8 Essential Skills and Collaboration

Amanda Cannon

amanda.cannon@uoit.net

Ontario Tech University

Abstract

With technology advancing and information being so accessible with the internet, the skills required of learners have changed significantly over the last few years, according to Forbes (Adams, 2014). Learners need to possess strong analytical and critical thinking skills, with the ability to effectively communicate, while making quick decisions and solving unexpected problems. It is equally as important that they demonstrate affective skills and traits such as dependability, adaptability, self-discipline, interpersonal skills, and responsibility. Along with the previously mentioned skills and abilities, we know that through collaboration comes innovation, this makes being able to effectively work and collaborate with others an essential skill required to be successful in the digital world of the 21st century. With so much information available at our fingertips, educators can no longer evaluate learners based on the memorization of facts. The importance is now focused on learners creating meaningful solutions to ill-structured problems and real-world scenarios. Technology can be used in the classroom to promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills, to enhance student engagement, encourage participation and collaboration, as well as be utilized as an effective tool for formative and/or summative assessment. Technology can be used to support education by focusing on developing the skills students require in order to be successful in the 21st century and promote strong digital citizenship. Essential skills, including collaboration are required in order to be successful in adult life, reach employment goals and ultimately promote lifelong learning.  

Keywords: essential skills, collaboration, 21st century skills, problem solving skills, digital citizenship, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, innovation

Introduction

As technology advances and the needs of the learners are changing, it is important that the teaching methods of our educators are also changing and adapting to fit the needs of the students. Moving away from traditional teaching methods, educators are seeking new ways to personalize learning and incorporate current technologies such as interactive presentation software, social media applications, websites and blogging, video, digital simulations, and computer games, just to name a few.

Technology can be used to support a learner-centred classroom environment that focuses on collaboration. Students should be involved in active learning activities that encourage them to develop a deeper understanding of content by working with and reflecting upon the material being presented (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014). Eliciting students’ previous knowledge and understanding by using technology tools help to provide the opportunity to build and challenge that initial understanding. Having so many available resources allows the classroom to now become the place to work through problems, advance concepts, and engage in collaborative learning (Fulton, 2012). Educators who are using technology to support learning report increased levels of student achievement, interest, and engagement (Fulton, 2012). Using digital technology in the classroom has become particularly attractive because of the availability of internet resources including audio and video on virtually any subject, frequently narrated by some of the world’s most outstanding authorities and subject matter experts (Herreid & Schiller, 2013).

This chapter will explore the key principles and theories which support effective learning with technology. It will discuss using technology to support the development of the skills required of the 21st century learner and educate learners about becoming responsible and intelligent digital citizens. This chapter will discuss different technology tools that support essential skills and collaboration and contribute to meaningful use of technology in learning.

Background Information

In today’s classroom, much attention is devoted to incorporating applications and tools that facilitate active and collaborative learning environments (Santos, Hernández-Leo, Navarrete & Blat, 2014). With today’s competitive workforce and available technology, our learners have specific needs and goals. Learners expect that their curriculum is ultimately guided towards essential skills, future demands or employability, especially concerning adult learners. In order to make learning applicable to the students, they need to be fully engaged in the learning process in order to create meaning and see the value in the tasks they are performing (Fullan, 2013). Learning that is problem-based, inquiry-based, case-based, interest-based, and/or play-based, supported by technologies is proven to enhance student engagement, develop higher order thinking skills and support authentic learning and meaning making (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014).

Active Learning

A course designed to create opportunities for active learning is more flexible and student-centred, enabling the students to make choices or be more involved in the learning process. Active learning is defined as a conscious effort by an educator to encourage student participation and enhance student engagement in a classroom (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 2002). Technology facilitates multiple means of engagement, representation action and expression among students. Allowing students to present their findings in a way that best suits to their needs and abilities creates a higher level of self-efficacy among learners. One of the greatest benefits that technology has to offer is its flexibility and autonomy. The learners of today use tech in every area of their lives and appreciate that it allows them to be mobile. Technology also provides today’s learners with the flexibility to engage when they are most comfortable and a time that works for them (Tapscott, 2009). Taking away the restriction of classroom walls allows the learning process to be more autonomous and empower the students. The use of technology gives the opportunity for students to experience life outside the structures of the classroom, and or allow the outside world into the classroom.

