“Schools do not exist in a vacuum.”

This was the opening statement given by my professor on the very first day of my first undergraduate education course. It still rings true today, perhaps more so than ever. In today’s global culture, students must leave school prepared to enter a workforce that relies on constant communication and collaboration.

If you search a definition of collaborate, you’ll find definitions ranging from joint intellectual ventures to realizing a common goal—but one word that comes up across various sites and platforms is cooperation. Collaboration requires students to cooperate, debate, problem solve, listen, and re-imagine ideas. Collaboration is not something to be done alone, despite the prevalence of devices that can seem to isolate students into their own personalized digital spaces.

Many companies maintain locations across multiple time zones and continents, and they rely on quick and easy access to shared documents, email correspondence, and video conferencing, just to name a few examples. So how does collaboration look in a classroom equipped with 1:1 devices, and how can teachers foster real learning that prepares students for life after K-12?

The modern classroom can be the ideal place to develop and hone these collaborative skills. Social interaction is a vital component of school culture, and fostering teamwork and communication is beneficial not only for academic learning but for social growth and life skills as well.

Design Your Space for Success

The first consideration for one-to-one collaboration to work effectively is the layout of the classroom. I spent seven years in the classroom as an educator working with students whose technology knowledge at times rivaled my own. The high school students I taught were eager to display their ideas and showcase their creativity, and they were driven by having their work displayed so that they might receive feedback from other students. Technology can be useful in supporting learning and collaboration. However, as technology is adopted, the classroom also must adapt.

If students access devices via cart, make sure the cart is centrally located and easily accessible. Provide access to outlets so students can work seamlessly without losing power (I’ve purchased more than a few power strips in my day). If students bring their own devices, stress the importance of charging at home, just as they would remember to bring pencils and paper for class. Be forgiving and have other alternatives available for this, because they can and will forget. Angle student desks or tables so that they can easily see any directions displayed at the front of the room.

Have you considered grouping students at tables instead of desks? This practice tends to be more common at the elementary level, but it is useful for fostering collaboration in all age groups. Careful consideration of room design and placement of technology will impact classroom interactions. An educational study found that groups engaged in more talk (but not more off-task talk) in a centered room layout.

As a teacher, I found that by changing table assignments frequently (once each unit, so eight times per year) and using various grouping strategies for projects, I could promote communication between students from diverse backgrounds and ability levels. One-to-one devices do not have to isolate your students. There are also many apps and software solutions that promote collaboration in new and unique ways.

Use the Knowledge They Already Have

Students today are “technology fluent, powerful multimedia communicators” (Tak-Wei et al., 2006) but are often required to put aside phones and laptops once they enter the classroom. How do we help students apply the social media and communications skills they use at home in the context of learning? They are masters of liking, commenting, and following, so allow them access to educational platforms that mirror those skills. One-to-one technology can offer a multitude of solutions.

Ideally, students become accustomed to sharing ideas that can be modified and improved on by a larger group, and over time foster a sense of community and shared goals. Through the process of collaboration, students take ownership of knowledge creation. This differs dramatically from the “sit-and-get” teaching modalities of the past.

As an Education Consultant for Promethean, I enjoy helping teachers realize innovative ways to use technology in the classroom. Promethean’s products and software foster learning skills that are essential to get students to communicate, cooperate, and collaborate.

Author: Amanda Leich is an Education Consultant currently living in Miami, Florida. A former high school teacher, Amanda spent seven years working in Title I schools teaching Biology and Human Anatomy. Her first year teaching, Amanda was awarded New Teacher of the Year at her school in Spotsylvania, Virginia. 

Tak-Wai Chan, Jeremy Roschelle, Sherry Hsi, Kinshuk Kinshuk, Mike Sharples, et al.. One-to-one technology-enhanced learning: an opportunity for global research collaboration. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning, World Scientific Publishing, 2006, 1(1), pp. 3-29. <hal-00190632>