Making Distance Collaboration Work

Video Conference with CALWe hear often today that we need to be collaborating with others outside of our classrooms. It isn’t enough that we only talk within our own schools and districts. We should be talking with other educators and students outside of our schools, but what does that really mean? Until recently I really didn’t know what it meant, even though I believed we should be engaging in those kinds of activities. So I thought I’d briefly describe my recent experiences facilitating collaboration between UNI students and CAL elementary students.

What we are doing here at UNI is connecting with rural schools and one of them is the CAL school district. One of our courses takes all of the UNI students out to CAL towards the end of the semester for a full day of the arts. Leading up to that culminating event are a number of smaller events and one of them is a video conference between CAL and UNI. We are doing that today in fact and my biggest take away is ensuring that we make every moment a learning experience, both for the CAL students, but also the UNI students.

For CAL students, they are excited to learn more about who the UNI students are: What’s your favorite color, do you have any pets, what’s your favorite thing to do outside? These are just a few among a host of questions the CAL students have had. For the UNI student, their learning surrounds becoming a teacher. What questions should we ask? What do we do if they don’t say anything? How do you relate to students on their grade level? What do I do if I freeze up and don’t know what to say? These are just a few of the things we talked about here at UNI between groups.

As I look at the learning that’s taking place for students at both ends, I can see truly see the value of collaboration, especially with those outside the school. Which brings me to my point. If we are really going to take advantage of collaboration and not simply collaborate in name only, we really need to be deliberate about what the students are learning when they collaborate. It isn’t enough to open Skype, the Polycom, or Google Hangout. There has to be substance to what the students are doing. It sounds so simple, but even today it took us a minute to really discover where we needed to target our learning for the day.

What I’m trying to say then is that collaboration is only as good as you make it…so make it good. It truly makes a difference.

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