Communication Tools for Collaboration

The backbone of any type of collaborative effort takes place in the context of communication. Many features of collaboration tools are geared toward the facilitation and management of effective communication among team members.  Depending on your grade level the following collaborative technology tools can facilitate various communication functions: Email, IM, blogs, discussion forums, virtual meetings, web conferencing and social media.  Two of the communication tools that I have used the most in the classroom are blogs and discussion forums.

Blogs

WhyBlog?A blog is an easily created and updateable website that allows an author(s) to publish instantly to the Internet.  A blog is different than a website that relies on consistent information and content.  Blogs are comprised of reflections and conversations.  In his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson states, “Blogs engage readers with ideas and questions and links.  They ask readers to think and to respond.  They demand interaction.”  Because blogs can be posted daily (or multiple times a day) they are often short and posted in reverse chronological order.


Educators who blog
 do so for many reasons.  Some reflect on their daily work while others share resources and links to educational sites on the Web. Some post lesson plans or engage in responses to other educational bloggers.   Readers can leave comments to individual posts and other visitors to the site can view those comments and respond with their own comments or questions.  The blog posts can include images, videos, podcasts, and links to other posts and citations.

When educators give students the opportunity to blog about their learning  a new type of interactive experience deepens and enhances the learning process.  Students learn to read more critically, think about that reading more analytically, and write more clearly.  They are building relationships with peers, teachers, mentors and professionals who interact with them through their blog.  Classroom blogs can be created by individual students  or authored by the entire class.  They can showcase student work, be a collaborative space, ePortfolio, class portal or even an online filing cabinet of shared images, resources or knowledge content.  Blogs are the ultimate collaborative learning tool because the real benefit of blogging comes when there is an authentic audience that reads and responds to the blog posts and then the student bloggers respond back.  Comments4Kids is a way for students and teachers to find blogs to comment on and to get their own posts commented on.  Comments4Kids is a great way to teach your students appropriate digital citizenship skills in an authentic learning environment.  Think blogging is just for older kids?  Check out this list of primary age blogs organized by blogging platform.

Some student-friendly blogging platforms are:  EduBlogsKidBlogClass BlogmeisterePals, and Blogger (not part of Google Apps for Education core suite and must be activated by admin).  Teachers who want to blog might also consider these platforms:  WordPressPosterousTypePadLiveJournal orTumblr.

 

Discussion Boards

An online discussion board provides asynchronous written conversation about a topic or theme.  One of benefits of using a discussion board is that it levels the playing field and gives every student an opportunity to share and have their opinions read.  This is especially helpful for the introvert who needs time to compose their thoughts without being interrupted during a face-to-face classroom discussion.  It can also extend the conversation beyond the classroom, provide a platform to demonstrate understanding of the content being learned and build connectiveness among classmates.  The limitations of not seeing facial expressions, body language and vocal inflections can sometimes cause confusion with written text as opposed to web conferencing, but the convenience of composing offline, posting when ready, and ease of use makes written discussion forums a popular choice with older elementary through high school students.  Caitlin Tucker has some great advice:  Dos and Don’ts of Online Student Communication.  Edutopia has put together the Mastering Online Discussion Forum Resource Guide at:  http://www.edutopia.org/pdfs/stw/edutopia-onlinelearning-mastering-online-discussion-board-facilitation.pdf

Some popular platforms for discussion forums are:

  • Learning Management Systems: SchoologyHaiku (both have Google Apps integration), Blackboard, and Moodle (Open Source).  These are much more involved and will require IT department to set up the system for a school.
  • Online learning platforms:  Schoology (Individual teacher), Edmodo and Collaborize Classroom –  These are more of a social learning network but also include discussion forums.  They can easily be set up by an individual teacher.

Join our 40-day blogging challenge

My 8th grade students are participating in a 40-day blog challenge.  Each day two different students post an idea on our Tread Lightly blog of how to be a good steward of the environment by recycling,  reducing emissions, using less packaging, planting trees, etc.  Our blog project was inspired by “Tread Lightly” a 40-day challenge sponsored by Taking It Global.  Go to:  http://treadlightly.me/challenge.html and read about their challenge.

From October 24 to December 2, we will join others around the world in blogging about our commitments and encouraging others to do the same on our class blog located at:  http://ccassinelli.edublogs.org

tread_lightly
http://ccassinelli.edublogs.org

Since I only see the 8th graders twice a week I needed them to work on this project outside of class.  I divided the students into teams of four.  Each member has a specific job to assist their teammates with their blog posts.  Here are the roles:

  • Production editor – Your job will be to make sure your teammates post their entries on the correct date.  You will also be in charge of moderating any blog comments on your posts and assign someone to respond to the comment.
  • Technical editor – Your job is to help your teammates with how to post their blog entry.  You should be pretty good with computers and willing to spend some time learning about Edublogs.
  • Creative editor – Your job will be to assist your teammates in selecting images, media or creative entries to go along with their blog post.
  • Communications editor – Your job will be to check the spelling and grammar of your teammates blog posts and maintain communication between group members.

Each teammate drafts their blog post in a shared Google Document and we maintain the 40 day schedule on a shared spreadsheet.  Writing on a shared document allowed the students to write and edit their post and see what their teammates were planning.  I wasn’t too concerned about duplicate ideas – I just encouraged the students to put their spin on their idea or support it with different facts.

Students are required to support their writing with facts and citations and give credit for images used.  Some students are planning on making motivational posts using Big Huge Labs and comics with ToonDoo to post along their writing. Towards the end of the 40 days each team will add an embedded Google Form to survey their readers or check their knowledge.

One of the ways to be successful whenever you start a blogging project is to make sure someone is reading the blog and students are receiving comments.  I signed up our class with Comments4Kids http://comments4kids.wikispaces.com/.  Teachers list their class blogs on this wiki and I direct my student to visit those student blogs and leave comments and have them invite those students to follow our 40day challenge.

We’ve received comments from a variety of classes – like students from Gary Bertoia’s 9th grade class at Saigon South International School in Vietnam and Russ Goerend’s 6th Grade Language Arts and Social Studies classes.  Having other students read and comment on their blog post have motivated our class and raised the quality of writing.  Students are teaching each other and moving forward with this project with little teacher intervention though I do moderate all incoming comments.

Please consider joining our 40-day challenge and tell us your idea for reducing your carbon footprint on the environment at http://ccassinelli.edublogs.org