Collaborative Learning.

The educational approach to teaching and learning in a collaborative learning environment places a strong emphasis on a group of learners who are working together to complete a task, solve a problem, or create a product (Bloom, Krathwohl, & Masia, 1956). Collaborative learning encourages students to learn from one another’s experiences and share knowledge (Panitz, 1996). Collaboration allows students to be active participants in the learning process and in control of constructing knowledge. This method of collaboration promotes a deeper understanding of the subject matter and helps learners make connections between previous knowledge and new information (Gabelnick, MacGregor, Matthews &  Smith., 1990). Learners are challenged socially and emotionally by this type of environment where they have the opportunity to hear different perspectives and they are encouraged to articulate and support their ideas. By doing this, learners are able to create their own understanding and conceptual frameworks and they do not rely on the opinions of others.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

When UDL principles are incorporated into the course during its design and development, they lay the foundation with learning outcomes, activities, assessments, and teaching methods that improve accessibility for all learners (Rose & Meyer, 2002). There are many interactive student engagement platforms that offer an innovative approach to assist teachers with effective classroom management. Assessment and evaluation are easy with these types of platforms as many of them offer a teacher dashboard or facilitator report to enhance the students’ understanding of the class on individual levels. Gaming or simulations can be used to encourage friendly competition amongst participants and also allow the teachers to provide immediate feedback to improve the experience of the students throughout the course. Using technology such as multimedia software, interactive presentation software, digital simulations, interactive games, online brainstorming, classroom feedback and encouragement of real-time audience participation offers multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement and multiple means of expression, aligning with UDL principles.

Applications

Technology to Support Essential Skills

Critical thinking involves problem-solving skills, making educated and informed decisions, management skills and the ability to analyze large amounts of information. Authentic learning experiences that offer real life context is essential in order to develop critical thinking skills (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014). With technology educators can create authentic learning experiences with tools that offer a mix between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) that allow the teacher to guide students through 360°scenes and 3D objects. There are a number of applications which allow educators to incorporate AR in different areas such as history, science, arts, and the natural world. Educators can also encourage critical thinking skills by utilizing different presentation platforms that focus on creating interactive activities which are fun and promote student engagement such as real-time polling questions, minute papers, quizzes, exercises, and interactive and formative assessment questions. There are also a number of organizations that posts talks online for free distribution which are excellent resources offering massive collections of engaging videos to gain insight to real-world problems. Inquiry- based instruction (IBL) or problem-based learning (PBL) requires the students to be involved in the learning process and helps create deeper understanding (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014) IBL or PBL strategies are used to engage students to learn by asking questions, investigating, exploring, and reporting what they see which helps them be able to apply these concepts that they are learning in new situations. Educators can incorporate technology tools that create a virtual “bulletin” board where students can answer complex questions and develop solutions for these problems by providing a platform to collaborate, reflect and share links.

Communication and Collaboration.

