Teamwork in Education

This article is the product of experience I did not expect to have when I began teaching history at the university level in 1969. My understanding of education then, like most of my peers, was very limited. I had been to graduate school and could talk before groups, so I was qualified to be a teacher. I had taken no education courses. Lecturing to communicate information on my academic subject was expected as I did research for publishing so that I could gain academic advancement. When I began to be concerned about the problems of students whose reading, writing, and study skills were lacking, I was told that spending class time and passing out materials on those subjects was not really appropriate. My job was to “teach history, just history.”

Being drafted during the Nixon years of the Vietnam War took me away from the career path I expected to follow. There was no re-employment right for veterans with universities as there were for many other employers and I was unable to complete my dissertation during military service. Therefore, I was unable to return to university teaching and ended up in a job with a large state agency. In the course of a thirty year career, I became an Organization Development consultant working with top managers and their supervisors. Developing teamwork became a specialty. I was an early advocate of quality circles which developed in Japan. As the American interest in Japanese techniques faded, the focus on teamwork remained as a legacy that has gained increased importance as downsizing and computing technology continue to revolutionize the American workplace.

Upon retirement, I returned to teaching history at two institutions of higher learning. The educational environment has changed radically since 1969. Today faculty are expected to be concerned about student engagement and retention as a measure of institutional success. Use of groups and teamwork is one strategy that is encouraged so that students become more involved and not just passive recipients of lectures.

The purpose of this article is to share how I apply my experience with teamwork in an educational setting and why I think using teams is important. One problem is that most academics lack the practical experience with teamwork gained in other work settings. This article outlines principles anyone can follow to begin using teams effectively and confidently without needing to dig into all the academic literature on the subject.

This article explains briefly: (1) why collaborative teams are needed in education; (2) why they are difficult to achieve; and (3) how to go about teaching collaboration.

Why Collaboration?

Education in the United States has been in crisis since about the 1950s when the purposes of education began to change. The philosophies and approaches we inherited from Europe focused on developing an elite, teaching them skills and values for leadership as well as literacy and information. With the spread of more democratic approaches and values, the purpose seemed to become basic literacy and informational content. Literacy came to mean ability to read, write, and calculate at designated grade levels. Literacy and information have come to be tested in uniform ways with increasing pressure being placed on test results. It should not have surprised anyone that education of the masses would then turn into tutoring to pass tests in narrow areas.

Literacy in an elite educational system was more than book knowledge. It involved skills and values needed to function appropriately in an aristocratic society. The same is true today. Literacy includes skills such as driving, using internet browsers, computer operating systems, word processing and spreadsheet programs, and other essential skills for the modern workplace. True literacy in aristocratic systems was being able to function as leaders in that society. True literacy today means being able to function as a professional in whatever field one chooses. Today people do not stay in the same job or even career for their adult lives, so they must be prepared to function as professionals in a wide range of fields.

My job these days is to teach survey history courses at two institutions of higher learning. The subject is history, but the standard of performance is professionalism. The purpose is to turn out students who are functionally literate not only in history but in the skills necessary to function as a professional in today’s world.

What does this have to do with collaboration? My contention is that collaborative teamwork is a skill as much in demand today as reading, writing, calculating, driving, and using computers. Furthermore, real collaboration engages students as they participate actively in their own learning and help or receive help from peers to perform at higher levels. Many educators are eager to see teams used because they should produce higher quality products as the bar is raised when peers challenge each other and raise questions some would not have considered.

But there is a danger if teamwork is not used correctly. Students often think only in terms of “group work,” which means splitting up a task so each does less work and then throwing together an uneven product indicating less quality than would have been submitted by many students individually. When better students hear of teamwork, they may think it means they do the work of the poorer students who then get a better grade. The poorer students also have that same idea and are looking for a free ride.

Most faculty members and students will say they know what collaboration and teamwork are, but they don’t really understand them. One problem is that faculty members themselves have not been taught the basics of collaboration even when they often work in committees and other work groups. They too need to learn this aspect of literacy for today’s world.

Why Does Collaboration Seem Difficult?

Teamwork seems easy. The concept isn’t difficult. It’s doing it that makes you aware that it is not as easy as you thought. Too often people start to require it and then back down when things don’t go as smoothly as hoped so that many end up saying collaboration is hard to achieve.

The first point to realize is that collaboration is a skill like walking, running, driving, riding a bicycle, or swimming. Everyone can and will learn it with practice. Walking, for example, is a difficult skill that babies master slowly. Bumps and bruises on the rear end happen as babies figure out the multiple adjustments needed to keep their balance. When learned, we all do very complicated movements all the time without thinking about them because a skill has been mastered. The same principles apply to running, swimming, driving, or riding a bicycle. Once learned, even when you don’t use those skills for a long time, you can come back to them and quickly do them without giving thought to the many small decisions that are constantly made in order to perform the operation.

