By: Matt Rhoads, Ed.D
Dr. Matt Rhoads is a Tech and Instructional Leader and Innovator with hands in Adult Ed, K-12, and Higher Education. He is the author of several books and is the host of Navigating Education – The Podcast.
In any educational setting, regardless of whether it’s a distance, blended, or traditional setting, student collaboration should be one of the major focal points in a classroom. As we continue to move forward in the 21st-century students will not only have build collaborative skills with one another in-person, they will also have to collaborate through a variety of different mediums. Thus, to be 21st-century ready and a lifelong learner, teachers need to provide students with opportunities to collaborate with others in an assortment of different ways.
As we see an assortment of edtech tools that offer collaborative applications, we need to be sure to select the one’s that best meet our instructional and student needs. Throughout this post, we will first go through the process of selecting collaborative edtech tools as there are many to choose from. Then, we will align research-based instructional strategies with the use of collaborative edtech tools. Lastly, we will discuss how using collaborative edtech tools create an equitable and engaging experience for students.
Major Mainstream Collaborative Edtech Tools & Selecting Collaborative Tools for Classrooms
There are many major collaborative edtech tools available. They take many shapes and forms, but many have several key common components: a digital bulletin board/whiteboard feature, more than one user can edit content and/or provide commentary, and the ability to incorporate different types of multi-media that students post and interact with together. Our goal here to list many of the mainstream collaborative edtech tools available. Then, we will go through a selection process of how the tool can be best utilized in your classroom.
- G-Suite: Almost every major application in G-Suite has the ability to be edited and commented by multiple users at once. Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Draw, and Classroom all have that main feature. Google Jamboard is the one application in G-Suite that acts as a whiteboard that can be written on by multiple users at once.
- Microsoft 365: Like G-Suite, Microsoft 365 has the ability for more than one user to collaborative on Word, Excel, Power Point, and OneNote. OneNote can be compared to Jamboard, but provides
- Padlet: Padlet is one of the most popular online bulletin boards. Students can post many different types of bulletin posts/sticky notes on the digital board and can embed a multitude of different multimedia to share with the group.
- Flipgrid: Flipgrid allows teachers and students alike to record video and/or voice recordings. Flipgrid can create collaborative conversations on a given topic in a discussion board like format where students and teachers can respond to one another to further a conversation.
- Nearpod: Nearpod provides an option for a collaborative bulletin board where students can post sticky notes addressing a topic or theme. Students can post more than one sticky note. Multi-media can be attached to the sticky notes to create more engaging bulletin boards.
- Buncee: Buncee is an interactive presentation tool. Within these presentations is the ability to create collaborative digital bulletin boards. With these bulletin boards, students can be work on multiple students in pairs or within groups.
- Pear Deck: Pear Deck is an online student engagement presentation tool. When students respond to a slide, their responses are recorded individually as well as together in an entire group. When student responses are shown together when a teacher flips the slide over so students can see, a bulletin board appears with all of the students’ anonymous responses to the prompt or question.
- WeVideo: WeVideo is a video recording and editing software. What sets WeVideo apart from other video editing software is the ability to have more than one user record and edit portions of the video.
- Wakelet: Wakelet is an online storage repository that allows for users to post many different forms of multi-media that can be stored to view by others. More than one user can collaborate to build collections of multi-media or research content related to a theme others can view.
- Yoteach!: Yoteach! is a back channel where students can have an ongoing conversation with many contributors to the conversation. In addition, students can post multi-media of any change into the chat. Teams of students or entire classes of students can interact in these digital spaces to talk about a topic at hand, problem solve, research, or work on a project.
- Twitter: Twitter is a social media platform where users post what’s on their mind. Topics are categorized via hashtags. Students and teachers can collaborate using Twitter to connect with students and teachers from around the world. Also, they can engage in Twitterchats on a topic at hand to further refine ideas in addition to learning something new from the collective participants.
Note: There are many more collaboration tools available. Be sure to list them in the comment section of this post after its conclusion.
When it comes to selecting these collaboration edtech tools, there are a number of things to keep in mind. Each teacher may have a different methodology of selecting these tools because what they are doing in their classrooms will be distinctively different. However, these criteria are important to consider in that decision making process as they will help teachers plan effective uses of the collaborative tool as well as facilitate meaningful collaboration among students.
- Accessibility of the tool and simplicity of the user interface: This means students can access the tool in a series of clicks to access the collaborative tool. Once there, students have five to six options maximum of how they interact with the collaborative space. These options may include 100’s of different applications, but do not overwhelm students when they work together in the collaborative space.
- What type of collaborative space do you want your students to engage in? From creating a video or engaging on a bulletin board or whiteboard to editing/revising a document, there are many types of collaborative spaces student can work together in. Therefore, teachers must decide what options they may want to give students regarding what collaborative spaces they want them to work in. Remember, each collaborative space relates to what specific tool they are using and its applications.
- Instructional goals: When utilizing a collaborative edtech tool, we must have an instructional goal in mind as to what the students are doing, the end product they creating, and why they are engaging in collaborative sense. Instructional goals relate to a greater objective students are trying to achieve and what types of skills they will have to utilize in order for them to achieve that overarching goal.
