BISBuzz Digital Citizenship Learning Together

Part 3 Learning Together

Learning together is an important part of our mission, it transcends all disciplines and facets of school life. Viewed from an academic perspective it recognises that social interaction and collaboration are catalysts for powerful learning. Modern advances in technology and the increase in our provision of learning technologies provide us with the means to pursue and develop this.

New Technologies- Traditional Interaction

There has been much educational literature and research highlighting the power of social constructivist learning, of how a collaborative approach nurtures and supports enhanced learning. This dates back to eminent psychologist Vygotsky's belief that all learning is first experienced in a social plane- in our context the classroom- before being internalised and demonstrated individually- such as homework or an assessment task.

More recently, and drawing upon modern technologies, Sugata Mitra’s work  on developmental education in India- the inspiration for the film Slumdog Millionaire- provides additional evidence of these benefits. Mitra provided unguided internet access to small groups, supplementing this with limited mediation to support fruitful social interaction and was able to demonstrate significant learning benefits. It is pertinent to mention that, in this case the mediator had no knowledge of the topic the children were asked to find out about.

This made use of technology as a tool for exploration with traditional mediated face to face social interaction supporting the learning itself. Students were not instructed but enquiry encouraged. This represents one way that we can employ technology -ready internet access- and blend this with traditional face to face collaboration. Although extremely powerful, and an active area of educational research, this represents just one way that technology can support social learning.

New Technologies- New ways to interact

At first glance Polymath and Foldit appear seemingly unrelated, one is a collaborative approach to formulating mathematical proofs, the other offers participants the opportunity to solve puzzles for science. Beneath their apparent differences lie commonalities. Both utilise modern advances in technology and the increased communication and collaboration they offer, both have made significant advances in their respective fields which had previously remained elusive. These examples from outside of the realm of education illustrate the second way that technology can support social learning.

Harnessing for Learning

Increased connectivity and web 2.0 tools have provided a new dimension to learning, facilitating social interaction and collaboration where it was previously absent. Ready access allows students to learn together, studywiz forums, shared google docs and skype allow students to maintain a social element to their learning outside of the classroom.

When viewed in terms of our enquiry process (see article 1) students can collaboratively locate information using social bookmarking tools like diigo they can browse together using collective browsers like They can organise their ideas together through online note taking tools like google docs or multi-media cork boards such as spaaze or a plethora of collaborative graphic organisers such as Spiderscribe or mindmeister. When demonstrating their understanding groups of students can employ a wide variety of collaborative tools to present traditional written documents, multimedia presentations or Video.

In addition the wealth of opportunities to present this material as part of a positive online presence facilitates the opportunity to reflect, showcase and engage with fellow students locally and elsewhere.

Revolutionised Learning?

Some of these tools streamline and allow the traditional to become more efficient, but much more significantly, some, allow that which could previously only occur within the classroom take place elsewhere. Students can benefit from the power of social learning even when they are separated geographically.

Educational researchers have coined the phrase “Radical Discontinuity” to describe the difference between how a student chooses to pursue their own learning outside of a traditional school and what they experience in the classroom. Over the past decade recreational social engagement has been revolutionised by advances in technology. Our interactions are no longer bounded by who we can see or hear, nor are they bounded by who we know. We are more connected than we have ever been, this has changed how we socialise and, employed appropriately could offer vast benefits to learning.