Monday, November 14, 2016

Our (Failed) Experience with Global Collaboration

During our last unit in Using Digital and Social Media, we attempted to collaborate with students outside of Iowa. Unfortunately, those plans fell through, and we were not able to participate in the collaborative experience. While this was disappointing, the failure did provide me with some valuable learning moments to remember when incorporating global collaboration into my own classroom.

Global collaboration is extremely beneficial for our students. As I mentioned in my first post on the topic, global collaboration helps us promote cultural (and other forms of diversity) understanding, awareness of the world around us, patience and tolerance, relationship building, and problem solving skills (among other benefits!). Asking students to work with other students around the globe helps them expand their worldview and think outside of their individual lives. However, global collaboration can be challenging because it requires a lot of work. Time and effort must be put in ahead of time to plan the project, recruit collaborators, and work out the details necessary to effectively implement the project. The students must often work independently or find ways to work with their global partners in groups, and the teachers have to support many different groups of kids working on different projects. While global collaboration can be incredibly rewarding, it can also be very hard!

In our class, we attempted to contact students from Connecticut to work with us on a project highlighting regional differences. Our first point of contact was a combined Zoom experience; however, only one student and the professor from Connecticut joined us. This was frustrating because we were supposed to have that time to make plans for our project with our group members, but they were not required to be there, and most of them didn't come. While I understand that the meeting was outside of their class time, I think the students should have been required to join us (if they were able - it's possible that some students might have prior commitments that would prevent them from coming, but that shouldn't have affected almost all of our groups). This would have kickstarted the project and helped us move forward in the collaboration by giving us a common time to discuss our plans and assign next steps. 

After the failed Zoom meeting, I contacted Allison (the other UNI student in my group) and discussed what we should do next. Both of us were feeling wary and anxious about this project because we had not heard from our Connecticut friends and didn't know what we should try to cover in our project. After my discussion with Allison, I felt better; we made some plans about how to move forward and bounced ideas off each other regarding our project topic. We decided to email the students from Connecticut that were assigned to our group and ask them if they had any ideas for our topic or suggestions for collaboration tools. (We provided our own ideas in the email, but we did not want to dictate the ideas that we moved forward with, so we tried to be very open in the email.) Only one student initially responded to our email; she said that she would collaborate but did not provide any contributions to our original questions. For at least a week, no one else responded to the emails; then, at the last minute (before our night class), two other Connecticut students replied to say that they would not be able to collaborate. This was very disappointing, and while I know it was not personal, I still felt a little offended that these students didn't want to work with us. I felt like we had taken initiative, been very accommodating, and showed that we put a lot of thoughts into it already! While we were able to at least receive a positive response from one person in our group, most of our UNI cohort had no such contacts, so our class dropped the project as a whole. While in some ways this was sad because we had made some decisions about our project, it was also relieving considering that our efforts for collaboration were not going well.

If I were to go back and work on this project again, I would not do anything differently. I think Allison and I worked well together, and we took the initiative to email our group members with our ideas (but open it up for other suggestions). We did what we could to recruit people to work with us; it isn't our fault that they were not optimistic. I think that if I were to improve this project, I would make sure that there is a strong incentive for both collaborating partners to work together. While the Connecticut students would have received credit for working with us, it was not required; I don't blame them for neglecting to add work to their load unnecessarily, for I would also be reluctant if I was in their situation. When working on a global collaboration project (or any collaboration project), it is important for all parties to understand why and how they are benefitting from participating. In most cases, this will take the form of a grade that students can earn from participating. I must remember to clearly define and explain the benefits for all parties when I institute global collaboration in my own classroom!

Another way I would "improve" this project is to give more detailed expectations. I understand that the vagueness of the project was intentional so that the groups could collaborate and create a final product without worrying about project restraints. But I (as a type-A, focused, high-achieving student) wanted more clearly defined requirements for the project. Thinking ahead to my own classroom, I need to review the expectations I set for collaborative projects (in fact, any sort of assignment). The expectations need to match the scope of what I am asking the students to do; however, if there are many ways students could demonstrate their knowledge and understanding, I need to support them in their efforts to take ownership over their learning and create experiences that will best benefit them. This is something that I will continuously have to check as a future teacher considering my love of plainly identified rules and procedures. 

Overall, the global collaboration experience (even though it ultimately failed) taught me about how the learning experience could be implemented in a classroom. I feel empowered to take what I have learned and create a global collaboration project for my own class someday! 

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