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Using Collaborative Learning in Classrooms and Libraries

December 01, 2011 01:00 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Collaboration, whether between teachers and librarians or classrooms around the world, is fast becoming a crucial educational tool.

Overcoming Budget Cuts with Collaboration

Dealing with lower budgets and staff cuts, teachers can easily become disillusioned or disappointed with their profession, leading to stale lessons and bored students. But there is a way to reverse this trend, Lisa Petrides, who leads the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education, suggests.

In an article for Education Week, Petrides discusses ways for educators to rejuvenate themselves, such as getting in touch with “other educational innovators from the United States and abroad, and with change-makers and big thinkers from creative and high-tech fields.”

Petrides’ nonprofit started Big Ideas Fest, a conference to discuss how new technologies can be used in the classroom. These technologies can stimulate students’ interest in academic subjects, particularly when used in a collaborative way between students in classrooms around the globe.

Collaboration Tools

EPals Projects for Classroom Collaboration links classrooms around the world. Topics for grades K-12 “are standards-based and of global interest.” Projects are customizable, and connecting with other classrooms is easy; just “check the ‘Connect with Classrooms’ forum on the project index page for posts by interested classrooms.”

EdTechTalk describes itself as “a community of educators interested in discussing and learning about the uses of educational technology.” The site hosts several live Webcasts every week, and listeners tune in from time zones around the world. This is a great resource for teachers looking to find an international connection.

The Flat Classroom Project brings together middle and high school students from around the world for collaborative projects. The Project has set itself up as an example to follow, for schools ready “to embrace a holistic and constructivist educational approach,” utilizing “2.0 tools such as Wikispaces and Ning.” Flat Classroom topics are all based on Thomas Friedman’s book, “The World is Flat.”

The International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (ijCSCL) was founded in 2006 and aims "to promote a deeper understanding of the nature, theory and practice of the uses of computer-supported collaborative learning.” Find articles exploring how people learn in a collaborative setting and how to design collaborative learning environments.

The Benefits of Collaborative Learning

The National Institute for Science Education published several letters from students who spoke out about the benefits of collaborative learning. For example, “I guess I am able to grasp knowledge more when there is interaction involved. If I get the opportunity to teach someone else, I will learn the material even better,” one student writes.

Thirteen Ed Online discusses the challenges and positive outcomes of collaborative learning. Students’ interpersonal development and opportunities for personal feedback are enhanced, while diversity is celebrated.

The State University of New York at Ulster found a collaborative partner in the European Humanities University (EHU) based in Belarus. The EHU was founded in 1992 in Minsk, but the government forced it to close in 2004. The University reopened a year later in Vilnius and was granted Lithuanian university accreditation in 2006, according to Campus Technology.

EHU and SUNY Ulster worked together on an online ESL course in 2008 and 2009. Hope Windle, a SUNY Ulster instructional designer, said students used Skype and other forms of online communication. “Despite their different backgrounds, the students connected over the common goal of learning a new language together,” she explained, according to Campus Technology.

Collaboration Between Librarians and Teachers

Why is collaboration important? In a talk posted on Edutopia, Randy Nelson of Pixar University discusses what he looks for when hiring someone. He describes four key qualities: depth, breadth, communication and the fourth and “most important of all,” collaboration.  

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas H. Benton makes the case for more collaboration between university librarians, teachers and students. Benton, a college English professor in Michigan, cites a lack of interaction between the groups, despite librarians’ best efforts to “reach out to the campus community.”

“Apart from finding ways to foster collegiality, we as faculty members can work more effectively with librarians to design research projects and to develop collections that support the undergraduate curriculum,” he contends.

Benton also suggests that incorporating “new technology while preserving the traditional culture of scholarship and books,” can help the library reemerge as “the center of undergraduate education.”

Collaboration is also a tool for authors and artists. For a creative project called “Book,” four artists sent a sketchbook back and forth for 36 weeks between their homes in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Belfast, Ireland. According to Book’s Web site, “Every Wednesday, one participant would receive book. The following Monday it was sent out, giving each artist five days to complete a spread in response to the one that preceded it.” 


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