- Think less is more: As an instructor, we must think less is more with any edtech tool we decide to utilize. We cannot overwhelm our students. Therefore, when introducing a tool or thinking about the outcomes of using the tool, keep it simple to start and then over time build from a solid foundation.
Aligning Collaborative Instructional Strategies with the Edtech Tools
After selecting a collaborative edtech tool, we must now apply and align effective instructional strategies to help our students get the most out of the collaborative experience. All the collaborative instructional strategies mentioned can be used in online, blended, and traditional classroom settings.
Walk and Talk: Walk and talk is a strategy where two or three students or a teacher pose one or two questions that they must try to answer.
Integration with Edtech Collaboration Tools: Flipgrid can be used for a walk and talk. A teacher or student poses a question and each student within the walk and talk group must respond 2 to 3 times. One interesting integration of walk and talk can be utilized through Wakelet. A question is posed by a teacher or student and students provide an assortment of multimedia within a Wakelet grid that can be used to answer the question. Lastly, online back-channels such as YoTeach! or even a discussion board can act as a platform for a digital walk and talk.
Gallery Walk: Students walk around and read work created by their peers and they take specific notes or leave comments on the work.
Integration with Edtech Collaboration Tools: There are many options to turn gallery walks into digitally gallery walks with an assortment of tools. Google Slides can be edited by 75 students at once. A Padlet or Wakelet can be edited by entire classes. Therefore, what this means is that teachers can have all students add a work product or resource to be viewed by the rest of the class in the digital gallery. Teachers can assign notes or ask students to like or write comments within the gallery so individual students have an opportunity to see student or teacher feedback.
Student Editors: Student editors is a strategy where repositories of written work and created content can be given feedback by peers or their teacher. Writing and math created content is displayed and comments/feedback are given. Then, students take the comments/feedback and make changes to make their work product better.
Integration with Edtech Collaboration Tools: There are several tools where editing and feedback can be given. All of Microsoft 365 and Google G-Suite have this ability for peer editing to take place. Online bulletin boards like Padlet and resource repositories like Wakelet can be used as collaborative editing databases for students to post their work.
Partner Think-Pair and Share: Think, pair, and share is a common strategy that can be used in live class sessions in-person or in online live synchronous class sessions. It is where students have an opportunity to pause, think, pair with another student or two to have a quick conversation, and then a forum to share with other groups or the rest of the class.
Integration with Edtech Collaboration Tools: Think, pair, and share can be utilized with G-Suite or Microsoft 365 and a virtual live online meeting tool. A simple graphic organizer divided up in three parts (i.e., my thoughts, my groups thoughts, and my classes thoughts) can be utilized as a mechanism to keep the conversation recorded. To do this online, breakout rooms on Zoom can pair students in small groups and then can be used again to create bigger groups. Once the breakout rooms are done, there can be several opportunities through a student cold calling name randomizer (like Groupmaker) to share summarized remarks to the class.
More Strategies to Think About: Socratic Seminars, Project-Based Learning, Collaborative Modeling via Video, Collaborative Notice, Wonder, and KWL Charts
Overall, there are numerous instructional strategies that can be incorporated in a collaborative setting. Ultimately, in a similar manner as the number of edtech tools you will need, have a ‘think less is more’ mindset in regard to the number of instructional strategies you want to incorporate in a classroom. We want the strategies and edtech tool usage to be solid and routinized within classrooms so students can become comfortable working collaboratively together as well as with using the tools.
Why Are These Tools Equitable?
Edtech tools with the ability for students to collaborate are equitable because it gives students an opportunity to not only share their insights, but to also work with the ability to lend their strengths to the discussion or the project. There are now so many opportunities to create and share multimedia, which truly provides opportunities for students to share who they are and something that can be genuinely unique voice and expertise. Lastly, now more than ever before, there are so many modalities and opportunities for student voice. In the past, students could not share what they can today. There is a vast array of opportunities to share something no one has seen before!
Why Are These Tools Engaging?
Edtech tools that have collaborative applications are engaging because students can work together with their colleagues in ways students throughout history would have dreamed of. Students can share all forms of multimedia on many of the tools available. In addition, students can interact in ways that are unique, which allows students to communicate in creative ways with the vast repository of the internet being their database. The thought of sharing new insights from research to multimedia that we may have never seen before is an exciting new development in education we are just entering!
As we move forward in education, there are many edtech tools available that provide collaborative applications for teachers to provide for their students. Ultimately, they provide engaging and equitable opportunities for learning to take place regardless of whether it’s in an online, blended, or traditional educational setting. At the end of the day, a teacher only needs Microsoft 365 or G-Suite and one or two additional collaborative edtech tools to create a plethora of opportunities for student to student and teacher to student collaboration to take place.
Note: Continue the conversation in the comments section below or on Twitter by tagging me @mattrhoads1990 in your post. I look forward to continuing this conversation on collaborative edtech tools.