The second point is that there is often tremendous resistance to learning collaboration. Good students and employees want to achieve personal success, not bring a group along with them. Individuals who feel competent and powerful share both competence and power in teamwork. The star athlete who gets the headlines is what many people want to be rather than one member of the team who gets to play but doesn’t stand out.

Learning the value of teamwork can be a very humbling experience for those who feel they are extremely smart and competent. Really important accomplishments in our world today are essentially collaborative – from making movies and most art forms to running big corporations. When real teamwork happens, competent people learn that the group was smarter than the solo work of any really smart member. Studies have shown that group results can outperform individual results.

The third point, then, is that there is some pain in the learning process – bumps and bruises, embarrassments, times when things seem to be getting out of control. Teachers who use teams must be clear in setting expectations and firm in enforcing the rules if they are to get students to overcome resistance and fear of pain so that they learn the skill by doing it. Once it is learned, the students will feel more comfortable and even enjoy it as a genuinely participative form of learning.

How to Teach Collaboration.

There is a lot of information that can be learned. Principles of adult education are important. Group dynamics and creative thinking techniques can be useful. There is also much information on stages of team formation to make people comfortable with the various forms of conflict that naturally occur in teams. Sometimes academic writings lay out step by step processes for negotiating contracts or constitutions and other procedures that sound like they are guaranteed to produce success. All of this is good information – but it tends to make something simple appear far more complicated than it is.

There are three basic requirements for successful collaborative teamwork: (1) a meaningful assignment or objective to accomplish; (2) rules ensuring full participation of each member in following the rules of the assignment to produce a team result; and (3) teachers sticking to their guns to insist that the rules are followed and enforced.

A meaningful assignment creates pressure on a group that leads to productivity. Most of us are aware of football games in which the teams perform better as time is running out and pressure mounts. That pressure seems to pull teams together so they step up several notches in the closing minutes, often overcoming a great deal of stumbling that happened earlier in the game.

Teams must have clear and specific goals and expectations. Assigning a group to study together doesn’t produce measureable outcomes. It is measureable outcomes that motivate. One method that can work is to have teams work on presentations so that the entire group is graded on the quality of the final product. This method can work in most academic disciplines.

Rules for full participation can become complicated, but I believe that three simple rules are the key. They are easy to explain; however making them happen takes consistent enforcement. The three rules are: (1) rotating leadership; (2) consensus decisions; and (3) final team review.

All too often some students will talk more than others. Sometimes that means the brighter ones end up doing most of the participating. It is a good idea for one or two people to take the lead at times in coordinating or developing something for group consideration. It is important to find a way that is directly connected to the assignment to force groups to rotate leaders so that everyone is forced to provide guidance and no one gets a free ride.

The most difficult team skill to learn is how to make consensus decisions. One way to make them happen is to outlaw voting as part of decision-making. Whenever votes are taken, there are those whose voices dominate and those who passively go along. Students need to understand that unanimity is not the objective but a decision to which everyone consents. In consensus decision-making, everyone has a veto. If anyone has a concern about a proposal, they must be listened to and the group must find a way to reach a resolution that everyone can live with and agree to accept responsibility for. Consensus requires open airing of concerns and discussion that seeks to find a way to satisfy the concerns of every member. Of course these decisions must be within the rules laid out for the assignment so that the group does not have authority to rewrite standards given by the teacher.

The third rule is to require each team to formally and thoroughly review the finished product to ensure group examination of every detail and consensus affirmation of the product before submitting it. There is no room for allowing someone to make quick changes at the finish and turn in something the group says didn’t really represent what they thought had been agreed on.

The bottom line for evaluating the effectiveness of teamwork is the final product. If it is lacking in quality in significant ways, you can be sure the three rules of collaboration were not followed. Students will complain and find all sorts of excuses for making exceptions to the three rules. The role of the teacher is to be clear on the boundaries of the assignment and enforce them. That kind of pressure is what is needed to get students to follow through in using the expected skills.

Conclusion.

Use of collaborative teams is a necessary skill in today’s professional world. It can also raise the quality of student engagement and of educational outcomes. The difficulty is that teachers must learn the essentials of teamwork, build them into assignments, use simple and clear rules, and then enforce in spite of resistance. Our educational goals today should not be to turn out specialists in one discipline or another, but professionals equipped with the skills needed to succeed in a number of possible careers. Collaborative teamwork is one of those life skills today.

Chromebooks and Google Apps for Education – Time to Go All-In on the Web?

