Learning in teams can bring a number of important skills to students: improved social skills; desirability as employees; and increased ability to recall information and apply it to new situations. Adapting collaborative learning to the computer can be achieved by creating projects that require students to use the “PIGS” skills, as described by D. W. and R.T. Johnson in the Handbook of Research forEducational Communications and Technology, D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), New York: Macmillan. Johnson & Johnson say that collaborative learning should teach students to achieve:
• Positive interdependence: Individuals only achieve their goals only if others in the group reach theirs, too.
• Individual accountability: Students are held accountable for some aspect of the learning.
• Group processing: Individuals in the group consider not only their own performance, but the achievements of their group as a whole.
• Social skills: Teach basic interpersonal skills for group learning. Don’t assume students already understand these.
Goldsworthy suggests that the PIGS process is particularly effective with internet-based programs designed to encourage classroom-to-classroom collaborations. He refers readers to the following collaborative learning sites:
Finding keypals: Rigby Heinemann Keypals (http://www.reedbooks.com.au/heinemann/global/keypalt.html) and ePals (http://www.epals.com) list other classes looking for partners, split into middle school and high school categories.
Choosing project topics: Long-time favorite KIDPROJ (http://www.kidlink.org/KIDPROJ) continually updates its site with new topics and even a calendar to help identify the most timely topics.
Working with mentors: Hewlett-Packard’s Telementor Program (http://www.telementor.org/hp/) matches employees with K-12 students throughout the world. The Electronic Emissary (http://www.tapr.org/emissary) pairs students with subject-matter experts.
Ask the Experts: For science-related issues, try NASA’s Quest project (http://quest.arc.nasa.gov).
Publishing student work on the internet: Students enjoy their projects more when they know the projects will be seen by others. KidPub WWW Publishing (http://www.kidpub.org/kidpub/) offers an easy-to-upload way for your students’ work to reach the world.
The author also outlines a few collaborative strategies to help you get started on collaborative projects. These include Think-Pair-Share, in which pairs of students think about a problem, write down a solution, and share it with their partner before discussing it with the full class; and Role Assignment, in which students are given roles (such as encourager, devil’s advocate, summarizer, instigator, optimist, pessimist, etc.) for discussing topics.