Promoting Collaboration Through Technology

Maudi McKell Sundrud
Sydney Boyer
Jennifer J. Wimmer

Each day teachers seek to create literacy spaces and opportunities for students to learn content. Traditionally, classroom learning has focused on the reading and writing of printed text. However, as our society has become increasingly advanced due to information and communication technologies, a reliance on print-based literacies is no longer sufficient. New technologies, such as interactive whiteboards, laptop computers, e-readers, and tablets, provide teachers with opportunities to rethink their curriculum and to reimagine teaching and learning in the 21st century.

Teachers may feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of technologies available and as a result, it is often used as a hook to motivate students or as an add-on to traditional methods. Instead of using technologies to merely catch students' attention, we hope that teachers will ask, "What does this technology make possible that once was not?" While there are numerous technologies available, in the sections below we highlight three various technologies that position students as active participants in consuming and producing information. It is not surprising that these technologies promote collaboration between the teacher and students, but more importantly, these technologies afford opportunities for students to collaborate with one another.

Green Screen by Do Ink ($2.99)

The Green Screen app allows users to upload videos and images to create a personalized movie. This app is surprising in it's ease of use and practical application. While this app must be purchased, it is a small price to pay for the amount of customization a user can add to each video. For example, a student in the Midwest can upload pictures and images of the Eiffel Tower and the city of Paris and then create a movie that looks like they are actually in France. Green Screen also comes with a variety of images and effects that can be included, which perform on a similar level as clipart and transition animation in PowerPoint presentations.

This green screen app provides a multitude of ways to integrate literacy instruction. Students are focusing on foundational literacies such as speaking, listening, reading, and writing. A simple task may be to have students acting as reporters and explaining a key moment in history, or interviewing an historical person. The students would need to go through the process of selecting key images, writing questions, and creating a video. This type of multimodal project integrates many of the important literacies classroom teachers teach such as main idea, summarization, and voice. Other ideas might include reporting on the weather, performing a scientific experiment or process, or acting out a story. This app encourages creativity and the development of multiple literacies.

Ozobot 2.0 by Ozbot ($54.99)

Ozbots are golf-ball sized robots that run on hand-drawn tracks. These robots introduce students to coding—allowing them to experiment, create, and play. Additionally, students learn that special color sequences can be added to the lines to signal the Ozobot to do a variety of actions, such as spinning, changing direction or speed, and jumping. Students are able to practice differing ways of drawing these codes into their tracks to have the best response from the Ozbot. The Ozobot comes with an app, which can be downloaded on a tablet that leads the user through different challenges and tasks. There is an additional app that creates choreographed dances for the Ozobots. Both of these apps have a sharing feature so students can share their tracks and dances with their peers.

There are valuable literacies learned when using the Ozbot, particularly in regards to speaking and listening. Because Ozobots focus on learning sequencing and being specific in coding or describing what the student wants it to do, it is essential that students develop strong communication skills. By using important communication skills, including focusing on key, descriptive details, explaining their ideas and opinions clearly and respectfully, and practicing effective techniques, students are able to practice these in conjunction with technological skills. Furthermore, teachers have found that when students are allowed to collaborate when using the Ozbot, they are better able to create the code sequences and complete their challenges.

AirServer ($11.99)

The AirServer is a screen mirroring software that can be downloaded onto Macs or PCs and used by both iOS and Android platforms. The AirServer projects the screen from a phone or tablet onto a computer, which when connected to a projector, displays the screen for all to see. Although a simple concept, this software is invaluable in the classroom. This technology is the most cost-friendly and useful of it's kind because the uses are broad and flexible. For example, teachers are able to use AirServer to increase mobility, mirror external devices, and create helpful desktop/device tutorials. No longer do teachers need to be stuck to a board or computer. Using a device such as a tablet, teachers are able to walk around the room while still projecting and navigating what is shown at the front of the classroom. Additionally, there are simple tools on the software that allow teachers to create videos as they navigate their devices (e.g. tutorial for using a certain app, getting started on a project, etc.).

In regards to literacy, the AirServer provides the unique opportunity for students to explore a variety of texts side by side. Multiple devices can be connected at once to display each device's current screen. This includes all features found on a specific device such as the camera, photos, video, documents, apps, etc. Students are able to display their products created on devices simply and effectively. This type of technology allows for students to display texts through a variety of modes, including images, video, printed text, and audio. Multiple modes of text allow students access to content, regardless of their print-based literacies; thus, inviting all students to participate in learning.

While teachers are still tasked with teaching traditional print-based literacies, there is also concern that these literacies are not enough if students are to thrive in a society that is increasingly technologically driven. It is our hope that teachers will draw upon students' knowledge of technology and extend their learning through meaningful experiences. We believe that as teachers purposefully integrate technology in the curriculum, students will be provided with opportunities to think, question, and collaborate. In other words, they will become active participants in the classroom as creators and producers of knowledge.

Maudi McKell Sundrud is a senior at Brigham Young University, studying Elementary Education. She has been researching technology integration for the last 3 years.

Sydney Boyer will graduate from Brigham Young University in Elementary Education. She has spent the last 3 years researching technology integration.

Jennifer Wimmer is an associate professor of teacher education at Brigham Young University. Her research centers on the intersection of disciplinary literacies, new literacies, and teacher professional development in elementary and middle school classrooms.