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Being Mobile | Blog

Two Heads Are Better Than One: Mobile Apps that Support Synchronous Collaboration

It seems like every educational organization and every workforce organization and every industry organization is calling for students to learn how to collaborate.

  • “Four C’s … critical thinking, communications, collaboration, and creativity.”
  • “ “We need better collaboration.” That phrase is hard to deny in any corporate setting…”

That’s all well and good, but what technological supports are there for teachers to teach and students to learn how to collaborate? Facebook! Twitter! Those are excellent scaffolded environments for teachers and students.  JK, JK.

“Let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start…”

Ok, let’s get serious. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a concept mapping app – a tool that teachers the world over know how to use effectively –  that not only enabled a student to create a concept map but also supported multiple students working together – on their own devices - to create a concept map?  Cue the trumpets: that’s WeMap and its free and it runs on iPads, iPad minis, iPod touches, and iPhones. And, it also runs on Android OS tablets and smartphones.

Picture this:  Mr. Smith’s  science room with eight, big, black science tables (with running water faucets!); around each table sits four students; one of the four at each table creates a collaboration session in “Smith Period 3” class (appropriately and un-imaginatively named: “Table1”, “Table2”, etc. ) and then the other three join their respective session. The four students then read the assigned chapter in their textbooks on infectious diseases. There is constant chatter amongst the four as they discuss infectious disease issues as they are creating - sometimes even simultaneously – nodes and arcs (relationships) connecting the nodes, filling in the nodes with content, etc.

After a suitable amount of time, Mr. Smith, whose iPad is plugged into the classroom’s projector, joins each of the eight groups. Upon joining a group, then, the whole class gets to see the concept map that the group has built because the teacher is projecting his iPad screen. (It’s easy to join a session – type in “Smith Period 3”, finger tap on the “Table1” icon that is retrieved, and bingo the teacher has joined Table1’s collaboration session.)

More discussion takes place. “Why did Table1 connect THAT node to…?” Table3, a group of four boys who aren’t particularly friendly to each other and have not been particularly talkative, see, by comparison, that their concept map is woefully under-populated, while Table4, a group of four girls who are friends outside of class, have a very densely populated and interconnected concept map.

WeMap on the iOS devices and WeMap on the Android devices play nicely together – they interoperate. (A collaboration session can be made up of an iPad and an Android tablet, each running WeMap.)  

In fact, as much as humanly possible the WeCollabrify App Development Team (students at University of Michigan) have made the iOS screens and the Android screens look alike AND function alike! A teacher in a BYOD classroom has enough headaches; at least he or she won’t have to worry about giving out different help depending on what device a student happens to be using.

In addition to WeMap, we have collabrified WeKWL on iOS and Android. We have more collabrified apps on the Android OS (e.g., WeSketch, WeChart, WeTimeline – and more are coming!) plus a cloud-hosted portal to which the students’ concept maps and other artifacts are automatically synced. On iOS, students can store their concept maps and KWL charts on DropBox, or the students can email them if desired.  We are moving as fast as we can to port the collabrified Android apps to iOS. (Apple, a wee bit of financial help would be most welcome)  And, once we get some financial support from Microsoft, we will build all the collabrified and interoperable apps for Windows Phone 8 devices.

We don’t have curriculum yet to show science teachers, language arts teachers, etc. how to use the collabrified apps in their grade level and subject area. We apologize. We deeply apologize for this omission. But, you early adopting teachers who are comfortable creating your own lessons for exciting new technology, please, please upload your lessons (contact: soloway@umich.edu) and share them.

So – have we piqued your interest? Contact us (soloway@umich.edu) and we will help you get going using the WeCollabrify Mobile Platform – a suite of native, collabrified apps for iOS and Android.

We saved the best for last: when your students are not in class, but are at home, alone, stuck on a homework problem or confused about an idea, they can still use WeMap, WeKWL, etc. by creating collaboration sessions using their home Wi-Fi (or over cellular). And, they can still talk to each other, in real time, while they are adding nodes, adding KWL points, just like they did in the classroom. Google’s Hangouts app, for iOS and Android, runs in the background and enables the students to talk to each other while they are using WeMap, WeKWL, etc.   

Here’s the real tag line for our collabrified apps: Children don’t have to learn alone!  With collabrified apps – with the WeCollabrify Mobile Platform - it doesn’t matter if a group of learners is co-located; the collabrified apps work just as well when the group is NOT co-located!!

Get the free, collabrified apps here: 

iOS -  WeMap: creating/modifying a concept map
iOS -  WeKWL: creating/modifying a KWL chart
Android OS - WeCollabrify Mobile Platform: suite of collabrified apps 

 

 

 

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.intergalacticmlc.org.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.intergalacticmlc.org.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Being Mobile blog at thejournal.com/beingmobile.

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