This document describes the concept of collaboration on the World Wide
Web (Web), including conceptual, theoretical, pedagogical, and practical issues involved in
using the Web for collaborative activities and projects. The Web offers many opportunities for
teachers and students to collaborate on projects in all subject matters and at all grade levels.
Social interaction, which is the basis for much of what is learned in school and elsewhere, is
also the concept underlying collaborative learning. Through participation in social interaction,
students learn subject matter, communication skills, critical thinking, and language.
To collaborate means to share work, literally, to "co-labor," and this idea of sharing work relates to both tasks and products. This means that whenever possible, learning tasks should be divided up amoungst group members so that they share the work equally. Collaboration is really about sharing - ideas, writing, thinking, and the activities required to produce the finished product. Collaboration is also about distributing the work amongst members of a team, such that everyone has a part and everyone helps make the project successful.
Much has been written about collaboration related to learning, and a variety of terms have been used to describe such classroom activities. These include: collaborative learning, cooperative learning, group learning, peer teaching and learning, reciprocal learning, and teamwork. There have also been many attempts to incorporate the ideas behind collaboration into classroom learning tasks, from people like Slavin (1985), Sharon (1984), Roschelle (1992), Rogoff (1990), Linn (1991), etc.
Johnson, et al. (1990) identify five basic elements of collaborative learning:
When students collaborate on a learning task, they are often forced to articulate their thinking and beliefs, to share them with others. In articulating their thinking, students must consider what they know, and what they don't know, along with possible arguments and criticisms that might be leveled by others. Once student thinking has been made public, others in the classroom - including peers as well as teachers - can discuss these ideas in light of what has been learned. Through participation in this collaborative discourse, students can come to know and learn ways of thinking and talking that are prevelent in communities of science, history, math, etc.
One example of this type of collaborative project is the Global Grocery List project [http://gsn.org/gsn/ggl.home.html], where students from around the world collect data on the price of basic foods in their local area and share that data with everyone else around the world. The results are current, peer collected data that can be used in math, social studies, science, and health classes (and others).
Students using the Internet to conduct research on the Web can send e-mail to a scientist or expert in the field, or participate
in real-time conferencing with other students about a project they are engaged in. This provides the students with opportunities
to think more broadly about their school activities and their lives. Through participation in these activities, students are exposed
to perspectives different from their own, and they can associate the classroom activity with real problems they face in the world,
supported by others - students, scientists, artists, businesspeople, members of their own community, etc.
The Internet and the Web can be used to facilitate a variety of collaborative projects, for students in all grades (K-12), and for just about any subject area. While most of the existing Web Educational collaborative projects are for High School Science, the possibility exists for any educational project to be shared over the Web. For example, the following are all possible collaborative Web projecs:
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