Collaborative Environments

Time-to-Adoption: One Year or Less

Collaborative environments are online spaces — often cloud-based — where the focus is making it easy to collaborate and working in groups, no matter where the participants may be. As the typical educator’s network of contacts has grown to include colleagues who might live and work across the country, or indeed anywhere on the globe, it has become common for people who are not physically located near each other to collaborate on projects. In classrooms as well, joint projects with students at other schools or in other countries are more and more commonplace as strategies to expose learners to a variety of perspectives.
The essential attribute of the technologies in this set is that they make it easy for people to share interests and ideas, work on joint projects, and easily monitor collective progress. All of these are needs common to student work, research, collaborative teaching, writing and authoring, development of grant proposals, and more. The bar for widespread participation is very low, since the software to support virtual collaboration is low cost or free, and available via a web browser.

Relevance for Teaching, Learning, or Creative Inquiry

  • Collaborative environments are an efficient way for students to work together, whether the groups are composed of students in the same physical class or not.
  • A class or project group can assemble a collaborative workspace very quickly using widgets that pull information from a range of sources.
  • Large-scale collaborative environments can facilitate an almost spontaneous development of communities of people who share similar interests.

In Practice

  • The Macomb School District in Michigan has started the ASK (Authors, Specialists, and Knowledge) project to help children interact via video conferencing with authors and specialists, enabling them to ask questions and gain further insight into subjects:
  • is a global network of K12 students and educators who seek to improve teaching and learning through content driven collaboration:
  • The Teddy Bears Around the World Project is a collaborative initiative that involves children from around the world. Students share their cultures by using teddy bears to help illustrate the unique ways of life in each of their countries:

For Further Reading

Digital Access, Collaboration a Must for Students
(Laura Devaney, eSchool News, 16 March 2010.) This article describes the results of an educational technology survey undertaken by Project Tomorrow. The survey identifies a new type of student, the “free agent learner,” who creates personal learning experiences.

Howard Rheingold on Collaboration
(Howard Rheingold, TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, February 2005.) In this talk from 2005, Howard Rheingold discusses the emerging world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action. His insights then are still pertinent today.

Jazz as an Extended Metaphor for Social Computing
(Aaron McLeran, UC-Santa Barbara Transliteracies Project, 17 May 2009.) This unusual study looks at social computing and jazz and finds some striking — and surprising — similarities.