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Collaborative Learning in Today's Technology-Driven World

(by UNESCO Bangkok, ICT in Education)

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The impact of globalization on society and the workplace have been tremendous, fuelled by various emerging trends of technological, economic and social nature. The implications for the education system have also been profound. To address the new and emerging challenges posed to Education, incorporating transversal competencies in the national curricula is a key response. Among numerous transversal competencies, ‘collaboration’ is considered not only to be an essential interpersonal skill needed to perform effectively and efficiently in the 21st century, but also as a foundation for gaining other essential skills. Case in point, ‘tolerance’, ‘respect for diversity’, ‘intercultural understanding’, and ‘ability to resolve conflicts’ are some of the essential features of global citizenship skillsets, and the ability to work collaboratively can be fundamental in developing these skills (UNESCO, 2013).  

The introduction of ‘collaborative learning’ can be traced back to Vygotsky’s notion of ‘learning from others’ (1930/1978).  The core premise of collaborative learning views that learning occurs socially and can be enhanced by different views of others. With the rapid advancement of technologies, the width and depth of knowledge that learners can share with others have become limitless. Indeed, the immense potentials of the Internet technology boosted the power of collaborative learning in enhancing the learning experience (Stahl et al., 2011). Given its importance and renewed attention, the Education 2030 Agenda promotes the acquisition of collaboration skills as part of an ‘essential skillset’ in order to enable individuals to live and work “in a more secure, sustainable, interdependent, knowledge-based and technology-driven world” (UNESCO, 2015).    

UNESCO Bangkok to this end has been carrying out a number of activities to promote ICT-supported collaborative learning, ranging from advising policy makers, to training educators, and to collecting evidences through pilot projects. One of the past pilot projects is the ‘KFIT International School’ Project (KISP) from March to July in 2012, as a component of the ‘Facilitating Effective ICT-Pedagogy Integration’ Project supported by Korean Funds-in-Trust. KISP was initiated to provide teachers and students an opportunity to expand their boundaries, and through an online learning community, collaborate with other groups internationally in working on intercultural projects. It engaged approximately 300+ participants from Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs) and schools in Bangladesh, Canada, People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, Philippines, and Republic of Korea. The project was designed to gradually acquaint learners (and teachers) with an international collaboration environment, and thus entailed three progressive phases. The first phase of the project focused on having the participants getting to know one another and be familiarized with the various communication tools in the online platform. In doing so, they were asked to share the digital stories of themselves. During the second phase, the students worked on national projects which involved them to collaborate with others within the country, and were asked to share the outputs with their international counterparts later. For the final phase, students were distributed across multi-country groups. Each group was tasked to come up with an online “weather calendar” for an assigned month, using Popplet as the tele-collaborative tool. The calendar showed information from different countries, including that particular month’s weather conditions, local festivals, places of interest, tips for tourists, among others. Collaboration among students ranged from sharing individual research to producing joint output, such as a consolidated weather calendar.  

An independent research on the project (Heo et al., 2012) observed various barriers during the KISP implementation, especially ones that were organizational, linguistic, technical, and pedagogical in nature. However, despite these challenges, there was a marked increase in students’ knowledge about other countries, which contributed to improving their intercultural understanding of values and practices within a global context.  In addition, students deepened their sense of appreciation for their own culture. They also reported other benefits that included learning how to work with others from different cultural backgrounds, learning from others in general, realizing the potential of video conferencing, and realizing the potential of international projects in developing intercultural understanding and improving cross-cultural communication skills. Teachers, on the other hand, reported an improved confidence in the use of ICT tools in the teaching-learning process. The project also helped them enhance their pedagogical skills especially on how to guide and monitor students in the context of ICT-supported collaborative projects. Moreover, their own collaboration skills had been improved while working with their counterpart teachers from other countries.  

Lessons learned from the project played a critical role in raising policy awareness, informing curriculum reforms, and designing trainings for educators.  As can be seen from the KISP experience, there is a lot of potential for students and teachers to benefit from such a technology-supported collaborative learning activity. UNESCO will continue exploring, documenting, and disseminating evidence-based lessons so as to contribute to the knowledge base in this particular area. 

With a focus on collaborative learning, this newsletter edition explores the theme by featuring expert articles by Professor Dr. Paul A. Kirschner at the Open University of the Netherlands that acquaints the readers with effective collaborative learning based on ICT, such as developing complex tasks, working efficiently in groups, in a rich multimedia environment; and by Qiyun Wang and Choon Lang Quek from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, whose article is founded on two main pillars of collaborative learning, which are individual accountability and positive interdependence. The Programmes and Projects section features three different initiatives, focusing on building school partnerships across the world, developing a sense of global citizenship in learners by making them a part of their communities, and utilizing various technologies to promote collaborative learning. The News and Events section offers an overview of the few recent and upcoming meetings, such as the national workshops that were held in Nepal and Uzbekistan supported by UNESCO, and The 12th International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning [CSCL 2017], which is one of the major international conferences on the topic. In Resources, readers can get acquainted with OECD and UNESCO publications on pedagogical innovation and global citizenship education, respectively. More generally, readers can also familiarize themselves with collaborative learning platforms for kids; and the Global SchoolNet Project, which engages educators and youth in e-learning projects. Finally, in the New Publications, brand new reports by UNESCO on Open Education ResourcesHappy Schools, and School and Teaching Practices for Twenty-first Century Challenges provide a broad perspective on policies, costs and transformations of OER through various case studies; a new vision and frameworks for schools to consider in order to create a "happy" environment for all; and take a new look on transversal skills at the school level by improving their development through teachers. Additionally, the NMC Horizon Report: 2016 Higher Education Edition and the World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends supply a general and global understanding of higher education developments as well as the topic of digital dividends and digital technologies. 

 

References

Heo, G. M., Breuleux, A., Febro, R., & Buan, A. (2012). Research Study on KFIT International School Project.

Stahl, G., Spada, H., Miyake, N., & Law, N. (2011). Introduction to the Proceedings of CSCL 2011. In Spada, H., Stahl, G., Miyake, N., Law, N. (Eds.), Connecting Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning to Policy and Practice: CSCL2011 Conference Proceedings. Volume I — Long Papers (pp IX-XII). International Society of the Learning Sciences.

UNESCO. (2013). Transversal competencies in education policy & practice. Retrieved from unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002319/231907E.pdf

UNESCO. (2015). The Education 2030 Framework for Action. Retrieved from: www.unescobkk.org/fileadmin/user_upload/efa/TWG/39th_TWG/Framework_for_Action_Education_2030.pdf

Vygotsky, L. (1930/1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

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28.04.2016