Using Technology to Teach Collaborative Skills

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With technology readily available in K–8 classrooms, educators have an opportunity to incorporate it into their lessons and provide another avenue for students to build social and emotional skills. Working technology into classroom lessons can be an effective way to develop students’ social and emotional learning skills, especially those involving collaboration.

Academic, social, and emotional skills are most effectively taught together, not in isolation. Social and emotional skills can support the development of new academic skills, and academic skills can do the same for new social and emotional skills. For instance, as students develop collaboration skills and work more effectively with peers, they’ll become more aware of their own strengths and areas for growth, which will make them better collaborators (Zimmerman, 2018). Developing these skills is a lifelong process of learning how to better understand, connect, and collaborate with others both in and out of the classroom.

According to Caitlin Krause, technology is “being used as a means to facilitate, expand, and empower the mind and voice of every learner—student and teacher alike” (2019). As students build their social and emotional skills, technology can offer another option to help students connect with classmates and teachers alike.

The COVID-19 pandemic established the prevalence of distance learning and remote work, which created new possibilities for intertwining social and emotional skills with technology and dramatically increased the use of Chromebooks, iPads, and videoconferencing in schools. During the first few months of the pandemic, there were many opportunities for students to build collaborative skills through technology, including the use of:

  • Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. This collaborative software allows students to work on the same platform at the same time so that they can communicate with each other while working in real time. In addition, these programs will automatically save students’ work and maintain a history of the file so previous revisions can be viewed.
  • Google Classroom. This blended learning platform supports the building of students’ social and emotional learning skills through collaborative assignments (cooperation) and opportunities for honest, helpful, and respectful communication (assertiveness).
  • Kahoot! This game-based collaborative learning platform offers students a fun way to become leaders in the classroom. Students create multiple-choice quizzes, based on class content, that provide lively interaction and a path for students to build their assertiveness by showing confidence in their work.
  • Flipgrid. This video discussion platform promotes collaboration and student engagement while providing opportunities for students’ voices to be heard.
  • Zoom. Videoconferencing allows students to communicate remotely and form collab- orative groups. The teacher can act as the facilitator and pose questions to students, who can then be separated into small groups, or breakout rooms, to discuss the questions.

Careful and purposeful use of these technologies offers educators opportunities for incorporating SEL skills into their digital lessons. Keep in mind that this integration may sometimes require teachers to monitor content. There also needs to be a willingness by educators to try new technology and be aware of potential behavioral changes in students.

When making lesson plans, keep in mind the implementation of SEL skills from the start. Infuse engaging activities from your content when using technology so students are using one or all of their SEL skills to reach the learning goal. Provide prompt questions so students can interact with others and practice SEL skills when they collaboratively discuss the answers. Create optimistic closings by giving an opportunity for students to reflect on the day’s events and to express gratitude (Srinivasan, 2019). For example, when using social media such as Twitter or Instagram in the classroom, create a hashtag for each student so they can be responsible for follow-up questions from the teacher. By keeping in mind these guidelines, students are less likely to feel disconnected from the content and will find opportunities to collaborate with other students while using technology.

Like the academic content that they are taught, the social and emotional skills students develop when working with technology will serve them throughout their lives. As the working world shifts toward a technology-driven future, students need to learn how to use technology in collaborative and beneficial ways.

Amber Searles is a program developer and consultant at Center for Responsive Schools. She began as a middle school business education teacher, receiving her district’s Teacher of the Year award. Amber believes in the power of teaching academic, social, and emotional skills to prepare students both in and outside of school, and in empowering teachers with content and products that will help them to foster hope in their students and build communities where they feel empowered by their work.