Friday, 4 May 2012

Collaborative Learning in Schools

Collaboration in learning is not new. “Back in the day” we collaborated with our peers by talking face-to-face. Pupils have always explained difficult aspects of the course to other pupils - it was done in the Prep Room or the bus/train home from school. We have always learned as much from our peers as from our teachers. Collaborative working is one of the most important skills that this generation of pupils is going to need in life - it is already the norm in the work place. Collaborative working is not cheating - it is the future.

We now have (free) web-based applications, such as Google Docs, that allow pupils to collaborate on projects, to share ideas and to comment on each other's work. Pupils are able to share their expertise with other pupils, they are able to refine their ideas and thus to bring on the weaker students. Using collaborative tools allows teachers to harness the "Wisdom of the Class" - allowing pupils to support each other. This approach calls for a new pedagogy.

Teachers often (but not always) will need to set up the structures for the collaboration to take place. For example, a teacher might set up a Google Doc with relevant headings and questions from which the class can work. They will need to set the assignments and to monitor that the discussions are on track, but a light touch approach is recommended. Pupils operate best when they see the Google Doc as "their" space. However, it is vital that teachers follow the discussions and intervene to ensure that pupils stay on task and to open up new areas of debate when necessary.

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