Telecollaboration

Telecollaboration

Welcome to my first blog post on my brand new website! I’m glad you decided to stop by!

Recently, I put out a poll on Twitter, and my followers overwhelming agreed that telecollaboration should be the subject of my first post, which was incredibly exciting for me, as it’s a subject that is near and dear to my heart. It just so happens that I’m writing my dissertation on telecollaboration, specifically on students’ identity and investment (more to come later), but let’s start at the beginning.

  So, what exactly is telecollaboration?

Telecollaboration is basically a modern-day pen-pal arrangement, typically in a foreign language classroom, but it could absolutely be integrated into other content courses. It can take a lot of forms, as you can see in my fancy chart below. Some exchanges are synchronous, using tools like Skype or Facebook chat, others are asynchronous, such as email exchanges. Communication can be completely open-ended, structured by tasks, or somewhere in between. Learners’ language proficiencies (in their native and second language) can determine how much of each language is spoken/written. Some telecollaborations take place between partners, others in large groups. These variations allow for instructors to tailor the experience to meet their goals and learners’ needs. Neat!

This chart illustrates the forms of telecollaboration discussed above

Why use telecollaboration in my class?

Telecollaboration has a range of benefits that can meet course, as well as curricular goals. It has been shown to increase learners’ various target language abilities, such as writing, etc. Learners’ intercultural competence (ICC) can also see improvement. ICC is basically how well they can identify aspects of other cultures and examine the perspectives behind them. Not only this, but studies show that students participate more equally in activities when telecollaboration is involved, become better at critical thinking and learn to better collaborate with their peers. Something I find particularly interesting, is that some studies show that students have a chance to create, develop and perform their identities during telecollaboration.

 

  Wait, can’t students just study abroad?

Technically, yes. Some students can, but not all can afford to study abroad, or have the time in their degree plan. Telecollaboration, besides its other established linguistic and cultural competence goals, can allow all students to have a meaningful exchange with the target language and culture. As opposed to study abroad, which is expensive and time-consuming, albeit very worthwhile, telecollaboration can be made financially accessible to students through university and college computer labs, or even smartphones. Telecollaboration can also help students to gain the confidence they need to decide to study abroad, or help alleviate some of the reverse culture shock we often see in study abroad returnees.

 

  Well I’m convinced now, but what should students talk about? How do I get started?

I’m glad you asked! This is where you and your partner instructor have a lot of flexibility! Here are some steps to get started:

  1. Decide what your goals are. How will this project fit into your course goals? What do you hope your students will learn?
  2. Find a partner course/institution. (UNI-Collaboration can help you with this!)
  3. Coordinate with your partner course/institution. How do your goals align? How can you make the project mutually beneficial? If you choose to have specific tasks, create these with your partner instructor.
  4. Create groups/partners. Some instructors have students fill out surveys of their interests and pair them this way, that way they have common interests. Others choose groups randomly. The choice is yours!
  5. Explain the project to your students. I am personally in the camp that believes that transparency with your students is key. Explain why you chose to incorporate telecollaboration into the course, and what you hope to achieve.
  6. Be ready for questions and complications. As much as I love telecollaboration (and so do students), it isn’t without its challenges. Be ready to troubleshoot technology issues and potential partner issues. By allowing students to choose their mode of communication, you can circumvent much of the tech issue, as students can simply change the tool their using. As far as partner issues go, the most common one I’ve encountered, is that is partners may not respond. In the past, my co-instructors and I have simply moved that student into another group. Communicate with your partner instructor and strategize.
  7. Have students reflect. As with so many learning opportunities, an integral part of telecollaboration is that students reflect on their experiences. In the course I co-taught, we had students reflect on their experiences in blog posts. Other options could include having students create portfolios of their interactions, write telecollaboration journals, or even write analyses of their interactions as larger class assignments.

There are so many possibilities for telecollaboration! A lot of the process of implementing a telecollaborative exchange in your course will include flexibility from you and your students (which is where transparency comes into play). Most importantly, these projects are informative, interesting and a lot of fun once you get them going, and can lead to some incredibly insightful classroom discussions. I’ve even seen them lead to long-term friendships, which is an awesome added bonus.

 

Have you tried telecollaboration before? What are your experiences? Would you like to try telecollaboration now? I look forward to reading your questions/comments! Thanks for reading!

 

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