Posted on February 14, 2012 by Ollie Dreon
Regular readers of the 8 Blog know that I talk about collaboration a lot. Over the last few years, I’ve written about wikis, Google Docs, Crocodocs, and Stixy (and many other applications) and discussed how different tools can be used to foster collaboration in classroom environments. But why is collaboration so important? In their book on 21st Century Skills, Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel identify collaboration as a critical skill for individuals to “survive and thrive in a complex and connected world.” In a recent New York Times article, Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president, writes that collaboration is the “inevitable consequence of the knowledge explosion.” The world is becoming a more open place, Summers writes, and businesses are placing a greater value on the ability to work together.
With the world becoming increasingly connected and people working and learning from a distance, collaboration needs to be a curricular focus in our courses and cultivated in our classrooms, schools and institutions. We just can’t expect students to know how to collaborate. It’s a skill that needs to be developed. But cultivating collaboration isn’t easy, especially in educational settings. Like so many concepts, collaboration skills are best learned socially. Students learn to collaborate by directly communicating and working with their classmates, either physically, face-to-face or virtually through technology. We as educators must support their collaboration and help them learn from their collaborative experiences. But is this happening in our schools? Summers doesn’t seem to think so. Examining the current state of America’s institutions of learning, Summers writes, “the great preponderance of work a student does is done alone at every level in the educational system… For most people, school is the last time (students) will be evaluated on individual effort.”
But cultivating collaboration isn’t just a curricular challenge. We as educators must be models of collaboration ourselves. We can’t just talk the talk. We must walk the walk. We must break free of our respective silos and learn to collaborate with one another. In his book called Collaboration, Morten Hansen identified four barriers to collaboration that institutions may face. These barrier include:
- The not invented-here barrier: people are unwilling to reach out to others and reject the ideas from the outisde
- The hoarding barrier: people are unwilling to provide help or keep information close at hand because they are competing with one another
- The search barrier: people are not able to find what they are looking for because information is spread across the institution
- The transfer barrier: people are not able to work with people, especially ones they don’t know well.
I’m sure Hansen’s barriers will resonate with many readers but they can be overcome. And they need to be overcome. Not only to be better educational models for our students, but also so we can be more productive, more creative and more innovative. Collaboration is more than a bridge between two ideas. It is the catalyst that spawns a multitude of new ideas. And that needs to be valued, cultivated and celebrated.
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Posted on November 22, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
Sometimes, sharing and collaborating on documents can be a real challenge. If I want to share a document with someone, I have to make sure they’re using a word processing application that can open and edit my document. I also have to make sure that my document doesn’t get lost in their email inbox or caught in their spam filter. If I’m sharing the document with a group of people, the collaboration problems multiply. Who has the latest version? Who has contributed so far? How can I coordinate all of the individual comments and suggestions efficiently? It can be a real headache.
Crocodoc was built to alleviate some of these collaboration challenges, diminishing the need to email attachments back and forth, print and pass around hard copies, or install expensive collaboration software. With Crocodoc, users can upload PDFs, Word documents, and PowerPoint presentations and view and mark them up online. Documents can be shared with others, who can collaboratively highlight or strikeout text, add notes and comments, and make revisions. All files are stored securely on the Crocodoc servers, and can be password protected and encrypted for maximum security. Crocodoc even works with iPads, allowing people to collaborate on documents from a variety of platforms.
Used educationally, Crocodoc can allow groups of students to share their comments on an article they’re reading. Art educators can upload a photograph for discussion and assign their students to share their critiques. In a writing class, groups of students could edit one another’s compositions and provide feedback to each other. Since Crocodoc records the history of each document, educators can see who has contributed so far, which can be really helpful for assessing student work. With its intuitive navigation, Crocodoc really takes a bite out of the challenges of collaboration.
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Posted on October 31, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
As a blogger, I get ideas for posts from a variety of different sources. Sometimes, I get ideas from reading other blogs or checking out different technology sites. Other times, I’ll get an idea from a colleague who mentions a website or an app they’ve been using. This week, I need to credit one of my students who asked about using Stixy for a classroom project. I honestly hadn’t heard of the site prior to her question and looked into it. After checking the site out, I realize now that I had been missing out on a tremendous resource. Thanks Marybeth!
Stixy is an online tool for building collaboration across groups of individuals. The site works like an online bulletin board, where users can post photos, documents, notes and todo lists. The interface is intuitive and easy to use. Just drag and drop objects onto the stixyboard and position the objects where you’d like. Stixyboards are shareable, too. One person can start a stixyboard and share it with colleagues who can build on it. The site is free and currently in Beta, meaning they’re still testing the site out to work out the bugs.
