Monday, November 10, 2008

It's about communication, not the tool

A few weeks ago, Tom Barrett wrote about how he introduces Year 5 students to Google Docs. This week he shares some common challenges teachers face when students begin working together on collaborative projects.

Communication is important, not the tool

The success of our own class projects was not influenced by how well the children could use Google Docs. After all, it is not really about the tool -- it's about the group's ability to work together as a team. My class found this difficult throughout the year. I did not expect that just because we were using technology that the outcome would be any different. In fact even though each child was engaged with a role within the group and a task to complete, the technology exacerbated the lack of communication. The groups were plodding on with their own tasks and when it buffeted with someone else's they would get upset. They may be working in the same online space, but that does not automatically indicate they are collaborating well.

With this in mind we raised the profile of the sense of communication within the groups and discussed with the children their teething problems and how we can best resolve them. With every resolution I drew it back to the idea of better communication. The class had a fuller understanding from these discussions of what they were doing when working together in Google Docs and some of the ways that their own communication was causing problems. To reinforce this in future sessions I would regularly stop the class to talk about an excellent example I had overheard from an individual or a group. One such example was when the children in one group lowered their laptop screens so that they could discuss the progress of their work so far. I raised it with the wider group ,we briefly discussed why it was such a good move, and through this we then saw the majority of the groups adopting this strategy.

How student personalities and familiarity with technology affect group work

You know what it is like: you try and balance a team and consider the characters that you put together in a group, but within moments they are falling out! I suppose using Google Docs does not make the task any easier. Out of the 5 groups in my class, 2 worked very well together, 1 was OK and the other 2 had lots of problems and struggled. On reflection, the groups that worked least well together were made up of perhaps 2 or 3 strong personalities that would naturally like to take a lead and this caused conflicts and problems as it has in other activities. When the children have their own laptops and a clear contribution to make within a document, that is appropriately structured, in my experience it can help a group work together.

I had children in my class that were very capable at using technology and were motivated and enthused at its use in our lessons but who often struggled with their literacy or maths, they were more confident when collaborating with Google Docs because of their own personal comfort with technology in the classroom. They pushed themselves forward to take a lead and be more involved when in a more traditional paper-based activity they may not have done. Similarly, the flip side of this is children who are very confident and capable in literacy who perhaps have less confidence when using technology. Even though composing groups within your class to collaborate is similar for any activity, it is important to consider the type of characters who grows in confidence when embedding technology in their learning.

Posted by: Andrew Chang, Marketing Manager
[NFGB] Link - from Docs Blog
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