Essential Collaboration, Web 2.0 and Social Learning Platforms for 21st-Century Education: Using New Technology to Increase Student Engagement, Build Partnerships, and Drive Productivity

Article excerpt

A District Administration Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on November 14, 2012

Collaborative virtual workspaces are one of the most effective new ways to assist in providing a high quality 21st-century education, ePals' latest platform, LEARN365, fosters social learning by providing a virtual space that is not bound by space or time for students and teachers to come together and exchange information. This web seminar addressed the importance of social and collaborative learning technology and Web 2.0 tools in providing a holistic, connected, social education for today's students.

Tim DiScipio

Co-founder

ePals

ePals has been around for 16 years as a pioneer in carving the path for social learning. It has been a very exciting era in the field because of the great technology, content, and learning communities that are available. These factors have resulted in increased student writing, deeper critical thinking skills, and empowered learning.

ePals connects classrooms around the world by allowing teachers to create a profile of their class and find another class with which to connect. The students can have a cross cultural exchange or a shared science experiment; all subject matter can be shared in this safe, on task, customizable environment.

There is a convergence among curriculum content, collaboration tools, and the virtual community that is a recipe for powerful learning. While some may see this convergence as a novelty and simply want a foolproof means to higher test scores, content and the digital community can powerfully interact in a curricular way.

Ken Graham

Assistant Superintendent and Technology Director (Retired)

Hauppauge (N.Y.) Public Schools

Being retired, I admit I am jealous of the educators working today that will get to implement this digital community technology in an effective way. We had problems in the 20th century in Hauppauge and I want to share those with you in the hopes that this can make you aware if your school is making the same mistakes.

By 1965, the idea of addressing the goals of the "affective domain" which reinforces the notion that social learning is important to cognitive development, had disappeared from curriculum. Emphasis on the "psychomotor domain" which encourages the use of the creative mind, also disappeared. Pedagogical theory states that we can teach kids to go from what they know now to what they don't know, but we have to teach them in the zone of proximal development. The skills are too difficult for a student to master on his or her own, but can be done with guidance and encouragement from a knowledgeable person.

There is a role a teacher must play in guiding a student on this path from not knowing to knowing. Learning precedes development, and in this view, the child is not just a learner but a participant. One of the elements that characterizes best practices in 21st-century learning is the idea that the students take responsibility for their own learning, but it is done with collaboration and guidance. This is a powerful change from 20th-century practices.

In the 20th century, we did not have the tools that we have today. When we wanted to bring the collaboration, creativity, and cognitive aspects of learning together, we had to physically create the learning environment. In my school district on Long Island, we had a problem with students not being interested in science and math. To address this, we built a science center that prompted excitement and engagement, as well as curiosity. The students took ownership of the center, whether it was by feeding the fish in the ponds or caring for the plants. They were working with, mentoring, and learning from one another.

Through that collaboration, they could discover individual talents. Our district's enrollment in science and math courses doubled. This type of environment had to be created brick and mortar style; today we could virtually build it with 21st-century technology. …