Friday, July 26, 2013

What challenges exist as students work collaboratively as opposed to working individually?

Students working collaboratively and co-constructing knowledge is a powerful learning experience. What scaffolds can the teacher put in place to support all students as they collaborate?

When I think of students working collaboratively, I cringe.  I get nightmares of middle school projects where one or two students do all the work and everybody gets the same grade.  With all the digital tools at our fingertips, you'd think things might change.  They have not.  I still hear complaints from individuals that the rest of the group bailed.  My goal is to catalyze change at my school with digital group projects.

The articles discussed the benefits of working collaboratively.  It can be exciting to create with others.  Some students don't take it seriously.  Students have different time frames.  Some get things done early, others wait until the last minute.  Not all students have access to a computer or the internet.  Some students make a point to not do any work outside of school, so they have limited digital access during class or study halls.  Some teachers, even in our BYOD school, are reluctant to let students use their devices during study hall.  If a student is in a group with students of similar motivation, things will go smoothly.  With a strong, respected group leader, things also have a chance of working out.

Scaffolding is important.  Initially taking small, guided steps in the classroom is important.  Helping students become familiar with the programs and tools they will use is also critical. Understanding legal use of material and proper documentation is important.  Also, recognizing that this work will become part of their digital footprint may give the project more weight.  The collaborative project must have some relevance to students' lives, not just be a fact-finding regurgitation mission.

It was interesting collaborating on the paper in CO 712.  I don't think any of us had worked that way before, and we just "winged it."  One of our four took charge and the rest seemed to participate fully.  Granted, we're all teachers who are invested in the process, but it was still a good learning experience.

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