What best practices can instructors use to build relationships, increase engagement, and enhance learning with technology?
The What Works Clearinghouse practice guide Using Technology to Support Postsecondary Student Learning offers five evidence-based recommendations. Though focused on postsecondary education, much of the advice equally applies to K–12 instruction. REL Northwest is in the process of developing a professional learning series that outlines concrete ways to put the strategies into action. In this blog series, we share key takeaways for each recommendation.
Recommendation 1: Communication and Collaboration Tools. Used effectively, communication and collaboration tools can increase engagement, build a sense of belonging, and foster social learning.
The practice guide outlines six key steps to implement communication and collaboration technologies in the classroom:
Before selecting a tool, think about what types of interactions you'd like your students to have. For example, if you'd like small groups of students to collaborate among themselves, use a tool that allows separate workspaces, such as a Google Docs. If you'd also like students to see the developing work of other groups, you could create a Google Drive folder with a collection of Google Docs, one for each group, and provide all groups with view access to comment on each other's files.
What experience do your students have with technologies for communication and collaboration? What hardware, laptops, phones, tablets, etc. do they have access to? Student preferences may not match your preferences for communication and collaboration. For example, students may prefer to establish alternate profiles on platforms to keep their personal online lives separate from their academic online lives.
Students already use technology to communicate and collaborate in their daily lives. The norms for personal use are likely different from the norms for class use. Set clear expectations for which technologies will be used in coursework, how they should be used, and whether their use is related to grading criteria. Setting these expectations collaboratively with students may also help develop a sense of community.
Seek information about communication and collaboration technologies currently available on campus and determine whether there is guidance and support for using them. Take time to learn what tools are available and what features they offer. Some institutions have learning management systems (or LMS) communication and collaboration tools that students may already be using.
Though communication and collaboration tools have many potential benefits, instructors must monitor use, facilitate productive interactions, and provide feedback to students. For example, instructors may provide a model of a constructive reply in a discussion prompt and should proactively discourage negative exchanges, such as bullying or unhelpful criticism.
Are all your students participating in similar amounts in meaningful ways? If not, are there any distinguishing characteristics between those who do and do not participate as expected? Also evaluate your instructor workload. Are you able to monitor, contribute to, and provide feedback on students' participation? Set up time to reflect and be prepared to adjust by revisiting the earlier implementation steps.
The practice guide provides additional details on using communication and collaboration tools (pages 5 – 13), including implementation recommendations, obstacles to implementation, and expert advice to address those obstacles. Download and use the practice guide now!