Collaborative learning is one educational approach that has been greatly influenced by advancements in digital technology. The concept of collaborative learning is widely recognised by universities around the globe, used to complement traditional teaching methods and improve students’ ‘soft skills’ to prepare them for the modern workplace. While this style of learning is not a new phenomenon in education, the current digital climate has seen the method evolve and the latest technological solutions are playing a key role in its success.
In basic terms, the collaborative learning approach refers to students working together either peer-to-peer or in group activities. It usually focuses on four principles - the student is at the centre of instruction, there is an emphasis on interaction, group working and structured approaches to problem-solving. While studying the academic subject, students also harness vital skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, and self-directed learning.
There are many universities and higher education institutions that have adopted these active learning experiences alongside similar methods such as project-based learning, challenge-based learning and inquiry-based learning. The benefits for students is that they learn from each other, as well as their teacher and are better prepared for the world of work from regularly iterating, creating and collaborating.
Technology is a key enabler in the different learning approaches and educators are starting to recognise the value of these tools. In the recent NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Higher Education edition, the research into collaborative learning highlighted that “although this trend is rooted in pedagogy, technology plays an important role in the implementation; cloud-based services, apps, and other digital tools promote persistent connectivity, enabling students and educators to access and contribute to shared workspaces, anytime.”
One solution that has been aiding educators is Nureva’s Span cloud-based visual collaboration system. It is already been used successfully in several global universities from Germany’s Macromedia University and TU Delft University in the Netherlands, to the University of Missouri College of Education and is currently being trialled at the UK’s London Metropolitan University.
The Span system is ideal for all creative collaboration activities that benefit from visualising and sharing information on a large surface, as it works by transforming walls into ultra-wide interactive areas with an expansive digital canvas. Students create their ideas on their personal devices, whether it’s a computer, tablet or smartphone, and can share them in the cloud and make contributions in real time.
The technology previously used to support collaborative working hasn’t always delivered a great experience. Participants would have to juggle multiple software applications, struggle with set up and install and then learn to work it. Students were unable to make instant contributions in real time so any interactions would feel stilted and unnatural. Span was created to combat many of these all too common problems.
The system draws upon familiar, simple and flexible tools that are already used in paper-based collaborative learning, such as sticky notes, sketches, images and flip charts. In collaborative learning, educators frequently rely on large workspaces with lots of pieces of written information. Span’s digital canvas retains the flexibility that paper-based systems offer, while overcoming many of the deficiencies. When bits of sticky paper and writing on boards is used for collaborative learning, storage and retention of work is a challenge, as is including any remote participants in the process.
Instead of students relying on paper sticky notes to track their ideas and organise information, the process is made digital. Students can evolve their thinking and work together on the shared digital canvas from their personal devices or contribute and organise information directly at the wall. One element of the solution is Quickshare which allows students to make real-time contributions from any device, whether they are present in the classroom or in a remote location.
The flexibility of Span is evidenced in the multiple different ways it is being used in universities. At the Macromedia University in Europe, the Span system has been installed in its design thinking lab, transforming a wall in the open-concept classroom into a 10' 2" wide interactive workspace. The university is encouraging students to share and discuss their ideas in a collaborative and dynamic way during the design-thinking process. Metropolitan University is trialling the solution as part of its creation of a new Learning and Teaching block. The block will be a pilot area for new technologies, with a focus on active learning and new pedagogies.
The NMC report interestingly states that the role of faculty is shifting considerably. Educators are “increasingly expected to employ a variety of technology-based tools and engage in online discussions and collaborative authoring”. Universities are advancing towards digital transformation and collaboration technology will be an important cog in the wheel for active and interactive learning.