Collaboration in Cyberspace

In order to foster genuine collaboration in the classroom, a skilled teacher will focus on creating the right conditions in the class that will allow students to work together effectively.  Students have to know that they are accountable for doing or not doing their work.  They have to trust in the teacher by following the parameters of the project.  Students have to have adequate time to get to know their group-mates, so they get a sense of each other’s strengths that can help the group succeed, as well as how the group can help remedy or offset any weaknesses in any of the individual members.  To be able to get to this point, students have to let their guards down and trust each other.

The same is true on social media in cyberspace.

Some people will immediately dismiss this premise because they don’t believe that there can be any genuine collaboration among strangers on the internet.  They see the internet as a valuable source of information and they might even buy into being able to connect to people in a meaningful way, but more so as a way to facilitate real-world, face-to-face relationships.

As an educator who has worked in the classroom throughout the rise of the internet, I have noticed a clear evolution.  In classrooms of yesterday, we used the internet to access information and communicate with folks that we mainly had relationships with in our schools or communities.

Now, we can develop and maintain collaborative relationships with people we never meet with face-to-face.  These relationships can be just as beneficial and real as those we have with people we work with or go to school with.  In order to develop these kinds of relationships, we need time to get to know our collaborators in cyber-space.  That’s where social networks come in.  These are the spaces in which we can frequent our collaborators. We develop our own Personal Learning Networks, which are the equivalent of the small groups we work with in the classroom. We need time to get to know the strengths of our colleagues.  We can build teams in cyberspace the same way we build teams in the classroom and workplace.  In order for these teams to be “real,” each user must be “real.”  This is why I advocate using one’s full name in one’s Twitter handle.  When people Tweet on behalf of an institution or when they take on an alias, it hinders genuine collaboration because it prohibits your potential collaborators from knowing the real person behind the account.  It’s ok to protect one’s privacy, especially if the users are minors.  I am not in favor of requiring students to use their full names when social media is used in the classroom.  But as long everyone in the class knows each of the usernames, they will be able to get to know the person behind it.  When reaching out to others across the globe on social media, it is important to be yourself, even if you only use your first name.  This will help people connect to you.

So if you haven’t already figured it out, this is another push in support of joining and using social networks as spaces that foster collaboration with colleagues.  That’s what many educators are using blogs like this one for, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and G+ as well.

Please let me know what you think!