Digital Collaboration in a Pre-Service College Classroom

Paul Solarz from Learn Like a PiRATE said: “Collaboration allows us to know more than we are capable of knowing ourselves.” If we are encouraging a mindset of questioning in our students, then as teachers should we also collaborate and question ourselves and our instructional practices? (Spoiler: YES!)

My current students are service-learning tutors who work in 18 different partner schools across San Diego County. These amazing college students represent the San Diego State University, Pre-College Institute Pathways program with zest and vigor. They care deeply for the K-12 students they support and come to class each week eager to practice and reflect on the art of instruction.

As we take a look at ISTE Standard 7, I found myself thinking about my amazing pre-service learners who are testing the waters or affirming their career goals of becoming teachers through work within the Pathways Service Learning program. As we look to examples of solid teaching practices on sites like The Teaching Channel,  I wanted to take the learning to the next level by having students interact with the video in a meaningful way. If collaboration, as Solarz states, is fuel for reflection, I wonder: “How can we use digital tools with a focus on collaboration, to support learning and meaning-making while broadening our own perspective?”  

Matt Bower states in Synchronous collaboration competencies in web-conferencing environments – their impact on the learning process that  “Interactive competencies included knowing how to use the tools not only to receive and transmit information but also to collaborate and co-create.” (pg 77)

I knew my class needed more than a simple Turn and Talk to make meaning of the instructional practices we discussed in class; although they seemed to engage in the learning, it still seemed easy enough to opt out of the conversation or to go through the motion of collaborating with a partner.  Enter my latest discovery…

VideoAnt is a free tool created by the University of Minnesota- College of Education and Human Development. This tool allows users to upload YouTube videos that can be paused in particular spots to add commentary or discuss important parts of the video.

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My tutors were able to collaborate and make meaning about specific instructional moves, highlighted by guiding questions I provided ahead of time. Our conversation was rich and meaningful and my students were doing all the meaning-making.


Building on Bower’s premise that video conferencing has three distinct levels of interaction or engagement:

  • Iteration 1: instructive approaches primarily using the default interface designs of the web-conferencing system (this iteration offered a baseline for analysis).
  • Iteration 2: use of collaborative spaces to facilitate more student-centred learning, with activities and interfaces purposefully designed to engage greater student involvement (for instance, designing an interface that contained areas for groups of students to collaboratively write a computer program).
  • Iteration 3: refinements to the designs and pedagogical strategies used in iteration 2, with pervasive use of audio and more flexible adjustment of the interface to meet evolving collaborative and cognitive requirements of lessons (such as spontaneously integrating whiteboards if spatial concepts were being discussed or increasing the size of pods if they were to become the main focus of the learning episode) (pg 67).

I would argue that adding VideoAnt allows pre-service students and practicing teachers  to collaborate and reflect on instructional practice in meaningful ways.  When students voluntarily add comments in addition to responding to the guiding question, they are refining the learning from the perspective of others and for personal growth. The students are doing the ‘meaning-making’ and driving the learning which brings about a level of metacognitive-driven engagement.

ISTE 7b  sets a goal of having “students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.” Using tools like VideoAnt requires students to examine instruction together. Once the comfort level is reached the sky is truly the limit; as one tutor and I discussed, uploading a video of yourself in a classroom setting, highlighting the instructional moves you are proud of, while discussing the areas you want to grow for next time might just make for a dynamic addition to a portfolio that could set one apart during a job interview as a newly licensed teacher.

As an educator, it is a privilege to learn and grow every day alongside your students. When the technology supports the learning outside of a classroom task we are able to see  multiple opportunities, and as Solarz states, “know more than we are capable of knowing ourselves.” This is the true gift of education.


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