Experts: Collaboration tools hold big promise for education

An expert panel said social networking can help boost student engagement.

Social networking and educational gaming ignite spirited debates regarding their practicality in the classroom: Some educators say those technologies can engage students in new ways, while others question their actual effectiveness.

How Blogs, Social Media, and Video Games Improve Education,” a new paper from Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, seeks to examine how collaboration tools can improve teaching and learning, and it identifies some of the key challenges that such tools must overcome.

At an April 24 Brookings Institution forum, a panel of experts discussed the impact that collaboration tools can have on education and key aspects of integrating collaborative technologies into curriculum.

Educators in classrooms across the nation are experimenting with social networking to see how it might expand curriculum and encourage collaboration, West said.

“We need to identify the ways to make the most effective use of technology—what students, teachers, and administrators can do to harness the power of social networking to improve educational outcomes,” he said.

There exists much interest around video games as a means of teaching and learning for a variety of reasons, but mainly because games offer students of all ages simulated worlds and designed experiences through which they can move and communicate with one another, said Constance Steinkuehler Squire, senior policy analyst in the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Obama administration.

“Games give you this ability for design and experience … and the data that you can get from a student interacting with a game is compelling,” Squire said.

Video games help learners share roles—one student playing a video game could teach his or her peer, who is playing the same game, important facts or skills. The next time those same two students play a game together, they could act out a different scenario, and the student who was previously the “teacher” could become the learner.

While video games are certainly engaging—part of the reason for their broad market penetration—using them in classrooms presents a bigger challenge, because classrooms are not necessarily set up to embrace video gaming, partly because video games touch some domains not necessarily identified in formal education settings, such as team leadership and civic engagement.

“Games are not always easy to fit into your standard curriculum,” Squire explained.

Laura Ascione

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