The art of collaborative on-line learning - skills for the 21st century.
The cross-classroom online collaboration structure and phases of the project uses some aspects of the Learning Circle design, although an adaptation of the different activities has been necessary in order to deal with the complexity of doing oral activities and online synchronous communication.
What is a Learning Circle?
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Learning Circles are highly interactive, project-based partnerships between a small number of schools/colleges/WBP (Centre). A learning circle can be based within an LEA, across the UK or link up with schools across the World. We have a number of standard topics or can work with centres to customise a circle to meet their needs
Learning Circles are an innovative and challenging way to engage in learning. A Learning Circle is created by a team of teachers and their classes joined in the virtual space of an electronic classroom. The groups remain together over a 2 -3 month period working on projects drawn from the curriculum of each of the classrooms organized around a selected theme. Teachers get ready for the project selecting the topic and preparing the groups among other suggested activities they are supposed to do in Phase 0: Getting Ready.
Once everything is ready the circle opens (Phase 1: Opening the Circle) and teachers and students introduce each other posting a video-podcast and doing a videoconference between paired classrooms. Once different teams have been created, topics chosen and the circle opened, each team will prepare a six-minute video-report on the topic chosen and upload it to the blog (Phase 2: Planning the Learning Circle Projects). On the next phase (Phase 3: Exchanging Student Work), they exchange their questions in a videoconference.
At the end of the term the group collects and publishes its work (Phase 4: Organizing the Circle Publication). This report takes the form of a video-podcast, hosted on the youngcast blog where a solution is given to some problems related to the topic chosen. Then, just as any class of students does, the Learning Circle comes to an end (Phase 5: Closing the Circle) and students upload a new post on the blog where they where they explain what worked well and what could be improved – and says their goodbye to the other schools. They also have the opportunity to do another videoconference with their paired classrooms. You will find more about the different phases below or here.
Working within a larger community provides direction and support to explore creative ways of integrating communications technology into your classroom. The supporting network provides much more than the technical links between the classrooms; it provides a rich network of human resources for learning how to use telecommunications as an instructional tool.
The Learning Circle structure promotes two aspects that we consider essential for a project:
- Theme-based project work and
- Community interaction
Theme-based project work:
This collaborative project aims to improve the oral skills of second language students’ (Spanish and English) and also to exchange their ideas and opinions about different themes in a real online context. The Learning Circle structure promotes theme-based project work integrated with the classroom curriculum. Most new curriculum frameworks, guides or plans are focused on the connections or bridges between disciplines. Themes are often used to as these bridges to emphasize critical thinking and problem-solving approaches.
Theme based projects help students to make the transition from subject-area curriculum to an issue-centered learning. During the project, students will have to choose a theme that they would like to work on. Coordinators will pair classrooms interested in working on the same theme but we STRONGLY RECOMMEND that schools choose curriculum-based themes to work on their project, if possible. One of the activities for the first phase of the project is to answer a classroom survey in order to know the preferences of the different classrooms. Although four themes are suggested in the survey (Daily Routines, Local environment, Home and Travel and Places), new topics can be suggested depending on the school and age of the students.
Moreover, working with Learning Circle partners help students develop important interpersonal skills. It also encourages interactions among teachers providing a very different model of professional development (more). The teachers and students who participate in different Learning Circles begin to create a community --a network of professional colleagues from around the world. This development of community is an important part of the Learning Circle model. Working within a larger community provides direction and support to explore creative ways of integrating communication technology into your classroom. The supporting network provides much more than the technical links between the classrooms; it provides a rich network of human resources for learning how to use telecommunications as an instructional tool.
- One laptop per TEAM:
With the aim that all the students could be involved in the project, they will be grouped in groups of two schools from the first activity and each classroom will be divided in TEAMS of students who will have a direct communication with another TEAM from the other school. This means that each team will have to do the activities suggested and communicate with their corresponding team, if necessary. We STRONGLY RECOMMEND that students work in little teams of 3/4 students as they encourage a much more straight collaboration between peers and so a more autonomous learning process.
- One laptop per CLASSROOM:
If depending on the experience in participating in online projects, the level and age of the students, as well as the online resources of the school, this will be very difficult. If students do not have the possibility of working in groups of 3/4 students or they are too little to do the project in little teams, they will have to do the activities all together as a class and they will be paired with another school with the same conditions.