The 21st Century skills[i] framework that had been developed by the ‘Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ include collaboration as an important part aspect of the skills required for the 21st century that all students must develop to flourish. According to this framework, to be able to collaborate effectively, one must:
- Demonstrates the ability to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
- Exercise flexibility and willingness to be helpful in making necessary compromises to accomplish a common goal
- Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member
Collaboration allows for students to have access to different viewpoints on various topics that they wouldn’t normally have access to in a traditional classroom setting where the teacher stands at the front of the class and teaches out of a textbook. Collaboration, thus contributes to a higher order of learning with a more in-depth view of the subject.
The very nature of knowledge itself is impacted by technology. It shapes what counts as knowledge, how knowledge is produced, how people are involved in the production of knowledge, and how knowledge is valued [ii](Gumport and Chun, 2000). Students, who generally wouldn’t participate in a face-to-face class, now come forward with their opinions through the anonymity that is provided as a result of technology.
As a result, technology has the potential to bring out even better collaboration and thus, a better in-depth understanding of a subject in and of itself. However, effective collaboration through technology is difficult to create due to the disconnect felt between participants that never actually see each other face to face. While designing an online course, or creating a virtual classroom, it becomes especially important to develop a sense of community among the participants by introducing constant collaboration.
The instructor needs constantly try and bring in the ‘human’ element to the virtual classroom through constant collaboration with peers, to make the class an effective learning environment. Collaboration intrinsically requires a mediating tool to foster practices of meaning-making through joint activity and technology is a medium that supports collaborative work.
For the purpose of this assignment, I reviewed the article “Collaborative Learning Using Integrated Groupware: A Case Study in Higher Education[iii]‘. This study was undertaken by four researchers whose intent of research was to conduct collaborative learning using information, communication and technology, for its college students, and evaluate its usage in learning. They designed a platform to cater to individual profiling, classroom interaction and group activities. The groupware they used were Microsoft Sharepoint platform, cloud computing abilities and editing of work real-time, online.
The students participated in various group activities, with simultaneous work and editing of projects. They were able to see other students’ work and comments and the instructor was able to monitor this in real time as well. This seemed to promote students’ interactivity in the class as they were able to make changes and edits even after interactions were made.
Through the study, the researchers concluded that with the use of a carefully planned and designed groupware, a common college seminar can be transformed into a highly interactive and collaborative environment.
My personal take-away:
It is difficult to create engagement of participants in a virtual classroom, due to the presence of so much distance between each other, both physical and virtual. The instructor has to work hard to create that sense of community among the students.
Technology often creates an arms-distance between people. This can be seen in nasty online commenting made by people. These people are not necessarily bad people, but they get a certain kind of anonymity on the internet. Also, a kind of arms-distance is created and people don’t realize their nasty comments are actually reaching other real live people. While this does promote interactions from students who wouldn’t normally speak in class, this does not necessarily promote healthy and productive interactions.
This can be tough to combat, but it is the instructor’s job to create that sense of community through collaboration, so that effective learning takes place in the class. With more positive interaction between classmates, there is more of a feeling of ‘knowing’ each other and as a result, students will be more inclined to learning in the class.
One thing that I feel is very important is virtual meetings. In a class with little or no definitive meetings (even virtually), it is extremely difficult to engage the student and create any kind of collaboration.
[i] Framework for 21st Century Learning, Partnership for 21Century Skills, Washington DC, 2011
[ii] Gumport P., Chun M., Technology and Higher Education: Opportunities and Challenges in the New Era, National Center for Postsecondary Improvement, 2000
[iii] Iinuma M., Matsuhashi T., Nakamura T., Chiyokura H., Collaborative Learning Using Integrated Groupware: A Case Study in a Higher Education Setting, International Journal of Information and Education Technology, Vol. 4, No. 4, 2014