Collabortation – the golden egg of education? The class working together to a common aim and with a clear result – more substantial than the efforts of individuals alone. It’s not easy to achieve this nirvana in the classroom. I have never been a massive fan of group-work. Having had a preponderance of examination classes for over 15 years, the focus on securing individual high-attainment has been my main focus. Group-work is ‘ok’ but, like a protracted amount of discussion in class the overall result can often be a unsatisfactory – at least if you do it too often.
Accountability is a key
How do you ensure a balance of participation? The problem of the free-rider seems inevitable. The slacking student who would be better being made individually accountable. Then there is the problem of consistency – how can you know what each group is really ending up with? – especially if there are pubic examinations involved. The risk can be just too high.
The world is not like this though. Collaboration is, for the most part, the order of the day in the big, wide world. All of a sudden it’s team performance that is judged. Yes, the individual is important, but the whole is greater than the sum of the component parts.
iPad + class = collaboration
In comes technology. This is where things get disruptive – constructively disruptive. Now, don’t get me wrong – you can clearly achieve this through other means. But, I am a fan of using the best tool for the particular job at hand. What works for one teacher doesn’t necessarily work for another – similarly class-by-class.
So, this was the run-down for the activity. The topic is ‘perception and understanding of world development.’ in a Geography class. We are investigating whether we have a well informed view of the state of economic development across the world. The class is a year 9 group (8th grade). Students given resources – text, images and a selection of recommended weblinks – all in a shared document on GoogleDrive.
- 4 areas of possible enquiry are given with questions to stimulate thought and to prompt further questions to arise.
- Students work in teams of 4, each taking an individual part of the enquiry and are given 2 lessons and a homework to come up with their views on the topic area – supported by evidence which includes data, web references, images – anything that seems appropriate and suitably varied and challenging.
- Students are then told that the materials need to be combined and reworked. They are to become teachers of a class that they have not met. The class is in fact in a different country. They need to collaborate to resource a set of 4 questions (importantly these are their questions not mine) covering the 4 areas of enquiry. Each question will have a small set of supporting materials which the group agrees to select from collectively shared ideas and resources.
This is where GoogleDrive kicks in as the collective research is shared and students choose how to collaborate – some using GoogleDocs, some discussing round-table, some passing information in more traditional formats. The end product is now about to be gathered up and passed to a school in St Louis, Missouri (USA) where a class will take a look at the questions and come back with their reactions and replies.
All of this will be followed up with a GoogleHangout – taking the 3 most challenging and interesting questions together with a student-chosen resource for a face-to-face discussion with the US class.
Refreshed group-work. What is the refreshing element? It is the technology that has allowed the flow of information between students, the collation of resources, the collaboration and discussion via shared documents to produce an agreed final product which a) looks good and the students can take pride in it and b) is fully shared and available to all in the group.
The international link – that is the hook that has spurred the group on. Accountability is to the group in the class, to the teacher of the class (me) and now also to a whole new class of students about 4,200 miles away.
I will be publishing some of the results shortly. The standard looks excellent and, most importantly, the product of the work is interesting and engaging.
Are the results perfect? Are there any free-riders? Well, probably a few – I have to be honest. However, the sense of accountability is strong and they are aware that they have to up their game. The positive pressure that comes from knowing that your group’s work will be viewed and interrogated by students in another school, in another country is pretty strong.
Will I be doing this again? Yes. Clearly not all the time – but it is now a proven and strong element in the teacher’s portfolio. It’s a win.