Using collaboration in the classroom is now more important than ever before. Over the course of the past three-hundred years in America, education has evolved. Some would say that it has not evolved quickly enough, however. Education cannot seem to keep pace with our constantly-shifting society. Now, because of the massive changes that we have seen over the past twenty years due to technological innovations, education seems to be farther behind than ever. Yet, many educators are taking great strides to remedy this gap between the modern world and traditional education. In my opinion, fostering meaningful collaboration in our classrooms should be our first aim.
Outside of school, students are connected to one another almost constantly through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, Flickr, online video games, and hundreds of other social networking sites and applications. Anything that these students want to say or show is broadcast almost instantaneously to these communities, members of which have the option of responding. For today’s students, this has become commonplace, not something to be amazed or totally baffled by, which—because of my placement on the edge of the digital immigrant and digital native generations—I see as a completely legitimate reaction.
But it’s not just students who are becoming dependent on social media. Many adults are joining the social networking communities as well. Employers and employees are relying more and more on such technologies for communication and collaboration within and outside of the workplace. As we move deeper into the twenty-first century, today’s students will certainly need to have experience using digital media, especially social media and collaborative technologies, in order to succeed in their chosen fields.
Because of the changing nature of our society, and the changing way that we interact, technology has become integral to collaboration. Therefore, we should make use of its capacity to connect people within a single classroom or across the world. Not only can we use such technologies to stimulate engagement, but also to promote meaningful engagement. By working collaboratively within the classroom or with others outside of it, students encounter new perspectives and ideas, navigate disagreements, adjust understandings, and learn when to lead and when to follow. Meaningful interaction can occur face-to-face or digitally; it doesn’t depend on the medium but on the instruction, project, and student goals. Collaboration allows students to approach the learning process together and teach one another. Why not use students’ interest in being connected to other people to our (and their) advantage?