How collaboration tools are changing the classroom

New collaboration tools are making the Charlie Brown classroom a thing of the past. In the cartoon, the teacher would drone on at the students, while they snored in the back of the room.

Now, it’s all about interaction and personalized learning from experts anywhere in the world. “No longer does the remote subject expert have to be talking at them, ‘wa-wa-wa’ and then ask for questions,” said Cisco education advocate, Dr. Lance Ford at a recent ITWC webinar. “It means that, regardless of the device, we have the ability to engage in multiple modalities.”

Collaboration technologies give students the ability to learn anywhere and anytime, said Ford.

A multi-purpose educational tool

At Dr. Howe’s school in a rural town in Oklahoma, collaboration tools are used to help students and teachers connect. This can include teaching, group projects, coaching or even broadcasting basketball games. “It has to be more than a one-trick pony,” said Ford. “Here in Hicksville, we have to engage learners, reach parents, message people and not take 15 different tools to do it.”

For example, when two students were worried about why fish were dying in their classroom tank, they were able to consult an expert via video, work together to draw up solutions on a device and program the sensors needed to monitor the tank. Similarly, a university professor was able to help students in the chemistry lab from his home. “Each student had a chrome book and was doing the math on a white board,” said Ford. “He can see them all at the same time and interject to help as needed.”

During class, the tools allow teachers to easily share materials with students. “You don’t need to upload the content,” said Ford. “Just drag and drop the content and students can get it in real-time and have their own copies for individualized learning.”

Dr. Ford also uses the technology to schedule parent-teacher meetings, or office hours with students either via video calls or in person. “I have unlimited recording, so anytime I meet privately with students, I can record it so it can never turn into a ‘he-said, she said’ situation.

For students, the collaboration tools can be used to access assignments and to work together on projects on a scheduled or ad hoc basis.

Tailored learning for each student

The tools provide a great way to provide customized learning for students who learn quickly or those who struggle. “It’s an opportunity for fast learners to accelerate on their own,” said Ford. “If a student wants to learn Mandarin Chinese, they can. Whatever class you’re interested in, we want you to be able to pursue that as a learner.”

This approach gives teachers more time to work with the students that need extra help, said Ford. As well, classes with difficult lessons can be recorded so that students can go back and watch.

To gain the full benefits from the tool, it has to be able to scale for kindergarten to high school, and be easy to use, said Ford. “The technology has to be transparent. When you’re talking live, it’s not the time to talk technology or be messing around with it.  That’s really the power of it for education.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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