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FORUM: Collaborative projects for students

Posted by Tessa Gray

When: 16 May 2016 - 16 Jun 2016

Venue: Enabling e-Learning Teaching group

Fees: FREE

Organiser: Enabling e-Learning

Contact: tessa.gray@core-ed.net and nathaniel.louwrens@core-ed.org

smiley FORUM: Collaboration, what does it look like? May 16 - June 16 Collaboration - Collaboration: Potential processes, products, tools and purpose - between students, between students and home, between schools and globally (Years 1-13).

Come and join us in this forum as some of our community experts share some ideas about global collaborative projects for kids. We'd love to hear/see your examples of how students are using digital technologies to collaborate together - to achieve common goals.

This conversation will take place in the Teaching group.

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  • 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 are 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:

    Description: collaboration-model.png

    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  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.