The primary tenant of collaborative learning is that students work together in groups to jointly develop solutions to challenges and problems. This basic construction - working in groups - is usually expanded to include grouping students by varying levels of ability and/or age. Further, the challenges and problems which are the focus of the collaborative work are often constructed so as to be "authentic" tasks which mirror situations students might find in real-life outside of the classroom. Technology can support collaborative learning in a number of different ways.
Many of the examples of technology-supported collaborative learning currently found in the literature emphasize the role that technology plays in facilitating communication between groups of students. Using e-mail, students can collaborate with their peers across the planet. This collaboration often takes to form of joint problem-solving and sharing of information. Another major area where technology can support collaborative learning is in the facilitation and moderation of group activities. A software application can provide information which students must react to as a group or respond to via group problem solving. The key is that collaborate in the development of shared understandings of new concepts. Collaborative learning is a group constructivist exercise.
Primary Curriculum Examples
Elementary Curriculum Examples
Middle School Curriculum Examples
Secondary School Curriculum Examples
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Much has been written about cooperative learning strategies and practice. Several good summaries of the topic are:
Examples of Technology Supporting Cooperative Learning
There are many examples of technology being used to foster cooperation and collaboration. Teachers wishing to implement these examples might first wish to consider whether they want to use technology tools such as e-mail, wordprocessors, databases, and audiovisual aids to supplement their curriculum and the cooperation/collaboration built into the curriculum or do they wish to employ a technology-based curriculum package which is designed to build these skills. Either approach can lead to success. The tool approach may be somewhat more flexible in that it can incorporate as much or as little technology as the teacher has or is comfortable with. The tool approach also builds upon a teacher's existing curriculum and often uses existing activities and lesson plans. The curriculum package approach usually requires adoption of a particular technology and software application, but it also in most cases more completely supplies curriculum and content. Teachers who are only recently incorporating cooperation and collaboration into their curricula might therefore find the curriculum package approach to be easier and more comprehensive.
Cooperative Learning in the Primary Curriculum
Second grade students in Washington, New Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Spain used the I*EARN (International Educational and Resource Network) e-mail network to communicate with students in Central America. Through I*EARN, the US and Spanish students learned of the impoverished conditions in Nicaraguan villages outside of Managua. Groups of US and Spanish students organized within their schools to raise money for the Nicaraguan villages. Teachers in these schools began to integrate information on Nicaragua and Central America into their curricula by asking students to write essays on Central America, its environment, economy, politics, etc., and to share these essays via e-mail with children in Nicaragua.
Peter Copen, Connecting Classrooms Through Telecommunications in Educational Leadership; October, 1995; pgs 44 - 47
For more information about the I*EARN project, sent mail to -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Fourth and fifth grade students in Richard Dillon's classes in Seattle, Washington are using a software application called The Incredible Machine to collaboratively design fantasy machines. Students work in groups of three or four (groupings are made to include boys and girls and students of varying abilities) and take turns placing "parts" of the machine into the computer-assisted design. Only one team of students controls the computer at a time and rotate the groups after a machine component is placed. Within each group, students must verbalize their instructions (to the student operating the computer), jointly decide on the design of the particular component, and provide rationale for their design to the next group of students.
Richard Dillon, Team Problem-Solving Activities in Learning and Leading With Technology; September, 1996; page 21
For more information about this project, send mail to email@example.com
Sierra, the publisher of The Incredible Machine, can be found on-line.
Another software application - Widget Workshop - by Maxis Multimedia can be used to perform a similar function to The Incredible Machine. Widget Workshop centers on designing calculating and computing machines using student-selected components. For more information about Widget Workshop, go to Maxis' on-line location.
Dorling Kindersley publishing also produces several multimedia titles which are useful for teaching about simple machines, mechanics, and the process of invention. In particular, their version of David Macaulay's The Way Things Work is a rich resource for this type of curriculum unit.
Cooperative Learning in the Middle School Curriculum
North Carolina teacher Caroline McCullen helped organize MidLink Magazine a cooperative effort amongst middle school students around the globe. MidLink Magazine is a project which uses the WorldWideWeb (WWW) to regularly publish student work. The magazine "issues" are sometimes generally about the participant schools, and sometimes focus on particular themes such as holidays around the world. Schools participating in the project each have their own in-school MidLink project where a team of students collaborate on tasks such as writing, editing, electronically posting materials, communicating with other MidLink schools, etc. Students at all schools use a variety of technology tools such as wordprocessors, HTML editors, graphics programs, and e-mail. Schools with their own WWW servers are linked to the main MidLink site, whereas schools which are not as fully on the Internet send their materials to another MidLink school site for posting on the net.
Caroline McCullen, World Wide Web in the Classroom: The Quintessential Collaboration in Learning and Leading with Technology; November, 1995; pgs. 7 - 10
For more information about this project, send mail to Caroline_McCullen@ncsu.edu
MidLink magazine can of course be found on-line. Check this site for the lastest issue.
Cooperative Learning in the Secondary School Curriculum
Jeannine St. Pierre Hirtle, Constructing a Collaborative Classroom (parts 1 and 2) in Learning and Leading with Technology; April, 1996 pgs. 19 - 21 and May, 1996 pgs. 27 - 30.
For more information about this project, send mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas March and Jessica Puma,A Telecommunications-Infused Community Action Project in T.H.E. Journal; vol 24(5); December, 1996; pgs 66 - 70.
Check out the main Prophets project WorldWideWeb site.