Collaborative Technologies for Enhanced Teaching
June 2008

Collaborative Technologies for Enhanced Teaching

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ICT can improve the quality of teaching, learning and management in schools and so help raise standards. When the quality teaching and learning is done creatively and collaboratively, it works wonder for the education community in terms of their capacity building. That’s why ICT is at the heart of the UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) commitment to improving learning for all through innovation, research, and collaboration. The school strand of the UKIERI was launched to contribute significantly  to the UKIERI’s aim of creating a life-long relationship between  young people in UK and India and  to assist them in meeting their need to live and operate in a global economy.

Moving forward with this aim, an ICT in education workshop was organised by the UKIERI programme from 17-19 April 2008 at British Council, New Delhi which encouraged teachers to use creative collaborative technologies for enhanced teaching and learning experiences. It was facilitated by Ewan McIntosh of Optima, Baldev Singh of Imagine Education. Kanta Vadehra, Head School Programmes, and Rittika Chandra Parruck, Manager School Programmes, British Council, Delhi were also facilitating the ICT and education workshop. The three day workshop at British Council was attended by a total of 54 Indian and UK participants.

Till date the UKIERI programme has brought together 245 schools in India and UK who are working together on mutually agreed collaborative projects in subject areas such as Environmental Sciences, Sports, Languages, Entrepreneurship, etc. The UKIERI cluster school partnership is supported by the Leadership and ICT Components of the programme that allow schools participating in the programme to evolve strategically and make best use of the opportunities  through harnessing appropriate technology and tools for education.

The ICT workshop introduced the concept of using ICT based tools to enhance collaborative technology and encourages participants to tap the creative talents of their students through use of digital video dairies, blogging and podcasting. The participants also learned and planned a strategy for using ICT to collaborate effectively, during the workshop.

The teacher representatives from various schools of UK and India have the opinion that the techniques learnt will empower them to allow their students to explore their subject areas innovatively and express themselves effectively and strengthen bonds with their partner schools in both countries. Digital Learning further captures the views and experiences of Ewan McIntosh, the ICT Consultant of British Council, who is also the National Adviser, Learning and Technology Futures, Learning and Teaching Scotland.

Emerging Pedagogies Impact Emerging Technologies

Ewan McIntish (ewan@ewanmcintosh.com), The Optima, ICT Consultant, British Council, Scotland

It’s been about five years since I heard anyone ask whether or not technology should be part of learning. The simple truth is that technology permeates every part of our lives, no matter how ‘unconnected’ we might feel. Whether through the pervasive mobile phone, particularly in India, or through high-speed broadband, technology such as search and Wikipedia has made knowledge a commodity, and social networks have made connecting with others around the world a routine. The role of formal education is arguably in showing how one gains wisdom from the combination of these people and this knowledge.

It has its challenges: old pedagogies (chalk and talk, sage on the stage) simply don’t work any more, particularly when these technologies are brought into the classroom, but even when they are banned, blocked or filtered: young people’s expectations are reaching well beyond what teacher-centric classrooms were ever able to offer.

New collaborative technologies do not simply involve one or two children at a time, while the rest stare on in envy (the oxymoron of average Interactive Whiteboard use).

Web-based collaboration allows us to work over longer periods of time (another change-maker from the 50-minute lesson secondary teachers are used to) to achieve more complex outcomes.

We can share photographs in a click, make photostories with audio backing, picking up on the sights, sounds and soul of a place. We’ve not quite got internet smell yet. With a tool like Animoto.com, students can create MTV-like music videos containing photographs of their place of work or their home. For a 12 year-old this is more along the lines of their expectations than a two-dimensional PowerPoint and awkward oral presentation in front of their friends.

The ease with which material can be exchanged, from class to class, rather than student to student, reinforces teamwork and the frequency with which communication can take place. It also opens up the door to more effective pedagogy. Traditionally, teachers could be seen passing the veto on any work that was not fit to be placed in the envelope or class email for the partner school. However, frequent exchange of material, especially when it’s not yet the finished product, allows students to peer-assess their work, influence the final outcome to make it better. Because these multimedia products have become so easy to edit, remix and republish, it’s not a big deal any more to tweak and add to previous work. Moreover, students on two continents can work together, at the same time on the same text, video or project display.

