Collaboration—sharing ideas, resources, information, skills, and perspectives—is a regular part of today’s classroom instruction. But it hasn’t always been that way. Collaboration first seeped into the American schoolscape in the 1970s, when some educators began to argue that students produced better work in cooperative environments. The revolutionary idea that students working together maximized learning was initially met with skepticism by many in the educational community. Today, collaborative learning is on super speed, thanks to our technology-rich world.
The concept of collaboration as a model for learning is foundational to 21st-century learning skills, and "collaborate" is a widely used verb in virtually every set of contemporary teaching standards. In modern learning environments, it has become a generally embraced notion that cooperative learning builds relationships, enhances communication skills, promotes critical and creative thinking, and enhances diversity. Often, technological application is the mortar that holds all of those skills and interactions together.
Collaboration is certainly the way that today’s learners prefer to work. Technology-savvy students are creating a demand for learning and communicating collaboratively at school, just as they do at home. Brain research bears out this preference, indicating that today’s students learn more, and remember it longer, when they learn through cooperation, conversation, conceptualization, and storytelling. The MacArthur Foundation has released an in-depth study titled the "Digital Youth Project" (http://digitalyouth.ischool.berkeley.edu) that reveals how students prefer to learn outside of the classroom. That study, and the accompanying book, Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out: Living and Learning With New Media, has deep implications for the educational community. This trend is not only creating a new kind of learner but a new kind of educator as well—one who specializes in developing and sustaining a nexus for cooperative learning and who has the skills, knowledge, and contacts to connect students with resources. Enter Roxana Hadad—"The Collaborator."
Roxana Hadad and the Collaboratory
Roxana is the project and instructional designer for the Collaboratory Project at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. The Collaboratory is a secure, student- and teacher-friendly web-based learning environment. Through this project, Roxana works with agencies and specialists to initiate standard-based learning projects that bring students together to create, evaluate, and synthesize data; to share ideas and information; and to benefit from the input of scientists, environmentalists, sociologists, and other specialists. Though their primary audiences are students living in the state of Illinois, the participation is international. There are more than 2,000 schools represented in the Collaboratory.
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