An alliance of edtech: collaboration in the classroom

Keri Beckingham explores how technology is enabling more collaboration in the classroom, and how staff can work alongside edtech to create an efficient and effective learning experience

There’s no denying that edtech is transforming the classrooms of today and improving the learning experiences of students across the country; but how can tech and staff work together to ensure effective collaboration?

Why collaboration is important in the classroom

Karel Buijsse is senior product manager, Learning Experience at Barco Education, designers of solutions specifically for the educational market to enhance teaching and learning experiences within and beyond the classroom. He believes that collaborative learning enhances elements which improve learner outcomes, and said: “In other words, it is a method of group instruction aiming to be as effective as one-to-one tutoring.”

Andrew Kim is a manager in Steelcase Education’s WorkSpace Futures group, providers of furniture solutions for educational institutions. He thinks that as most work today is collaborative in nature, it is important for education providers to properly prepare students for their future careers, especially as today’s workplace-related problems are more complex in nature. He said: “With the further integration of technology into our work processes, the nature of work is becoming less transaction oriented and higher cognitive oriented, which lends itself to collaboration.”

In addition, Carmen Miles, director of academic professional development at Arden University, thinks that if students are collaborating, conversing confidently, and able to articulate key concepts, then teachers have got it right. She added: “Through collaboration, ‘sense-marking’ is central to learning and part of the social constructivist theory which forms the basis of collaborative learning.”

The use of tech in the classroom

As today’s students have grown up in an ever-changing technological landscape, the use of technology as part of their everyday lives is second nature. And in the classroom, tech can also provide a range of benefits for their learning and development, including maximising the impact of teacher-student and student-student interaction.

Whether students are attending lectures, doing group work in a classroom or joining a virtual classroom session from home, tech is leading the way. However, it does require educational establishments to be open to change and adapt their teaching styles as a result.

As Buijsse explained: “Students instinctively feel at ease using technology and it is in the human nature to learn. They learn readily from each other and that is a key outcome of working together. Technology is there to facilitate that.”

“Collaborative learning requires changing traditional teaching methods and adapting content, which is a big task for many teachers. It is therefore important to focus as much on the change management aspects of the institute’s faculty as well as on the technology aspect.”

Teaching students to collaborate

Although technology has the power to facilitate good working relationships, in order to collaborate together effectively, it’s important that education providers teach their students the skills they need in order to avoid any group conflicts. With this in mind, Kim said: “While the design of the software or hardware can help to encourage collaboration, it’s key for teachers to create assignments with true collaboration in mind or to teach collaboration itself.”

Taking this idea further, Miles also believes that it’s important for teaching staff to play an active role in changing students’ behaviour, and develop techniques to encourage their collaboration. She added: “Consider a reason for using the technology. Students need to value its use, as scepticism can arise if the task could be completed easily without it.”

While the design of the software or hardware can help to encourage collaboration, it’s key for teachers to create assignments with true collaboration in mind or to teach collaboration itself.
– Andrew Kim, Steelcase Education

Furthermore, Miles suggests that it’s important for staff and students to work together when adopting tech for classroom collaboration, as a change in teaching approach and the introduction of technology could result in too much change at once. “This doesn’t mean you have to be perfect, as it works well when viewed as a shared experience, where success or failure owned by both the teacher and the student can be learnt from,” she continued.

Preparing students for the world of work

One of the most important requirements of education is to prepare students for the world of work, but what role does collaboration play in this?

At Barco, their weConnect solution adapts to many different learning styles, and enables discussion between students as they work together to solve a task or problem, a scenario that they are likely to encounter in the workplace. Explaining the benefits further,  Buijsse said: “Collaboration allows students to practise important skills which are considered key, according to the Future Jobs Report 2020 by the World Economic Forum.”

“It promotes complex problem-solving and critical thinking, next to improving creativity and people management. These are aspects considered to be essential for the modern knowledge worker.”

In addition, Miles believes that enabling students to develop softer skills is a driver of good teaching. “It forms the argument for student-centred learning, as skills of discussion, negotiation, group work, and communication are vital for future employability”, she said.

Looking ahead to Education 4.0

According to our experts, what role will collaborative learning play in the future of education?

As education providers shift their teaching methods towards students being guided by teachers and having less rigid lesson plans, Buijsse believes that collaborative learning will continue to lead the way for this conversion process. He said: “Applying the received knowledge and expanding on that will still happen in groups, coached by a knowledge domain expert. This is the basis of collaborative learning which will become common in Education 4.0.”

In addition, Kim thinks that as all learning experiences start with pedagogy, moving forward it will be important to ensure that technology and physical spaces support the pedagogical goals that an education provider has. He added: “An effective learning experience is one that keeps in mind pedagogy, physical space and technology.”

Furthermore, Miles believes that collaboration will continue to enable networking opportunities both within and outside of the classroom, in order to bring different experiences and contexts into a student’s learning experience, as well as create shared resources and content.

She added: “Digital skills will enable communication and collaboration using different formats, especially using mobile devices, and closer links to a student’s preferred ‘sector’ will be developed through authenticated, personalised learning experiences.”