More than ever, how we play, learn and work involves working with others to engage in meaningful productive activity. Collaboration enables us to share resources, ideas and perspectives, build consensus and achieve shared goals. As such it can increase the success of teams as they engage in collaborative problem solving. Collaboration also allows us to leverage new relationships by taking advantage of the capabilities and skill sets unique to each individual.

The wide array of apps and online tools that enable collaboration blur the distinction between face to face, blended and online contexts of collaboration. Despite the many benefits of collaboration, many struggle to ensure successful collaborations. As teachers we need to master the:

  • Mindsets and behaviours for collaboration,
  • Fluencies required to engage in and sustain collaboration.
  • Subtle but important differences between face to face, blended and online contexts of collaboration.
  • Apps, online tools and workflows that support collaboration

Mindsets and behaviour for collaboration

  • Share a common goal or purpose
  • Communicate easily with common vocabulary
  • Have mutual   ownership
  • Have something at risk or something to lose
  • Build familiarity
  • Let go and don’t take things personally
  • Listen deeply
  • Adapt quickly: accept reality and do what needs to be done
  • Give and take control

The identified mindsets and behaviour are essential for both informal and formal types of collaboration. For more formal types of collaboration an understanding of the skills and action surrounding collaborative fluency is beneficial to success.

Collaborative fluency

Crockett, Jukes and Churches (2013) in their seminal work ‘21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age’ identified what they defined as the 5 Es of Collaboration fluency. The 5 Es provide a useful framework for the phases of collaboration.  Teasing out each Fluency highlights the requisite skills that individuals should possess to easily transform their intent into action.  The 5 Es are:

  • Establish the collective, and determine the best role for each team member by pinpointing each team member’s personal strengths and expertise, establishing norms, and the signing of a group contract that indicates both a collective working agreement and an acceptance of the individual responsibilities and accountability of each team member.
  • Envision the outcome, examining the issue, challenge, and goal as a group.
  • Engineer a workable plan to achieve the goal.
  • Execute by putting the plan into action and managing the process.
  • Examine the process and the end result for areas of constructive improvement.

Selecting collaborative tools

Selecting a set of tools appropriate to your needs depends greatly upon aligning the:

  • Context and purpose of the collaboration,
  • Capability of the tool,
  • Intuitive design of the tools to ensure it is easy to use, regardless of the users’ experience or knowledge,
  • Flexibility of the tool to enable a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
  • Capacity to work across a range of devices.

NB: All digital tools experience connectivity problems from time to time, therefore you always need a Plan B if your use of a tool is time sensitive, such as a meeting or classroom lesson.

A.      Supporting the use of collaborative tools

The successful use of any new set of tools is also connected to some form of support system. Support can involve:

  • technical or trouble shooting advice and / or
  • connection to a learning community focused on the better use of the tool.

Just as the tools of collaboration are changing, so too is the nature of support. It is important not to confuse centrally managed or central permission to use a tool with a centrally delivered support system. This is because most commercially available collaborative tools provide their own technical support systems and connection to a learning community.

B.     Questions to ask when selecting a collaborative tool

Does the collaborative tool:

  • Have the features you want for the required task/s?
  • Allow authentication using your Department Portal ID?
  • Securely manage login and account user information?
  • Integrate with other collaborative tools?
  • Work across a range of devices and platforms? (eg:PC/Mac laptops, iOS and Google mobile devices)
  • Connect to a support system?
  • Include a specific area or version for use by students
Tool Audience Notes
Video conferencing StudentsStaff –    Video conferencing system-    Integral component of the Interactive Classroom projects well as the Connection (Virtual Excursions) project.-    Collaborate via dedicated VC units or via mobile apps when external to DEC network.
Adobe Connect StudentsStaff –    Web conferencing platform for web meetings, eLearning, and webinars-    Collaborate via browser or mobile apps
Bridgit StudentsStaff –    Desktop sharing and IWB collaboration-    Collaborate via desktop and mobile apps
Yammer Staff –    Allows for public and private groups-    Integrates closely with Office 365-    Collaborate via browser or mobile apps
Office 365 StudentsStaff –    Online productivity suite enables shared creation / editing of documents.-    Integrates closely with Yammer (staff only)-    Collaborate via browser or mobile apps
Google Docs StudentsStaff –    Online productivity suite enables shared creation / editing of documents.-    Collaborate via browser or mobile apps
Share.schools Staff –    Digital repository powered by Equella.-    Publicly searchable-    Appropriate for teacher created-    Collaborate via browser
Scootle Staff –    Digital repository powered by Equella.-    Publicly searchable-    Appropriate for centrally developed and / or approved quality assured resources-    Collaborate via browser

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