Lately, technology additions in classrooms have focused on providing each student with his or her own laptop; for many schools, it’s become the new normal to issue every student a Chromebook. This has been a great step forward in advancing how students learn, with more interactive content on Google Classroom, video materials, and document sharing.
At the same time, the screen-focused atmosphere has stunted the growth of small-group collaboration in classrooms. Students are now heads-down at their own devices, instead of collaborating with their peers. Devices have allowed classroom technology to move forward, but to foster teamwork and collaboration, the integration of technology in education still needs to progress.
Technology must help students be more productive in the classroom, not only individually, but also with their peers and their teacher. Laptops alone cannot meet this need, which can have an impact on students’ development. According to SAGE Journals, “Policymakers and researchers see small-group work as a way to improve attitudes toward school, foster achievement, develop thinking skills, and promote interpersonal and intergroup relations.”
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The benefits of collaboration
Group collaboration is paramount for a student’s personal and academic development, as well as helping to prepare them for the workplace. Small-group communication skills are a requisite for any business endeavor; that’s why researchers are arguing that schools should promote these skills as early as possible. But group interaction is difficult to teach in a classroom environment centered around a network of individualized devices. In such a situation, where is the discussion, relationship building, or brainstorming?
Some educators have made their classrooms more collaborative by taking advantage of easily accessible online tools. For example, Google Classroom, which promotes digital collaboration, has rapidly become a must-have tool for many teachers. Used with Google Drive, this online tool lets students and teachers easily save, share, and edit common files for distributing and collecting assignments and feedback.
Teachers are also turning their classes into collaborative spaces by encouraging students to share their writing through blogging. These online tools have indeed enriched the classroom and helped bring technology into daily practices of students and teachers, but the digital collaboration isn’t enough. During all of this online file-sharing, students are still heads-down, staring at their own devices, not engaging in organic conversation and idea exchange.
To satisfy the need for a collaborative technology that truly engages and stimulates, some schools have adopted interactive digital whiteboards to bridge the gap between engaging online content and in-class discussion and interaction. With an interactive whiteboard, teachers can ask students to share their work with the whole class or gather students for quick brainstorming sessions, games, and other activities that leverage both online content and group interaction.
Or, teachers can host a timed activity session in which students write, read, create, or research on their individual device. Then, teachers can have them cast what they’ve done onto the whiteboard at the front of the room for the other students to comment on, learn from, or even annotate. This would facilitate the kind of collaboration we have in the workplace and get students used to presenting their work and receiving face-to-face feedback, rather than just looking at notes or suggestions from another user in a Google document.
An essential digital-whiteboard feature is the ability to easily share content on the big screen from any device, including mobile phones, tablets, or laptops. If the casting feature is clunky or difficult to set up, it wastes class time, impedes creativity, and discourages usage. The InFocus JTouch, for example, allows users to present from their iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and Chrome devices. The device runs its own operating system, allowing teachers to run common classroom applications directly on the board. Two-way sharing is another consideration, which allows teachers to send the work that was annotated on the board back to the student, so they can use it as they continue working.
Why collaboration matters
The goal is not to get students to stop using their individual devices; they’re productive and crucial to pedagogy. Rather, the goal is to create a broader, more collective network in the classroom so that students are not exclusively confined to their individual screens. The interactive digital whiteboard is a bridge that can bring students’ focus up to the center of the classroom—and to each other—where they can share with, listen to, and learn from one another.
Technology in the classroom should be used to advance students’ development and learning. Providing each student with his or her own device has been a great advance in making classrooms more relevant. Using these devices as building blocks for group collaboration is the next step. Schools should not adopt technology at the expense of productive student interaction. Instead, to truly benefit the student, they must turn their attention to collaborative technology.