Supporting collaborative learning through technology

Part of my job is providing training sessions for academic staff and one I deliver is “Supporting collaborative learning through technology”

This works well face to face but I also want it available online. So……

First have a think about what collaboration is, use this document to write down

  • What you think collaborative learning is
  • What collaborative activities your students do as part of your class.
  • What ideas you have for an online collaborative task

In the F2F class we would now have a discussion about the following points (you may like to think of short answers as it will help you later on)

  • what it is you want your students to do collaboratively
  • how long it will take (effort and time)
  • what (if any) marks are associated with it
  • how the students will be organised

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle ConceptNow it is fairly common when asking your students to do collaborative work to split up into groups, most VLEs have some form of group functionality.  My VLE is Blackboard and the instructions on creating groups can be found on Blackboard help here.  If you have lots of students you may want to use the Batch Groups Tool.

Using the instructions (find them for your own VLE if you are not using Blackboard) create a group and put you and one student into that group.  You should see a lot of tools available for that group as tick boxes below the group description – leave them all ticked for now and finish making the group.

In a little aside we are going to look at why the internet and some of the tools associated with it make collaborating so much easier now (and yes a lot of you should already know this – the video is 6 years old)

At this point we are going to have a look at the tools available inside the VLE and these are Discussion Boards, Blogs and Wikis.  In Blackboard (and in most VLEs) these tools allow students to post a chunk of html using a WYSIWYG editor so they can add text, pictures, video, flash etc – pretty much anything you can do on the internet.  The key difference in these tools is in how they layout these “posts”

Discussion Board – someone posts (Question), others reply and their replies (Answers) are posted below the first post.   Over time you build up a list of initial posts (Questions) and clicking on a question will show you it and all the replies (Answers) to it.

Blog – someone posts, others can comment on the post.  Each new post stands alone, posts appear down the screen starting with the most recent and going down to the oldest post.  Students often respond to a previous post by making a brand new one of their own (maybe with a link to the first post if it is a fair way down the list).

Wiki – someone posts, this creates a new page.  You can create as many pages as you want and link them together.  Students can edit any post/page and so work together to create the pages.  You can also make comments on pages.

I think the first 2 are very similar and are used for talking about the collaboration (with discussion boards being more formal/organised).  Wikis by contrast allow students to actually work on something together.  At this point you want to consider what tools your students need (and they may need more than 1!) and if they are going to have them for a group or for the whole class.

Beyond the VLE

Now most of this is looking at Google tools (because my Uni has GAFE) but you can do similar things with Microsoft SkyDrive.

You can share & collaborate on all google drive files, you already used a Doc at the start of this session – how about this article on presentations? (has a nice video tutorial at the bottom – I used the instructions on the video to embed my presentation below)

There are also lots of other types of files you can share and collaborate on – lets go to drive – click “Create” and then “connect more apps”.  As you will see there is a lot to chose from, what I particularly like is if you add an app to your drive, share a file of that type with someone else – when they open it, it automatically asks if they want to add that app to their drive.

Students can share with email address OR share “anyone with link” – can put links in the “Group Blog/discussion board” that you gave them in the VLE.

In the session we would have a discussion about the ownership and retention of evidence of work
You need to consider that when you use things outside of your VLE (ie the google tools), the person that creates them tends to have ownership and this person is often the student. This means the students can continue modifying and improving whatever has been created.
You do need to think about what you are going to keep as evidence and how you are going to get it (example google sites – you cant download the websites that are created in it)

For the adventurous

There is google sites – make your own webpage (and collaborate doing it)
Youtube – make and share videos, comment on them (can use some of the Blackboard options (blog/disscussion etc) to allow students to link/embed in the course
And for the really brave Google+ (which has Hangouts!)
Finally although its a secondary school class check out this blog post for more Googly ideas

If you do use G+ 
My Uni does not (yet) provide staff with the ability to get g+ from their work email.
The alternative is to setup a G+ from your personal gmail (this has the advantage that you can take your network of contacts with you if/when you move jobs)
To get yourself to a flying start you may want to read this (its more about how to get the most out of G+ personally rather than for teaching but you will find it helpful (and your students might too))

Followup and Consultation

Of course, if this was my face to face class you would be now have an outline of what you were going to do (based on the various discussions), I would book a follow up session where I pop’d into your office to look at what you had setup and to discuss any problems and the next stages.  Of course I cant do that on the blog (but if you work where I do feel free to ring me) however if you are doing collaboration with your students and want some advice then add a comment and I will see what I can do for you.



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