Collaborative tools breed collaborative thinking

‘Light bulbs’ by spigoo
For some time I had been intending to complete my first MA project on collaborative writing– an idea sparked off by the potential of tools like Primary Pad and live editing in Google Docs.


The idea for this was to investigate whether collaborative tools would encourage children to spontaneously develop models for productive collaboration. As I blogged here, I wondered whether if I gave a group of children access to a collaborative document they would develop a working model which would allow them to effectively collaborate, of whether they would need some structured models for this to be productive.


During ‘Independence Time’ this week I noticed three boys were working on netbooks next to each other. I came over to ask what they were working on, and they told me they were writing a playscript. I asked how they were organising this, expecting two of them to be possibly watching and orally contributing ideas, or at most for them to have split it into writing a scene each.


Not so. It turned out at that moment one boy was writing the script, another was going back and correcting typos and mistakes, and the third was some way behind critically reading the contents and adding ‘better words’ and adverbs to improve it. All were doing this with an eye on the other’s roles, resulting in a gamut of self evaluation.


Not only were they doing this, but they were fully aware of and able to articulate their roles. Bear in mind this is an activity they set up entirely of their own volition and you have a very powerful example of collaborative tools.


Sometimes things like live collaboration can seem like a technological gimmick; something that looks impressive but leaves people to ask where the learning is. However, given time to make these tools their own children can show the power of genuine collaboration.


5 responses to “Collaborative tools breed collaborative thinking”

  1. Nikki Davies Avatar

    Wow – that is extremely impressive! I’ve had children collaborating where they were each writing their own part and correcting each other’s typos and grammar, but never seen them deliberately take on specific roles like that. Fantastic!

    I do think children are very good at adapting to working this way – they enjoy working together ad I think are quite aware of their strengths and weaknesses to help them work as a team. Also seen them using the chat feature to tell someone to find a picture, or to say “great work” etc.

    My only problem was when one child kept on deleting the group’s work – I wasn’t sure whether it was by accident or deliberately – and that caused a lot of upset for them so in the end I had to move him away from the computer so that he couldn’t keep doing it.

    1. oliverquinlan Avatar

      I find it fascinating how children approach these areas. The more I work on child initiated learning the more I see that it is group dynamics that a huge number of children want to use to persue their learning. This is something our system really doesn’t cater for. I found Ewan McIntosh’s talk here: really influenced my thinking on this. Children seem to naturally ‘get’ Participation culture and group mindsets very quickly, whereas those of us conditioned towards individualisation of our learning and work take a lot longer to get on board with them. Another thing we are currently ‘educating out of’ children?

      1. Mark Allen Avatar

        Absolutely, Oliver: children really are ‘wired differently’, and I think we need to be aware of this if we hope to fully engage them. I’m not certain that it’s always a better way, however: when I watch my own teenage children working, they are likely to have many different communication channels open (YouTube, FB, Google, Wikipedia, iTunes etc.), which I certainly could not do as easily as they do, and yet they seem to be able to cope and are doing well according to the usual school benchmarks. I do worry that it’s leading to a trivial, dilettante approach and the assembly of content rather real understanding, but I can’t offer any evidence of this. Maybe their way really is better in the sense that it is more suited for the world in which they will have to operate.
        To return to your point, I have also concluded that children take naturally to collaborative working, without seeing it as anything special. Maybe they’re better-equipped to know how to tackle problems than we give them credit for, and maybe we’re the ones who need to learn how to work effectively.

        1. oliverquinlan Avatar

          You make an interesting point Mark. I wonder if they are ‘wired differently’ or it is something that happens as they mature that either reduces this ability, or if it is something that their experience guides them away from. Possibly this could be likened to how Ken Robinson talks about creativity- something that is educated out of children?

          Having said that, when reading my blogs from #tmm11 many people have asked if I was able to actually listen to the talks whilst doing this. Obviously I was as I was writing about them- so perhaps it is about getting in the right mindset and training yourself, which I have likely done at other events when tweeting and listening. I think it’s about knowing when you can afford to divert your attention slightly, and when things need your entire attention as well. I find it hard to believe that people can make those judgements without experience.

          Collaboration is quite a natural state when you think about it- perhaps this is another case of certain experiences conditioning people away from it.

  2. […] This month I started to notice my work on collaborative and independent learning with my class paying off, with children using Google Docs to structure their collaboration. […]

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