Experts: Collaboration tools hold big promise for education

“Any tool or resource that we make available to people is going to be as valuable and effective as its use,” said Janet Kolodner, a program officer in the National Science Foundation’s Information and Intelligent Systems division. “We’re going to have to do a really good job of designing experiences for learners so that they can learn using those different tools.”

A resource’s effectiveness, and what students learn from it, depend on many things, including students’ curiosity, their self-motivation, what goals students have as they enter into the activity, their imagination, the help they receive in using it effectively and how they obtain that help, and the follow-up they receive after using the resource, Kolodner said.

Collaboration with peers, experts, and mentors opens up a variety of new learning opportunities, “but it depends on how it is used,” she noted.

Students must have the disposition to use social media effectively, and someone should model that proper use so that students have an example. Students and teachers also need the right interfaces, and helping educators to prepare lessons that incorporate the technologies is important, because teachers do not necessarily have the time to identify and create these new experiences from scratch.

As an online provider, the Florida Virtual School (FLVS) uses social media in a variety of ways, said Holly Sagues, the school’s chief policy officer.

“Students want a very close relationship with their teachers, so the more communication [methods], the better,” Sagues said. “Building that relationship is one of the key components to a successful online virtual program with K-12 students.”

Sagues said that students have used resources including web conferencing, internet forums, and YouTube to communicate and work on class assignments, and they also are beginning to engage in a series of mobile apps that FLVS recently developed.

FLVS launched two full-course games—one in American history and one in intensive reading—a few years ago and saw great results, Sagues said. But that technology is now aging, and Sagues said the school is focusing on shorter games to engage students. FLVS also is developing more mobile learning, gaming, and test-prep apps for its students.

Policy has a broad impact on how teachers and students use social media, and the school is fine-tuning its social media policy.

“It is not to restrict social media, but [covers] how to use it intelligently with our students and with other folks on our staff,” Sagues said.

FLVS also is developing a social media course, whose aim will be to “teach students the proper ways to use social media,” she added.

“Incorporating technology into K-12 instruction is critical,” said Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, assistant to the president for educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers. “Quality teaching and learning has to drive decision-making.”

But differentiating and personalizing instruction can prove a big challenge for teachers, especially if they do not have the proper support to use technology to enhance instruction.

Laura Ascione

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