(Re)Defining Collaboration

As we try to facilitate learning activities in our schools to help prepare students for a rapidly-evolving future, much of the focus is on the key Four C skills of Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration.  Collaboration is a skill my team focuses on for all stakeholders in schools (staff, students, etc.) – by providing support for technology platforms and corresponding skills development to better enable collaboration.

In line with our team’s work, I was fortunate recently to attend an event with a targeted focus on Collaboration: Collaboration Week New York (#CWNY19) sponsored by the Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance (@THEIMCCA).  The event concentrated on evolving solutions and trends within Unified Conferencing and Collaboration, through presentations and visits to leading companies in New York City with broad adoptions of collaboration platforms.

#CWNY19 @ Blackrock
Collaboration Week New York events at BlackRock (above) & Oblong Industries (below)

#CWNY19 @ Oblong

This Collaboration Week event was a striking eye-opener for me for a number of different reasons.

  1. The current use of collaboration technology tools in private sector companies is significantly changing how work is accomplished. Unfortunately, our schools do not appear to be evolving similarly.  Schools have just scratched the surface in using technology to further collaboration in learning activities, as well as to leverage collaboration technologies to evolve the business side of how we operate schools.
  1. Are our schools truly preparing students properly for workplaces, where it matters less and less where you live and when you work?  This question came up over and over again as I learned more about the current trends in the transformation of work.  The latest collaboration technologies enable an anytime/anywhere workplace – but have our schools truly evolved in parallel into an “anytime/anyplace” learning environment, even with our significant investments in educational technologies and our increased focus on shifting pedagogy to student-directed learning?
  1. When we talk about “collaboration” in K-12 schools, the term is often poorly defined or possibly not even defined at all. Learning activities described as “collaborative” are too often just students assigned together in a group.  In these groups, students often work individually on an independent strand of a project, then come together at the end to piece together each individual contribution into a final product of limited cohesion.  In other examples, students in groups simply exchange information and (possibly, in better cases) teach one another, instead of practicing the skills and dispositions truly needed in modern collaborative practices.  Are we truly “collaborating” in schools?
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Is student collaboration sharing information, teaching one another, or practicing skills & dispositions?

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Beyond that – even when students are provided more opportunities to practice collaborative skills within group activities, the conversations are often limited to just others in the classroom.  Per a survey within our region last year, roughly two (2) out of every (3) students indicated they are never asked to collaborate online with students in other schools or from different communities and cultures.  In the workplace presentations I attended at Collaboration Week, technology platforms are leveraged to enable collaboration across global markets, where employees from different countries and cultures are working together daily toward company goals.

Perhaps one (sort of) encouraging sign from #CWNY19 was to learn that, in spite of some of their successes, private companies still do regularly struggle with fully enabling collaboration among its employees.  Beyond the obvious technology barriers (lack of funding, system integrations, choice of tools, etc.), companies still struggle with adoption.  Some employees are uncomfortable with collaborative environments and the technologies that enable/transform the experience.  This admission made me feel a little better (sadly) because many of our K-12 schools still struggle with very similar challenges – embracing good instructional practices in collaboration and adopting technology tools to transform the collaboration experience in learning activities.

I hope to dive deeper into collaboration in subsequent blog postings, exploring what may need to change to better enable it in schools and how technology innovations are going to change collaboration – whether we are ready for it or not.  More to come from the experiences from Collaboration Week New York & new technology announcements from this week’s Enterprise Connect conference, and how these tremendous shifts in collaboration technologies/practices could trickle into our schools.