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Making Long Distance Relationships Work

Amy J. Good, Katherine A. O’Connor, and Eric F. Luce

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Abstract

Many barriers can make it difficult for middle school teachers to collaborate about curriculum and instruction. The authors offer an approach for teaching the social studies through telecollaboration that mitigates some of these obstacles. This paper includes facets of telecollaboration, a rationale, a program design, and advice for middle school teachers wanting to develop telecollaborative partnerships. The authors also provide examples of electronic-pal protocols, telecollaborative hook-up topics, and sample reflection questions for teachers and students.

Introduction

Harris (1999) has identified when curriculum-based telecollaboration is most appropriate. It is best when students have opportunities to compare, contrast, and combine similar information collected from various locations. Telecollaboration is also best when students are expanding their global awareness. In what better place could this occur than in a middle school social studies classroom? Imagine for a moment an integrated unit on the Revolutionary War. A teacher might plan to share primary documents, to reenact battles and maybe even have a debate or discussion with another class down the hall. Imagine extending your classroom to a middle school classroom in England studying the Revolutionary War. Will this change the students’ learning experience? Will they have access to different perspectives? Will they gain knowledge, new learning strategies, and empathy? And will they be able to make this new long distance relationship work?

Preparing future teachers to work with adolescents includes modeling the skills of technology integration. By involving preservice teachers in e-paling and telecollaborative activities including student-led presentations, artifact sharing, and local guest panels, preservice teachers are able to experience, first hand, appropriate uses of social studies and technology integration that they might employ with children and adolescents. For teacher educators who share common interests in the social studies, new communication technologies provide tools to model substantive collaboration with colleagues outside of their community. Additionally, it is essential for preservice teachers to collaborate and to stay current with technology innovations for use in their future middle school classrooms.

Ideally, adolescents are expected to practice inquiry, to question, to reflect, and to transform information in all content areas. Middle school social studies teaching and learning experiences can also provide adolescents with opportunities to think like historians- to summarize, to contextualize, to infer, and to monitor. For more information and resources about thinking like a historian, visit the Digital History Inquiry Project site at http://dhip.org/about.shtml.

Adolescents have a natural curiosity about the world around them and technological savvy that may be more sophisticated than that possessed by their teachers, which could make middle-level students ideal participants in new types of teaching and learning arrangements, including telecollaborative experiences. The authors define telecollaboration as an experience that allows a joint teaching effort to occur without geographic limitations through the use of videoconference equipment. Social studies in the middle school can be expanded beyond the walls of traditional classrooms by using new technology tools to make authentic curriculum connections come alive. This model of instruction uses telecommunication tools to create new communities of learners for accomplishing shared intellectual endeavors (NCRTEC, 2000). Judi Harris (1999) identifies five interpersonal exchanges or ways to telecollaborate. They include keypals, global classrooms, electronic appearances, electronic mentoring, and question/answer services.

The Facets of Telecollaboration

A foundation for healthy social studies telecollaborative partnerships, at any level, can be built upon three major facets: the integration of social studies, the infusion of technology to support student learning, and the commitment to the importance of collaboration as a value, as well as a practice, in social studies. The authors realize that a telecollaborative experience can occur with only one facet, yet a stronger foundation is present if a combination of the three facets transpires simultaneously.

The first facet relates to seamlessly integrating technology through powerful teaching methods across content areas. The National Council of the Social Studies (NCSS) defines powerful teaching as teaching that is integrative, challenging, active, value-based, and meaningful to the students (NCSS, 2004).

The ultimate goal of a telecollaborative experience is for students to interact without noticing the “equipment,” while standards and curricular goals are being met. True seamless integration of technology occurs when students at both locations work collaboratively on shared projects and perceive each other as classmates.

The second facet of telecollaboration is the proper infusion of technology into the classroom. The guiding questions for this experience can be based on the Five Principles for proper infusion of technology into a social studies curriculum (Mason et al., 2000):

  1. In what way does the effort extend learning beyond what would normally be accomplished?

  2. In what way is technology introduced in context?

  3. In what ways are integrative opportunities included and demonstrated?

  4. In what ways is citizenship fostered and developed?

  5. In what ways does this experience contribute to future research?

Constant reflection on these questions allows for teachers to make certain that telecollaboration corresponds with their teaching philosophy and classroom culture.

The third facet relates to collaboration. The authors define collaboration as effective communication, shared decision-making, and dialogue among all participants, teachers and students alike. Working together in cooperative learning partnerships can offer social and academic advantages. At the beginning of each school year, many teachers set up their own classrooms as collaborative communities involving students in establishing classroom rules, deadlines, and procedures. The telecollaborative activities prepared, tried, and outlined in this paper may suggest ways to promote and extend current collaborative teaching theories and practices beyond existing instruction. Communication and dialogue are the foundation for this type of telecollaborative instruction. Creating global classroom opportunities for students can lead to more interactive and collaborative learning experiences.

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Meridian: A Middle School Computer Technologies Journal
a service of NC State University, Raleigh, NC
Volume 8, Issue 1, Winter 2005
ISSN 1097 9778
URL: http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/sum2004/relationships/index.html
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