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Enabling e-Learning forum: Collaborative projects for NZ students

When we think about personalising learning, we often focus on students' needs in a localised context. This may or may not include planning for collaborative ways of working within, between or beyond our own classrooms.

Steven Spielberg collaboration 

In this quote, Steven Spielberg acknowledges his success is built on the ability to collaborate with others.

What can collaboration with students look like?

"Collaboration... involves students working in cooperative learning groups, as tutors and partners in partner learning (e.g., reciprocal teaching), and as co-teachers with their teachers.

Collaboration with students also means involving students as decision makers and problem solvers, as designers of their own learning and being self-determined in planning for their own futures (e.g., student-led IEP and transition planning meetings).

Further, collaboration with students means engaging students as mediators of conflict and controversy and advocates for themselves and others." What can collaboration with students look like?

Collaboration teaches students about the power of peer-to-peer, student-led learning, how to look at their neighbor as a rich resource (How Collaborative Learning Leads to Student Success). If we recognise learning is a social activity, then collaboration between students provides authentic learning opportunities where individuals (and groups) can participate actively in meaningful learning; that promotes inquisitive, creative, problem-solving learning dispositions. For more theory behind constructivism and collaboration see, What can collaboration with students look like? 

Digital possibilities

Access to the Internet, digital technologies and online networks enables students to collaborate beyond their own context; nationally and internationally in unique and constructive ways. Becoming part of collaborative projects online is one way to promote active participation in learning on a global scale. For more see, What are the benefits of online projects? (Rochelle Jensen, 2008)

Global citizens

This dedicated forum is going to explore what student collaboration looks like (online and off); the purpose, the potential and the practicalities that make collaborative projects viable within and beyond the classroom. There are NZ based projects designed to encourage collaboration between schools. We'll be hearing more about these as the forum progresses (May 16 - June 16).

In the meantime, we'd love to hear from you - tell us how your students are collaborating.

When commenting in this forum, you might like to:

  • Tell us your name, your role, your school
  • Acknowledge other people’s comments and reflect/build on these as appropriate
  • Share your ideas, wonderings, resources, collaborative projects

You might also like:

Image source: Pixabay


  • Jan Bolton (View all users posts) 16 May 2016 4:12pm ()

    Kia ora

    Jan Bolton, Leader of Arts Curriculum at Te Kura here.Thanks Tessa for getting us going with some interesting info. I was particularly connected to your point about 'engaging students as mediators of conflict and controversy and advocates for themselves and others'.

    We are currently completing our second major collaborative music video project where everything is collaboratively created and produced by students across the school (which in a distance education setting of course means anywhere in NZ, the world, and at any time). The age range of the students is 4 - 17 and the collaboration occurs almost entirely online. If you haven't already seen it you can check out the first project here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giOs5KKLe2U.

    I have played the role of 'broker' in both projects but the ultimate in a future iteration would be to have a student fulfil that role - hence my interest in your point and how we might nurture that when all the students are at a distance. I am looking forward to engaging with others' various experiences.

  • Rachel Whalley (View all users posts) 26 May 2016 3:15pm ()

    Hi Jan

    Love the work you have done with your collaborative music project. Great to see that it is ongoing smiley

  • Jenny Coyle (View all users posts) 16 May 2016 5:02pm ()

    I'm looking forward to seeing ideas here in this forum, am currently studying modern learning practices with CORE and have lamented the lack of NZ examples (when I know there are so many awesome things happening here in NZ!)

    I teach Year 5-6 and my students collaborate together on creating our Take Two News video clips (sharing school news), and this year we have adapted our inquiry programme to include more opportunities for pupil collaboration on their 'vision projects' (in which they have to come up with a way of sharing what they have learned in a manner that will benefit themselves or others). My term one inquiry (about keeping healthy) was really successful, with different groups creating exercise activity cards, dental hygiene videos, a lunchbox challenge, posters with heatlhy eating tips, a whole-school 'brainy breakfast' and helmet safety posters.

    As for between teacher-pupil collaboration, we usually negotiate the criteria for our writing tasks together. I am just starting on some self-directed learning for maths so that will be interesting too as pupils learn to look at their current knowledge/skills and think about what they will work on for their next learning steps.

    Kia ora!

  • Barbara Reid (View all users posts) 16 May 2016 9:53pm ()

    Kia ora tātou

    I'm Barbara Reid, Learning with Digital Technologies Facilitator with Te Toi Tupu. I have been involved in a few collaborative projects when I was teaching and more recently getting classes learning collaboratively across New Zealand. In my classroom, I set up collaborative projects with other teachers I knew. We had 4 classes all working on the same theme and recording our learning together in an online space. Students were able to talk online to share and ask questions etc. 

