Being Mobile Blog

Help Wanted: Write Curriculum to Support Collaborative Learning Using Technology

Need some summer (fall) funding? Want a real challenge? Read on!

With this post, we are making a national, if not international, job posting:

  • Help Wanted: Create curriculum for the Co.llaboration Suite of free, collabrified productivity apps: Co.Write (text editing), Co.Map (concept mapping), Co.KWL (KWL charting), Co.Sketch (drawing and animating) and Co.Xplore (collaborative picture sharing), and more to come. Also create curriculum for our participatory simulation, Cooties+, that helps children learn about how infectious diseases are spread. We even have funds — thank you NSF — to pay the curriculum writers!

Currently, all the apps run natively in iOS and Android, but we are rewriting all the apps in HTML5 so that, by September, 2015, all the apps in the Co.llaboration Suite will be interoperable across all platforms. Translation: Say a group of three students are using Co.Map to create a concept map. One student could be on a Windows 8 laptop, while another student could be using an iPad and a third could be using a Chromebook — all working together at the same time on the same concept map. Cool!

So, now is the time to generate curriculum, but here are some challenges with creating curriculum that employs collaboration:

Collaboration skills: How do you teach children to work together on a task, and to walk away from doing the task with a shared, common understanding of the issues involved in doing the task? For instance, we have seen middle schoolers (primarily boys) have a difficult time talking with each other. Collaboration is all about talking constructively. We overheard this while a group of four boys were using Co.Map: “Who posted that stupid node?”  Needless to say, none of the boys stepped forward and said he had authored “that stupid node.” (The “boy” groups tend to just start posting nodes, where each boy uses black (the default) as the color for his nodes. In contrast, before the “girl” groups start working they usually talk about how they will work together and each girl chooses a color so it will be clear who posted what node.)

Resolving conflict: At the heart of collaboration is disagreement. A group wants disagreement, since it means that multiple perspectives are being brought to bear on the problem. But how does a group resolve disagreement? We have seen first-graders use Rock-Paper-Scissors. While that’s better than the loudest/biggest “winning" it doesn’t enable the right idea necessarily to come through.

A demanding (but not too demanding) task: What tasks really need to be solved using collaboration? For example, we have seen a classroom where each group of children, using Co.Map, was asked to identify concepts related to weather. The students basically raced to see who could put their word into the map first. This task didn’t really require very much collaboration. It didn’t require the children to talk with each other and reason through an issue; this sort of task could have been solved by one person working alone.

On the other hand, a really difficult task might be too challenging for the struggling learners. So choice of task is a really serious issue: You don’t want to overwhelm the struggling learners, but do want to challenge the high-achievers. One teacher told us that when the children came up with their own task — when the ownership was high — then she saw the children really talking with each other and reasoning through the disagreements. That's truly “social learning."

How should groups be formed? Should struggling students be put together with high achievers? Do the high-achievers have patience with their compatriots who might not be as quick to understand? Boys with girls? In middle school, when left on their own, boys tend to form groups with other boys, and the girls stick with the girls. Is that a good idea?

Fold technology into this mix, and the challenges just increase! How does using the Co.llaboration Suite of collabrified apps help address all the issues identified above? It’s not obvious!

Using the free, collabrified apps will provide concrete experiences upon which to base the development of the “collabrified curriculum.” But to use the apps means your classroom needs to have 1-to-1 access to iOS devices and/or Android devices and sufficient bandwidth to support real-time, synchronous collaboration.  

Have we piqued your interest? Please send an e-mail to soloway@umich.edu. Our goal is to build a collaborative team of curriculum writers spanning subject matter and grades. Join us in creating the future of social learning!

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