One of the key learning points in the recent UKIERI workshops was that sharing ideas and outcomes on the UKIERI website will help spawn future projects. It’s hard for many teachers to see this until they do it, and see it happen, but the very act of sharing projects on the World Wide Web means that someone, somewhere will find it and be keen to expand on those ideas, or kick off a new project

In April, I was fortunate to work with about 90 British and Indian teachers in Delhi, helping them discover the kind of collaborative tools that allow impressive digital products to be made in, literally, minutes. The workshops were arranged as part of the British Council’s UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI). What we saw there were teachers who had often never met, getting to know each other over a collaborative task, and seeing concerns about their goals, potential outcomes and the crowded curriculum back home simply evaporate throughout the course of making photostories, videos, planning mindmaps and uploading content to the net to share with the folk back home. The teachers, for once, felt like their students will: they forgot they were learning, but had never learnt so much in such a short time.

Learning how to use the latest collaboration and creative tools that are out there, for free or for a few dollars, is in itself not difficult. The software designers have done their job in making tools easy to access. The real skills are in getting to know people in your education community and in the wider global education community. One of the key learning points in the recent UKIERI workshops was that sharing ideas and outcomes on the UKIERI website will help spawn future projects. It’s hard for many
teachers to see this until they do it, and see it happen, but the very act of sharing projects on the World Wide Web means that someone, somewhere will find it and be keen to expand on those ideas, or kick off a new project.

Anyone can set up a weblog for free on the web (try http://edublogs.org) and, with one familiar face as an online learning buddy and critical friend, a learning community is spawned. Before you know it you’ll have a small audience of colleagues, learning from your experiences. I started mine three years ago. I now have around one million people a year finding stuff out from my learning log.

Teachers generally have no problem taking on this learning journey – it’s refreshing, motivating and the feedback from students and parents makes the extra initial effort worthwhile. Convincing school managers and education districts to change their ways requires more of a groundswell movement. Again, teachers in Scotland, my home country, have found that their blog posts and face-to-face “blog meets” in cities around the country have started to effect change in the curriculum. They have found that the technologies they have pioneered are now the perfect vehicles for opening up the curriculum and breaking down the subject barriers that pervade the secondary sector.

Take the art teacher who, since his UKIERI visit, has started a learning log (http://zhoeben.edublogs.org/), attended an “unconference” of teachers wanting to effect change through technology (http://tinyurl.com/2oes6l) and has got his students creating their own television channel online to share their work with a partner school in Delhi (http://fortismere.blip.tv/)

Some of the projects that have been created in the past few months illustrate this. Take the art teacher who, since his UKIERI visit, has started a learning log (http://zhoeben.edublogs.org/), attended an “unconference” of teachers wanting to effect change through technology (http://tinyurl.com/2oes6l) and has got his students creating their own television channel online to share their work with a partner school in Delhi (http://fortismere.blip.tv/). It’s all for free. He’s also started using a photo-sharing website, which he previously used as an online gallery for his students’ artwork, as a collaborative project with his partner school (http://tinyurl.com/65g63x).

You don’t need to be part of an organised scheme like UKIERI to make a start with your international collaborative project. Just this
month, a colleague in Glasgow, Scotland, has struck up a short-term poetry project with a school in the USA. On The Street Where You Live (http://tinyurl.com/6rcbcx) involves two schools’ students writing poetry that describes the street on which they live, and publishing it to one collaborative blog. While the project is between two schools, there is nothing to stop similar projects beginning on a simple blog (edublogs.org) or, if you’re stuck for finding a partner, you could always join in an existing project like On The Street Where You Live.

The impact of emerging technologies is not in the motivation that they appear to create in students (which can wear off in time) or in an inherent educational goal of the product (normally, the tools being used are not designed for education). The impact from emerging technologies comes from the emerging pedagogies that they enable and encourage. Peer-assessment, student-led learning is hard to do without the flexibility and potential for out-of-hours learning that web and mobile-based technologies allow. So, while teachers often ask for research to show the impact of these technologies, they are probably looking in the wrong place. The impact will come from the pedagogies employed by the best education systems in the world, with some of the highest attainment and, most important, highest enjoyment in learning.

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