About six months ago, Google gave me a prototype version of a netbook computer running their new (at that time) Chrome OS to evaluate. It’s called a Chromebook (1). It is basically a laptop that runs one installed application, the Chrome web browser. It starts incredibly fast; from zero to browsing in about 8 seconds. It has a solid state drive so it is really light and the battery lasts all day (actually, it lasts me several days). Once you are running, the idea is to use web applications, like Google Apps, to get your work done, rather than install desktop apps, like Microsoft Office. To help users find web apps (and to help web developers find users), Google created the Chrome web store (2). It makes it easy to find and ‘install’ web apps.

Over the last six months, as I used the Chromebook, I kept coming back the question, “why do I need this?” Now, I’m not saying that I did not like the Chromebook. It’s really nice to have a lightweight netbook that starts so quickly. Also, it comes with a 3G cellular modem that includes 100mb of free data a month, so if I know I’ll be in a place where I might not get WiFi, then I bring the Chromebook. But in terms of basic functionality, I can do everything that I do with the Chromebook on a standard netbook.

So, as a consumer, do I need a Chromebook? Wednesday, at their yearly developer conference, Google IO, Google gave me the answer; I don’t need it (even though it is nice), but schools do need it. Google announced the first two commercially available Chromebooks, one from Samsung and one from Acer. More importantly, they announced a hardware ‘subscription’ model that allows a large customer to pay a monthly fee for the Chromebook, warranty and support. This includes the ability to manage all of these Chromebooks and their software centrally. Google is clearly positioning the Chromebook as a secure, manageable, portable productivity tool for large organizations that are interested in low cost of ownership. While that’s not all that cool for typical consumers, it’s very cool for schools.

Schools are challenged on many, many fronts, and many people are looking to technology to fix school problems and increase student achievement. However, deploying and maintaining technology is complex and very expensive. Managing and securing large groups of computers and keeping their software up-to-date requires a highly skilled IT staff. Such folks don’t come cheap. Google quoted a number that suggests it costs large enterprises about $3,000 per year per user to maintain each traditional computer and it’s applications. ZDNet reckons it closer to $1,900 per year per user. Schools try to do it even cheaper. For instance, schools often extend refresh cycles to 5 years, but that leaves them with many older, slower machines that tend to fail more often. Schools also try to share a few computers between many students, but that just limits students’ access to the benefits of educational technology. Even with these compromises, it is still expensive and challenging to maintain edtech. This is where the Chromebook and Google Apps for Education come in; Google announced at Google IO that they will provide Chromebooks to schools for $20 per month, per computer. Google Apps for Education is free. Google expects schools to sign up for 3 years, but that $240 per year per computer includes a warranty on the hardware, which is critical in a school environment.

Importantly, all of this is designed to be centrally managed. The web-based management interface allows an IT admin to create and manage groups, customize spam filter rules, and grant access to apps and documents. This is clear distinction between Chromebooks and iPads (or even Android tablets).

How can this be so cheap? Well, for one thing, you don’t need antivirus software. The Chromebook is built from the ground up for security. All data on the solid state drive is encrypted, so if a Chromebook is lost, the data is still secure. Also, the hardware and bios contain routines that detect tampering each time the Chromebook is started. You don’t need Microsoft Office. Google Apps for Education contains a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing software and web site creation software. You don’t need Microsoft Exchange Server (or the server computers that it requires). Google Apps for Education includes email accounts and web based GMail interface for all of your users. You can also save the time and money associated with creating and deploying new disk images each year; the management console allows IT administrators to determine which users get which apps and all apps, because the are web apps, are automatically updated.

For those users that must have access to desktop applications, you can use your Citrix and VMWare to provide virtualized desktops on the Chromebook (or just provide a subset of users with more traditional laptops). Tools, Curriculum and assessment software are important to schools. So, you will need to assess your current software and look for web delivered versions or alternatives. This is much easier than it used to be. Many K-12 educational technology companies are offering web versions of their products. For instance, if your school or district uses Kidspiration or Inspiration, you can use Webspiration with your Chromebook. Talking Fingers, Inc has created a web version of their great phonics product, Read, Write and Type!

All of your older computers, whether they are Macs or Windows machines (or even the occasional Linux machine), can run the Chrome web browser and Google apps, so you can roll out Google Apps for Education to everyone and start saving money immediately. You don’t have to commit to Chromebooks for all users all at once. You can phase Chromebooks in as part of your refresh cycle.

So, is it time to go all-in on the web? Each district needs to answer that question for themselves, based on their own requirements. But now, it is clearly possible to say yes.

Play Browser Games Online

Nowadays, internet connectivity becomes essential components of the family and offices. Through it you can work, operate business, earn degree in education and get some form of amusement that will give you fun to remedy the stressful long day of work at the office. There are thousand so online games that you can select to give the utmost fun and entertainment.

