Discussion & Collaboration: Introduction

Effective discussion is at the heart of every successful history and social studies classroom. The sharing of information and ideas encourages students to engage actively with course materials and to articulate opinions based on sound critical thinking. Fortunately, computers and the Internet open the doors to a variety of exciting, new ways to discuss and communicate with your students. The conversations can start in class, but they can continue long after the bell and students can contribute any time during the day or evening. Certainly nothing can replace the impact of face-to-face dialogue, but hopefully this section offers you new ways to generate discussion with your students both in and outside of class and to communicate more effectively with the world outside your classroom walls.

Today's society also demands more cross-cultural collaboration than ever before. As businesses and organizations increasingly forge international relationships, their employees and administrators are crossing geographical and cultural divides to forge fruitful collaborative relationships. Many of these relationships exist and thrive online. Whereas the modern workplace is teamwork oriented and often self-directed, American students rarely get assignments that cultivate their ability to contribute to team goals and facilitate self-direction. If today's students are to thrive in tomorrow's workplace, they must be ready to apply twenty-first century skills in real-world settings and be prepared for careers as life-long learners.

Technology in Social Studies Classrooms: The Collaborative Classroom

Blogs, Podcasting, Twitter, and other tools can be used to create collaborative environments in which students express their knowledge and understanding while engaging with classmates to solve problems.

With Web 2.0, or the “Read/Write Internet,” technology is now easier, cheaper, and more accessible than ever. Teachers have an unequalled opportunity to provide students with the tools necessary to channel the power of the Web and exploit its communication and collaborative potential. Web 2.0 enables participants to share slide shows, video, online bookmarks, maps, charts, online audio, and more ' in other words, create online communities. As many experts point out, youth today live in a participatory online culture and actively share information and ideas and publish their creations to outside audiences. One only need think of the recent democratic political upheaveal in the Middle East to find evidence of undeniably powerful creative and collaborative online energies that are shaking the foundations of our world.

Inventive and team-oriented uses of Google Docs, blogs, wikis, social networks, and other technologies spur student engagement and creativity. This student engagement, coupled with the confidence teachers demonstrate in their students, represent important ingredients of the successful twenty-first century classroom. 

Here are few of the tools and platforms explored in this section that can enhance discussion and collaboration:

  • Google Docs is a tremendous platform for facilitating online collaboration in your classroom, or beyond. It is freely available on the Web and if you are familiar with other word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation programs, you can easily use Google Docs. The chat feature on presentations makes it possible to create a "permeable classroom" by bringing experts into a lesson to interact with students online.
  • Blogging lets you and your students have written discussions and online communications. These discussions can be private or publicly available and can be archived for future use. Blogging can be used can be used to form a discussion forum, post short current events articles and invite students' thoughts, foster communication among multiple classes, serve as a log of student progress on a research assignment, post photos and homework assignments online, and much more.
    • Learn more at our Blogs section.
  • A wiki is essentially a collaborative website. Wikis can be private in-house sites meant to serve a limited number of editors, or wide-open public sites where almost anyone can contribute. Students, teachers, and even parents could collaborate to gather, edit, and present information on a wiki. For instance, a wiki could be used to build a a list of historical definitions and class notes that constitute a study guide.
    • Learn more at our Wiki section.
  • Social networks are a great opportunity for educators to coopt student enthusiasm for online interaction for academic goals. (It also provides classroom context where teachers can teach their students how to behave responsibly in this environment.) When motivated, students are willing to extend classroom discussion beyond your four walls and share their creations. Go ahead and harness that energy!
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