    Currently, I organise Quadblogging Aotearoa where four classes take turns to comment on each others blogs. The students learn to write posts for an audience as well as being able to interact with other students through commenting in a respectful and appropriate manner. 

    There are some other collaborative projects going on in NZ at the moment, two reading ones and also KidsechatNZ which is a twitter based forum. Each week there is a focussed discussion on a topic with a series of questions. Students are required to answer the questions succinctly in 140 characters. 

    NZ Readalouds involves groups of classes reading the same book and having discussions in Edmodo. This was started by Kerri Thompson. https://twitter.com/kerriattamatea.  And also Chapter Chat The aim of Chapter Chat is to motivate kids to be active, engaged and connected learners - started by Stephen Baker, https://twitter.com/PalmyTeacher. This is also a twitter based chat. 



  • Juliet Revell (View all users posts) 21 May 2016 7:55am ()

    Atā Marie

    Just thought that I'd add to this discussion with some examples of collaborative projects in my classroom. I am Juliet Revell, a teacher at Mahora School in Hastings. I use my PLN for some collaborative projects, as I have found that when you have a personal connection with the teacher it's easier to be able to touch base as you need to.

    One of the first projects that really impacted my kids was a couple of years ago when we were reading blogs from classrooms around the world. I picked up these classrooms via my twitter PLN. They were classes that were similar in age to my kids, who at the time were Year 2. Kathy Cassidy (Canada) had her kids take us on a tour of their classroom. My kids were fascinated with this, particularly because her kids had lockers and had to change into snow clothes to leave their classroom! We began commenting as a class on their blog, and made our own video of our classroom for them. We were able to Skype them a couple of times after that which enthralled everyone, particularly given of the difference in hemisphere!

    Stephanie Thompson, in her time at Tawa Intermediate re-created picture books such as 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' with her class. These were designed with junior classes in mind, and were an absolute hit with my kids. Kids love teaching kids, and kids love learning from kids, simple.

    We also collaborated with an Auckland class using our class Mascot. 'Marvin' was posted to Auckland and taken on adventures up there. We were able to Skype them while he was there as well. Another recent project was 'The Travel Buddy' blog, set up between Australian and New Zealand schools by Australian educator, Chris Betcher. I am still a bit scared to catch up with him however, because Kev and Koko were last seen at my school, and I definitely posted them forward to someone on the list! Just kidding, I think he's okay about it!

    There are many collaborative projects available now for NZ teachers, and the amount is growing all the time. I was involved with KidsedchatNZ for some time, and found it valuable for my learners on many levels

    Collaboration can be simple, taking place between two classes. While there are many NZ-wide opportunities now, we don't have to participate in those to enable collaboration. Many teachers may prefer to start small, and possibly local, using their personal learning network. Collaboration works well when you are connected as a teacher, and are able to utilise your PLN to foster connections for your kids. Have fun with it!



  • Rachel Whalley (View all users posts) 26 May 2016 4:51pm ()

    Kia ora koutou

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this discussion. It is great to hear of these exciting students collaborative projects and to showcase them and inspire others to get involved. I work with the VLN Primary School and our approach is more of a structured collaboration between schools and teachers and the development and support for learning networks, although it also involves some student collaborative projects as described in other posts. 

    Collaboration between schools is coming to the fore politically though the Communities of Learning (IES) government policy so I have been having lots of discussions with Principals and teachers about working in collaborative communities. 

    There are some key ideas about collaboration that i think are really important & these can scale from the student collaborative project to a Community of Learning:

    • Relationships matter - you need high levels of trust to provide a safe environment
    • You need to have a clear and shared sense of purpose about what you are trying to achieve
    • You need to have your eye on the bigger picture - caring about all of our students, not just the students in your own classroom or school

    Nearly all schools now are on N4L - fast, free, fibre - technically we can work as one across schools - the barriers now are institutional, systemic policy such as distribution of resourcing & in our own mindsets.

    I recently held a workshop with Principals about Collaboration so will share some of their thoughts and my presentation. (There are some more quotes to read within the speakers notes of the presentation).

    If you are interested in reading more about collaborative schools networks would recommend Dr Cherie Taylor-Patel "Networking – Weaving the net; gathering the pearls" Cherie writes on her findings during her travelling scholarship where she explored successful schools networks and collaborations. 


  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 10 Jun 2016 1:12pm ()

    Posted on behalf of Geoff Wood:

    To add to this discussion, I have been asked to share several collaborative activities that we have branded under the banner of the Over the Back Fence Project.

    Last year I presented a Keynote at a symposium at the Raffles Institution in Singapore. The title was “Over the Back Fence is a Service Learning Collaborative”.  I was challenged to demonstrate why the project is collaboration.

