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.
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):
In what way does the
effort extend learning beyond what would normally be accomplished?
In what way is technology
introduced in context?
In what ways are integrative
opportunities included and demonstrated?
In what ways is citizenship
fostered and developed?
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.