Used educationally, Stixy would be a great site for to students to use to help manage a group project. The students could create a stixyboard to manage the different tasks in the project timeline, assign roles to group members and share files. Rather than have files and communication streams littered across a multitude of emails, Stixy could house all of that information in a graphical format that is accessible to all of the group members simultaneously. Besides supporting collaborative groups, the site would also be a great portfolio tool. Students could design a stixyboard to highlight the different projects they had created.
For help getting started with Stixy, be sure to check out this tutorial:
Filed under: Collaboration, Communication | 1 Comment »
Posted on August 30, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
I’ve been thinking a lot about how we integrate technology into our classrooms. I attended a presentation recently where the speaker talked about the SAMR Model. The model, introduced by Ruben Puentedura, demonstrates different ways that educators bring technology into their classroom. The model presents a hierarchy of integration phases that educators typically employ. For instance, educators can integrate technology as a substitution to something they typically have done. Maybe they replace their traditional chalkboard lectures with Powerpoint slides. In this situation, the technology acts as a direct substitute to the traditional method with little functional improvement. In other phases of the SAMR Model, Puentedura explains that educators integrate technology as an augmentation to previous practice. Here the technology acts as a direct substitute but with functional improvement. Maybe students are using word processing tools to complete projects. In the higher phases of the model, educators completely transform their classroom so new means of collaboration and communication are leveraged. For example, educators can integrate technology as a modification to their classroom practice, completely redesigning an activity so that students are now interacting in new ways. An example would be allowing students to collaborate through Google Docs on projects. Here, students are able to work together to edit and build on each other’s work.
In Puentedura’s highest phase of integration, educators integrate technology as a complete redefinition of classroom activity. Students collaborate with experts, author new content and publish their work to the world. In this process, the student’s role evolves from being a consumer of information and content to being a producer. Maybe students are blogging about their research or sharing their findings in a wiki. In a redefined classroom, the student isn’t just a passive receiver of information but an active participant in a worldwide forum.
As I’ve been mulling over the SAMR model, I think the hierarchy has some flaws. I don’t think the phases are as discrete as Puentedura proposes and I think the hierarchy lends itself to labeling some integration as better than others. I also believe that the representations of the model focus too much on tasks and tools and too little on the most important component of what we do: student learning. While the model has some issues, I thought it would be a great conversation starter and possibly provoke some thought.
For those of you starting school this week, have a great start to your school year.
Filed under: Collaboration, Communication | 3 Comments »
Posted on August 23, 2011 by Ollie Dreon
In the Web 2.0 world, collaboration is key! Our creative works are being shared with friends and colleague from around the world, whether through email, through social networking sites or through blogs. But sometimes, sharing can be difficult. Maybe I want to share a video or a large PDF with a few colleagues. Or maybe I want to share an audio file with my students. While I have many sharing options at my disposal, most come with a fair amount of risk. An email system could block my file completely. Social networks and blogs restrict certain file types and have file size limitations. Depending on how I want to share my files, I run the risk that my friends, colleagues and students may never receive the material at all.
Luckily, more tools are appearing online that can help make sharing files easier. Minigroup is one of these tools. Minigroup lets you create private web-based group pages for sharing anything you want. With Minigroup, you can post messages; upload or embed photos, video and music; or share any kind of file. You can also schedule events for the group to attend. Minigroup is a little like GooglePlus, but with a lot more security, privacy and customization. Like GooglePlus, Minigroup allows users to create multiple sharing groups and share different materials with each of the groups. A big difference, however, is that Minigroup allows users to have different profiles with different sharing groups. For instance, I can be called “Dr. Dreon” within my student group and be called “Ollie” within my friends and family group. This is a really nice feature for those of us trying to manage different profiles with different usernames across a host of sites. Minigroup is a one stop sharing location!
Built upon a social networking interface, Minigroup offers a free, easy to use option for students to share with one another. For those of us concerned about privacy, the media and materials shared within Minigroup are hidden from search engines and strangers. Unlike Facebook, there are no publicly visible groups to join. The only way to be in a group is to create one yourself or accept an invitation to join someone else’s group. Although it’s still in Beta, Minigroup would be a great solution for any educator who wants her students to share their digital creations with the rest of the class.
Filed under: Collaboration, Sharing | 2 Comments »