation,  Charles Leadbeater gives examples of collaborative innovation that predate the World Wide Web, and  Cameron Sinclair wants to shelter the world by providing an online platform for open-source architecture. Don’t miss as Deborah Gordon shows  the inspiration of collaboration as she reveals the world of  the desert anthill. Included in the TED collection are nearly fifty videos that highlight the world of collaboration in an exciting and engaging way.

Another great site for assisting in teaching the collaborative process is Your Take. It demonstrates the true power found in a group working together.    The site emphasizes that a real  key to success inside and outside the classroom is the ability to think critically and  go beyond grades.  The authors of this site have developed a unique tool called SCAN .  The SCAN program promotes an interactive and collaborative way for students to use technology to analyze and problem solve an issue. The letters in SCAN stand for:  S – Stop and think things through, C – Clarify the key issues, A – Ask yourself what’s most important, N – Now, what’s your next step. Lessons can be taught as an individual or group activity. Students use the web to follow these guidelines and reflect on various points of view. The end product is a group effort that can be used as a project, writing prompt, or presentation. A  video provided by Your Take gives a clear demonstration  of how this program works. The program has nearly one hundred pre-made lessons with prompts. I advise you to not stop there. Use lessons that you have used in the past and integrate them using this outstanding technology. Include standards found in your curriculum to better understand past issues in history, current topics of today, and future problems that will need solutions only found through the efforts of a group. An archived Webinar provides an even  more thorough examination of  “Your Take”. It provides great information on the ways to set up this online collaborative environment in a safe and effective way. A list of sample of standards,  including 21st century technology standards can also be found on the Your Take Web Site.

Thanks for taking the time to visit. As you can see, this post is dedicated to teachers wanting to facilitate real collaboration in their classroom. I will close with the idea that true (PBL) Project Based Learning and 21st Century Learning require that students collaborate in the planning of the learning process. Perhaps modeling is still the very best method to teach and facilitate. Have a great week and as always you can follow me on on twitter at (mjgormans) and I will be sure to follow back so we can learn from each other. As always please join me at my 21centuryedtech Wiki, it’s filled with great resources that are free and effective! – Mike

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