Rabbi Stan Peerless
Technology has the potential to enhance collaborative learning and the development of learning communities. A variety of online tools allow for students to share ideas, provide feedback to each other, and to work cooperatively on joint projects. It also enables such cooperative work to extend beyond the classroom walls, as students can access their joint projects and can be in asynchronous contact at all times and from almost anywhere. Similarly, students can access learning sources for research at all times and from many locations. In addition, the development of social media makes it possible to extend the learning community beyond the class to embrace outside “More Knowledgeable Others” – whether peers or experts - who can help provide students with necessary information.
For example, students in two different regions can provide each other with information on current climatic conditions. Similarly, in the same situation, students can seek out a meteorologist from the area under study to supply expert information.
It is interesting to note, as well, that research implies that the use of laptops in education inherently fosters collaborative learning. In their evaluation of Microsoft’s Anywhere Learning Project, a significant number of the student and teacher outcomes resulting from the use of laptops identified by Gulek and Demirtas 2005 relate to elements of collaborative learning and the associated changes in teacher and student roles that it fosters. The following is a summary of their results, with elements that are supportive of collaborative learning highlighted:
- Laptops lead to more student writing and to writing of higher quality
- Laptops increase access to information and improve research analysis skills
- Spend more time engaging in collaborative work than non-laptop students
- Participate in more project-based instruction
- Become collaborators (interact with each other about their work)
- Direct their own learning
- Report a greater reliance on active learning strategies
- Readily engage in problem-solving and critical thinking
- Consistently show deeper and more flexible use of technology
- Spend more time doing homework on computers
- Use a more constructivist approach to teaching
- Feel more empowered in the classroom
- Spend less time lecturing
The relationship between use of technology and collaborative learning makes it incumbent on all teachers who wish to foster social learning to familiarize themselves with relevant online learning tools.