Communication is an essential 21st century skills. 21st century learners are able to effectively share or exchange information, news, or ideas orally, in writing and using a variety of digital tools and also hone superb listening skills (Fullan, 2013). Most of today’s communication takes place using digital tools and resources. It is important that educators explore these tools and encourage these interactions. Utilizing video discussion software allows each student to share their voice by having them record short, authentic videos and replying to one another’s posts. Creating websites and blogs can support student and teacher learning by facilitating reflection, questioning by self and others, collaborating and by providing context for engaging in higher-order thinking. With all the available communication tools, it now becomes important for students to learn how to effectively use these forms of communication and help them to distinguish which platform best suits their needs. Students should work collaboratively to solve problems and build upon previous knowledge by actively interacting and sharing experiences. Creating a community of learners allows for students to draw upon and share what they already know and work together to think, apply, and create new knowledge (Donovan, Bransford, & Pellegrino, 2002). Educators can use cloud-based services that allow you to email, chat, video conference, and create real-time document collaborations by incorporating real time audience participation, online brainstorming and classroom feedback. The ability to work together, learn from one another and help to teach each other is a very important 21st century skill. By utilizing social networking skills and encouraging collaboration this allows students to show empathy to others and work together in diverse environments (Fullan, 2013). Social learning requires students to develop collective intelligence and to co-construct meaning. Social learning applications allow students to collaborate digitally and contribute to the collective knowledge base. Using student engagement platforms or social media applications in the classroom enhances active engagement among the learners and allows them the opportunity to talk to peers, present and defend ideas, as well as allows them to exchange and question diverse opinions and beliefs (Bloom, Krathwohl, & Masia, 1956). Collaborative learning is an essential part of active learning. Ultimately, the combination of active collaborative learning with technology has proven to enhance student academic performance.

Digital Citizenship.

Information literacy is an essential skill for lifelong learning. It is important that students make informed decisions and are able to critically analyze presented facts statistics, figures and data. Digital technology has provided us with so much information, and information literacy skills focuses on the ability to locate, evaluate and effectively apply the information that is required (Tapscott, 2009). It can be hard sorting through all the resources available to incorporate digital media into the classroom. Using sites that review and rate different products such as apps, games, and websites makes finding safe technologies easier for educators. It is important that learners are able to identify and understand the messages of the content that they are consuming and ultimately be able to distinguish between fact and fiction (Tapscott, 2009). Building an understanding of the role of media in our society, along with the essential skills of inquiry and self-expression is a necessity for learning in the 21st century. Today’s students need to be well versed in all types of media including text, audio, video, AR, 3D printing, social media, interactive media, blogs, vlogs, newspapers, books, film, and tv) in order to navigate the world. Creating multimedia products that allow users to create and generate multimedia content and combine different media tools can teach the importance of knowing how to combine and utilize these tools effectively. Helping students be responsible digital citizens requires them to be able to effectively use technology to access, evaluate, integrate, create and communicate information to enhance the learning process through problem-solving and critical thinking. Becoming knowledgeable about online etiquette, exploring our digital footprints, and understanding how personal information can be collected and used will help navigate 21st century learners through life in a “connected” world. In order to be successful in the digital world, we need more than just technical skills – we need to foster awareness, attitudes, and a broad set of abilities. Educators can introduce tools to help establish a professional online presence for students. Students can also be encouraged to explore networking sites and join groups of like-minded professionals to connect, share ideas and encourage educated digital citizenship.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

There is a lot of research that supports technology to enhance learning in education. Studies have indicated technology used properly in education can encourage problem-solving skills, allowing learners to be self-directed. According to Fulton (2012), it also serves to educate students about the various uses of technologies and teaches them which options are flexible and most appropriate for “21st century learning”. Overall, research concludes that technology in education provides opportunities for learners to draw upon their previous knowledge and skills and apply them to real-world problems and scenarios. Creating a student-centred classroom supported by technology requires a more active approach to learning resulting in a higher level of engagement and motivation. Lastly, there is evidence indicating that incorporating current technology and teaching students about digital literacy and citizenship supports a healthy relationship for technology and future advancements such as online software and collaboration tools to further enhance learning (Sharples et al., 2015).

As educators we need to give our learners the tools to be self-directed learners who are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need in order to keep abreast in a world of technology that is ever-changing. Using technology in the classroom to support 21st century skills and educating them about digital literacy better prepares our students to be lifelong learners. Students focus and work collaboratively on developing the skills they require to actively seek out solutions to real-world problems, which ultimately enhances their problem-solving skills and encourages them to become lifelong learners and become responsible digital citizens.

References

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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 by Amanda Cannon is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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