    My name is Geoff Wood and I am a teacher/HoD-Health and Life Skills at Rosmini College, Auckland.   On the wall of my classroom are several large signs “Think Globally:  Think Collaboratively”. I am challenged daily to act globally and collaboratively. So when asked if our project is collaboration it was necessary to examine the three words that are often mixed:  “Connecting”, “Cooperating” and “Collaborating”.

    Gregg Carroll, Learning with Digital Technologies Facilitator at Core (2015) lays, in my opinion, a solid foundation, explained clearly in the following diagram:

    collaboration diagram

    The key “ingredient” in collaboration, which Carroll and I agree on, is that all parties cannot benefit without the other being engaged. This is where collaboration gets tricky.

    Our Over the Back Fence Project (See NOTE 1 below) activities require reciprocity of contribution between the parties. On our side of the fence is our students and their teacher planning and meeting weekly to teach or mentor at the agreed upon hour. On the other side of the fence are the other class and their teacher meeting at that time and either sharing or responding.

    Case One: I know that when we make the call at the allotted time, Teacher A has the class sitting in front of the camera and microphone, and they and the teacher devote 10 minutes to help their class participate in the lesson that my students have prepared. The lesson finishes within 10 minutes, with feedback and link to the next weeks meeting.

    Case Two: My students arrive at my classroom and make a joke about whether their class being on-line and we will connect that day.

    As we approach our five-year anniversary for the Over the Back Fence video lesson project we have seen the outcome of where we have failed to approach the “agree upon” activity as consequence of lacking collaboration. We have failed to achieve those benefits we seek:

    • Increase audience knowledge and skills
    • Encourage student to student interaction
    • Team building
    • Interacting with older students in a positive giving environment
    • Encouraging global community

    So is the Over the Back Fence service-learning project collaboration?  I can suggest that most of the time it is more than a connection and/or cooperation.

    Activities such as Mystery Skype are connecting: they are generally short-term.

    Activities where the students are working together on group projects can be collaborative, but in our case that follows demonstrates that the planned collaboration reduced to cooperation, where the remaining students are managing without the other students who join their group activity.

    Attempting to link six hundred students, possible up to eight hundred 12-13 year olds across fourteen countries was always seen as ambitious as February 2016 approached. The Our Environment: Our Health 2016 (See NOTE 2 below) had the makings of a super collaboration, i.e., groups of up to 10 students spread across different classrooms working to identify and action a solution.

    The lessons learned from this case I share here, still evolving mind you, are a good reminder to all teachers that the definition of collaboration to one teacher may be different to another, that is “students and/or teachers/leaders share and organise their “activities” in ways that mean you couldn’t split the ways of working together back into its parts again (Carroll, 2015).

    The ambitious or optimistic belief that 28-30 teachers could work together has not been short-lived, because I believe we can work together, however the “rules” needed to be agreed upon.  One colleague approached the new project with great enthusiasm, bringing experience… but found his or her own colleagues lacked vision and possessed the fear of stepping outside their comfort zone.  Colleague two expressed, just today as I post this piece, that she/he would try this new approach without commitment—but added she/he and colleagues, now understanding their need to be committed to collaboration, but definitely sees positive outcomes for the students. They are committed for the next time around.

    It is understood that collaboration, especially in the on-line environment does bring out all the barriers that can be thrown our way – a storm destroying a school building and connection, students struggling to even get on-line because the school adopts a new platform, teacher schedules changes, among the many. We learned that, although thought anticipated, collaboration across school-holiday-examination schedules, time zones, borders, cultures and languages suggest it will not be smooth sailing… but they are all good lessons learned.

    The Our Environment: Our Health 2016 will run it’s full course, at least for the southern hemisphere schools, ending up taking 8 to 10 weeks longer than planned, and hopefully the students will have learned more about how their health and the link to how we treat the environment. It is also our hope that they will learn about their group members, cultures and what collaboration means.  I know my own students are coming around to seeing the benefits of collaboration first hand.


    NOTE 1. The Over the Back Fence Project is a service-learning project where senior students at Rosmini College teach weekly lessons to classrooms by SKYPE. There are currently 22 classrooms in New Zealand and 9 classrooms overseas collaborating involving approximately 1,000 students.

    NOTE 2. The Our Environment: Our Health 2016 project has joined 200 Kiwi students  (4 schools) within 68 working groups, with another 300 students from schools in Australia, South Korea, USA (3 schools), Finland, Cook Islands, Bangladesh and India (2 schools). Seven schools were unable to get to register their students into the working groups.  Not all registered students have contributed to their group’s project work.  

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