Collaborative learning plays an important role in universities to complement traditional teaching methods and improve students' 'soft skills' in preparation for the workplace. While collaborative 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.
Four main principles
The approach sees students working together either peer-to-peer or in group activities and usually focuses on four main 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.
Many universities and higher education institutions 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 key
Technology is a key enabler in the different learning approaches and many educators now recognise the value of collaboration 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 is 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.
Simplifying creative collaboration activities
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, computers, tablets or smartphone, and can share them in the cloud and make contributions in real time.
Historically, the technology used to support collaborative working had several issues with usability. 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.
Digitising familiar tools
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.
Flexibility embraced by leading universities
The flexibility of Span is evidenced in the multiple ways it is being used by universities - from an installation in the design-thinking lab at the Macromedia University in Europe, to a pilot area for active learning and new pedagogies at London's Metropolitan University. However, the collaboration benefits of Span also stretch way beyond the classroom walls. The cloud-based system allows collaboration between the universities themselves regardless of their geographical location. The solution has made it possible for universities on opposite sides of the world to connect. Different universities frequently share information, whether it is executives exploring solutions to wider issues facing education or tutors and students working on joint projects. The Span System is a critical tool that will enable universities to connect their faculty, staff and students with others.
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 to make it happen.