Innovating education with technology.
You’ve heard “collaboration” repeatedly referenced as an important 21st century skill. With built-in interfaces for connectivity, mobile devices such as iPads offer a wide variety of alternatives for people wanting to connect and work together. Collaboration can take many forms in an educational context and you may want to consider different tools depending on your specific objectives. Here’s a list of some common collaborative activities and the tools and apps you might want to consider for each one.
1. Learning by Sharing
Learning starts when you process new information. Often, the best source for that information comes from others that are learning together with you.
Synchronous sharing: The ideal classroom environment is one that fosters collaborative learning. When someone writes something insightful, finds a unique solution to a problem or comes across an interesting reference on the web, you’ll want to allow them to easily share that information with other students in the room. If students are using an iDevice then the best solution for real-time digital sharing is an Apple TV. Connect it to your projector or TV and any device on the same wi-fi network can be mirrored wirelessly on to the big screen. Photos, web pages, class work and more can be projected and shared with a couple of simple taps. Note that if you don't have an Apple TV but you have a desktop or laptop in your room, you can purchase Airplay receiving software such as AirServer or Reflector that can be downloaded on your computer to provide similar functionality.
Social networking: Another approach might be to create a digital class magazine based upon content shared by students. The Flipboard app provides a sleek magazine interface and allows users to create custom magazines based upon content they share.
2. Group Content Editing
Content can be created collaboratively when groups of students can access and edit the same digital file. The clear leader for collaborative document editing is Google Docs. Whether multiple students edit a document at the same time or at different times, Google Docs will identify the changes made by each user and keep a revision history if you ever need to roll the document back to a prior iteration. The only pre-requisite is that all users have Google accounts.
If you don’t have the luxury of Google Apps for your students then another option to consider is Quip. Download the Quip app, start a new document and share it with others. Invite anyone in your address book directly or create a private link to the document that you can email to grant anyone access. Quip also includes a chat panel so that you can communicate with other editors.
Two heads are better than one, right? Why not try even three or four heads? Ideas can be developed communally as students contribute their thoughts in a shared digital space. One simple and very effective option is Padlet. Think of it as a digital corkboard that anyone can access. Go to www.padlet.com on any computer or device and start a new Padlet wall. Add text, images or video anywhere on the wall and it’s immediately visible to other users. Tap the Share option and you can give the wall’s link to others so they can add content and edit it.
If you require a more organized system then sign up for the Trello service and app. At its essence, Trello is a system for keeping lists and it’s often used for task management. Create a “Board” in Trello. Each board is comprised of a series of vertical lists. Lists are built by adding “Cards” to them. Cards have options to add text, attach files, add checklists, due dates, labels and more. Anyone with a Trello account can be invited to view and edit the Board. Divide students into groups and create group lists they can edit. Alternatively, divide any topic into themes and invite students to post notes and thoughts on any theme. Once Cards are added, you can drag and drop them between lists as needed.
4. Work Compilations
Collaborative work can be created when students create different content parts that are combined together to form a single work. This can be used effectively when students offer their own reflections on a common subject or when a theme is divided up into different topics and each student or group of students creates the content for individual topics.
Using the Book Creator app students can create their own eBooks and export them to a folder in a class cloud account. Once uploaded, all the files can be opened in Book Creator on one iPad and merged into a single eBook. Using a similar process you could create a class screencast movie using Explain Everything. Divide a theme into individual topics and have students create different screencasts in Explain Everything and export their final .xpl project file to a shared folder in a class cloud account. The files can all be opened on one iPad and merged into a single Explain Everything project. Once that’s done you can export the project as a movie and share it.
5. Research and Curation
Class reference libraries can be created by giving groups of students access and contribution rights to a communal pool of resources. An excellent tool for creating shared reference libraries is the Diigo web service. Diigo is a “social bookmarking” tool. Click the Diigo icon on your browser toolbar whenever you find content on the web that you want to save or share. Highlight text, add notes and tag it for easy retrieval. Diigo allows any member to create a group and invite others to join it. When you save content, Diigo gives you the option to share the content with any of your groups.
Open an educator account at www.diigo.com and you can create accounts for your students. Students are automatically added to your class group. Now as students add, highlight and annotate web content, it’s shared to the class library so that everyone will have access to it. Diigo works across all devices but if you’re on an iPad, download and use the special Diigo Browser app. All the Diigo tools for saving and sharing content are built directly into the browser.
OK, so I cheated a little on this one. The act of reading is really a solitary activity. You can however build your understanding of a book by connecting and collaborating with other readers. Book clubs have been around for ages. That’s where people gather to discuss a book they all read. Shift that concept into the digital realm and imagine having those discussions while you’re actually reading the book. That’s the objective of the Subtext app.
Subtext is known as a “social reading” app. Create a Subtext class group with your students as members. Add reading material for the class – ePub books, web articles, open source books or PDF files. Interact with other group members as you all read the book. Teachers can leave prompts and discussion points in the text and students can add their own questions, comments and opinions. Importantly, they can also respond to questions and comments left by others.
Finally, remember also that collaboration doesn’t need to be restricted to students sitting in a physical classroom. Digital devices are designed to link and exchange information. Using any combination of Bluetooth, wi-fi and web services, collaborators can connect at the same time, the same place or at completely different times and locations. The notion of “classes” and “class times” take on entirely new meanings as we exploit the potential of connecting and collaborating.