This post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >
Driving Question: How do we use digital tools to develop students’ collaboration and communication skills?
Technology is a great tool that can enhance instruction and assessment, not replace it. Likewise, when we consider classroom collaboration and communication, we can leverage technology to enhance not replace. Technology alone is not a 21st century skill, but the use of its tools for developing the skills of communication and collaboration is. As digital footprints expand and as technology permeates schooling, we need to embrace its tools as part of instruction, but with an intentional focus and purpose.
What’s Your Intention?
It’s most helpful if we know how you intend to use the tools and for what purpose in the classroom. The first distinction is to be clear whether a tool is being used for instruction or for assessment. Careful choice is a must.
If you intend students to use a tool (as opposed to having students just pick it up like a library book), it is best to know its specific use so you model, give instruction and guide practice on how to use it. To avoid taking too much time, a limited amount of digital tools can help. From the examples shared below, know your intent for each and consider using a few rather than all the tools.
Care must be taken not to overdo the use of digital tools. Sometimes we have a tendency to get “tech happy” and in the name of student choice, overload the classroom with too many digital gadgets. This lack of focused purpose will be overwhelming and very frustrating for students. You will also feel this frustration if students are making bad choices.
Digital Tools for Instruction –
These are tools that lend themselves to developing students’ collaboration and communication as students pursue projects or standards-aligned lessons. They enhance instruction; they do not replace it.
Skype in the Classroom – One great way to practice communication skills is through presentations with guest speakers and experts. Skype in the Classroom can help you find guest speakers for your classroom for intentional digital communication. In addition, classrooms can Skype with other classrooms. This opens up not just the opportunities for collaboration and communication, but also for cross-cultural conversations.
Scrumy – This is a great tool for project and task management. Students can use it to self-manage their work and collaborate effectively on a task. Tasks can be sorted into To Do, In Progress, Verify, and Done. Scrumy also allows for roles and tasks to be assigned to specific students in a group.
Padlet – Students can instantly setup an instant collaboration tool which captures conversations in real time. Students color code their writing so that you can guide student’s communication and collaboration work on a writing task. Links and other resources can be embedded as well. The conversation on Padlet can even be played back so that you can see the full package of the conversation.
Remind – Remind is used by teachers to keep in constant communication with students, but also parents. It’s a free app that can be used on many devices. You can send out reminders as well as resources and even voice clips. Not only can this help facilitate deeper learning through PBL, but also helps you model what effective communication looks like.
Digital Tools for Assessment
One of the best ways to use digital tools is to use the tools for intentional assessment. Whether formative or summative, digital tools can provide documentation of learning so that learning can tell a story and track a journey.
You should select these tools so you can assess how students are learning how to collaborate and communicate. In addition, the assessment should be focused on very specific quality indicators of collaboration and communication. What exactly are you looking for when students use that tool? Perhaps you are looking for “consensus building,” or “giving effective and polite feedback.” These are specific and measurable.
Edmodo is a free and intuitive tool that brings teacher-controlled social networking to the classroom. It allows you to control how and when students enter a classroom discussion. You can comment on their work, give quizzes, and make corrective assignments. They can post work for you or peers to review and make comments. It works on any web browser and connects to Google Chrome and Adobe.
ISTE is not an assessment tool but it provides resources for technology teaching. One of the critical ways to message effective communication and collaboration is digital citizenship. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) has excellent quality indicators for what a good digital citizen is, and teachers can use these indications to build a rubric and assess students. With a focus on Digital Citizenship, you can combine the instruction and assessment of collaboration and communication and technology usage into one package.
All in All
As you consider the use of digital tools in their instruction or assessment of collaboration and communication, you need to be intentional and focused. Digitals can enhance the great instruction and assessment that is already occurring and help foster student engagement in learning how to be effective collaborators and communicators.