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ISTE NETS*S Part 2: Communication and Collaboration

Puzzle pieces demonstrating the facets of group workMy last article was the first in a series of six about ISTE’s NETS*S (National Educational Technology Standards for Students).  The second standard is “Communication and Collaboration.”

Communication and Collaboration

Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others. Students:

  1. interact, collaborate, and publish with peers, experts, or others employing a variety of digital environments and media.
  2. communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats.
  3. develop cultural understanding and global awareness by engaging with learners of other cultures.
  4. contribute to project teams to produce original works or solve problems.

(excerpted from http://www.iste.org/Content/NavigationMenu/NETS/ForStudents/2007Standards/NETS_for_Students_2007.htm)

Whereas with “Creativity and Innovation,” I was less comfortable reporting with confidence on what schools might be doing to meet that standard, I can safely report that my school is using technology very effectively for Communication and Collaboration.  There are so many tools available – many of them cheap or free – to address this vital set of skills that students MUST have before leaving school.

Collaborative tools like wikis (I use PBworks a lot) and Google Apps enable students to work with partners or in teams at all stages of a project.  Palo Alto High School (here in California) uses Google Docs for its entire student newspaper process.  As I was assembling my ePortfolio (our program’s answer to a Master’s thesis) today, I realized how many different websites I have created over the past year and a half, using almost as many different web creation tools: Weebly, Google Sites, and iWeb with my MobileMe account, just to name a few.

And then there’s YouTube.  Oh, blessed, wonderful YouTube.  That’s right, you heard me.  My school doesn’t block it, and that’s a good thing, since I create videos for my students and post them there.  Sure, there is a lot of utter rubbish on there.  But there are also videos by young people asking for feedback from their peers across the globe.  There are “how to” videos on just about everything.  And then there’s just plain creative genius like the T-Shirt War and the Star Wars A Capella Medley and the most recent (4.0) version of “Did You Know?”  I also love the video by a boy who needs advice on how to correctly start a fire with a bow drill.  All you parents and teachers out there, try to ignore the fact that he uses his bare foot to steady the wood.  I cringed.

And then there are tools like Skype and iChat and AIM and GTalk.  These applications combine audio and video conferencing and, in some cases, screen sharing.  Whether it’s my son reading Green Eggs and Ham to his grandmother and cousin in New Jersey, or your class of fifth graders in another state talking to one of my classes to learn about what life is like in other parts of the country, this is a truly engaging opportunity to open doorways to global learning and, at the very least, opening our students eyes to what we all have in common and not just how we’re different.

But just having our students work in groups with their peers at school is a very valuable experience.  I used to get parents telling me – because they didn’t like one grade on a project for all members of a team – that making kids work in groups was not fair because kids would never have to do this in their future.  Really?  No one has tried that one on me in a while.  But I also avoid some of the consternation parents feel by giving two grades: one for the product (which is the same for all members of a group) and one for the process (which is different for each member of the group and is based on feedback from the students themselves).  Theoretically, the student who works the hardest to make sure the final product is excellent should get the best grade.  But sometimes he or she doesn’t because the other members of the team didn’t like how bossy or mean-spirited that “leader” might have been.

People working together to solve a problemWe teachers used to bemoan how one or two people in a group would do all the work for the “slackers.”  But the more I see students working in groups, the more I see that almost every student has something to contribute and really wants to do well, but just might lack the confidence or assertiveness – or let’s face it, in some cases, just plain bossiness – to see his or her ideas become reality.  I see relief in the eyes of students who know that they will get a chance to shine, and also a chance to tell me who did or did not do their part.  And I build in a mechanism for ratting out the pushy know-it-alls too!

So yes, it’s great to use technology to learn from others, to share ideas across the distance, and to build community of a global nature.  But it’s also great to harness the same technologies to get kids working with the people in the same building.  All it takes is to watch some of what kids are creating and publishing, on YouTube, in Tumblr, and even in their answers to questions on formspring, and you can’t miss the fact that students have a lot to say.  They crave opportunities to create and to communicate.  They prefer working together to working alone.  They just think that school isn’t the place that kind of thing happens.  So let’s be the generation of educators who changes that.

Diane Main is a Google Certified teacher who teaches technology integration in San Jose, California. Visit her blog at FreeTeacherTools.com 

Image “Group work” is from Flickr user sparklefish, some rights reserved, Creative Commons. Image “Group work — Religion and human rights” is from Flickr user Lisavanovitch, some rights reserved, Creative Commons 

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