One of the reason why browser based games are becoming popular is because of its accessibility without difficulty to the internet to all anywhere and anytime of the day. You can easily avail of the wide collections of their games that are created for you to get the package of excitement as you play with them online.

Play browser games online if you desire of getting some form of amusement to get rid of the tensions you are current undergoing at work. This is the right time for you to enjoy and take the pleasure of experiencing the joy of winning in the computer games.

You will get the needed entertainment you desire if you sign up to their websites. The gaming experiences that they offer to the gamers cannot be easily forgotten. You will be very interested to go back to their websites and play more online browser based games.

The mechanics of these online games is simple and clear which can be easily understood by the gamers for all of ages. It gives full enjoyment upon knowing that these games are free of charges. You can avail of them without spending cents.

It is guaranteed that these computers can reduce stress that is detrimental to your health. It is noteworthy to know that the day to day lives of most of the people are jam-packed with many responsibilities and account abilities. Finding outlets to be relieved of these is hard. So take the advantages of the browser based games online.

Leave all these tensions and avail of these computer games online for free. This is one of the most appropriate ways to beat the difficulties of life by entering into the internet games. You do not need to resort to renting or purchasing high costs video games because the browser games can be played online anytime of the day.

No need of downloading these games online because you can readily access to them anytime of the day. Play your favorite browser based games with no software downloading. You can enjoy the wide collection of these games available online.

Use free time for connecting to the internet to get genuine non-stop entertainment and chances of getting the freebies attached to these computer games. You can interact with other people all over the world through these games online.

Web Browsers For Kids

Nowadays, the Internet has become an everyday tool in our lives and in our children lives. Parents face a mission of protecting their kids in the cyber world. The Internet has become the playground for many young children. Young children, from age two, use the Internet to play games, learn, socialize, interact with each other and much more.

There are many sites that are suited for kids, even from young age, but surfing the Web is not such an easy task for them. Young children (2- 6 years old) encounter problems when they try to surf the Web since their language skills are limited. Most browsers are not suited for such young children and they need their parents help in order to use them.

Since browsers are the gateway to the Internet, young children find themselves limited in their ability to use the Web. The solution for many parents is to sit down with their young children when they use the Internet and help them in their first steps in this virtual world. It is a great solution-it is not recommended to let young children to surf alone without adult supervision. Parents can use this time to teach the child guidelines for surfing the Internet. The problem with this solution is that some parents don’t have the time to sit with their children when they use the Internet on a regular basis. Also, many parents are not knowledgeable in suitable safe websites for kids.

This problem was recognized by a few companies which are trying to create browsers for kids. In general lines, kids’ browsers provide a gateway to the Internet suited for young children, allowing them to surf to websites that have content that is suitable for their age. These browsers function as enclosed environment protecting the young users from Internet threats. Most of these browsers are offered as a service in return for a license fee or annual fee.

A few examples for kids’ browsers:

  • KidRocket – This browser is freeware. KidRocket blocks out the entire internet and only let the browser access limited, child-related websites. It also has a feature of Email for Kids with Art/eCard attachments and a feature of time lock for limiting a child’s time on the computer. Its requirements are: A PC running Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP or Vista and Internet Explorer 5 or a higher version.
  • KidSurf – This is a basic filter browser that allows parents to control the content their children are exposed to when they use the Internet. You can purchase a license for this product for a fee of $5.99 USD. Parents can choose from a list of websites or add their own websites to the browser favorites. There is also optional password protection of parents’ desktop and parents’ setup screen and a usage timer that parents can set to limit their child’s online time. Its requirements are: Microsoft Windows. For best results we suggest a broadband connection (Cable or DSL).
  • Kidzui– It is a very popular kids’ Web browser. Kidzui Web browser allows children to surf only to suitable websites and also offers access to games and videos. Kidzui also is being offered as an add-on to Firefox browser. Kidzui company states that their directory has more than 800,000 sites and suited for kids 3-12. Each child that uses Kidzui can choose an avatar that represents him/her in the browser. Kidzui is offered free, but there is a charge for premium services. For a free account users can:
    • Access suitable content
    • Create their own avatar – Zui.
    • Be a member in the community and make (parent-approved) friends.

    For a free account parents can:

    • Add individual websites.
    • Get access to parents account.
    • Get emailed reports of their kids’ online activity.

    For a payment of $7.95 USD/Monthly or $39.95 USD/Semi-annual or $29.95 USD/Annual –
    Users can:

    • Get over 100 new Zui clothes and accessories.
    • Get over 40 new backgrounds.
    • Watch as friends come online and share new stuff.
    • Say Hi to their friends.
    • Set their mood activity to tell their friends how they feel.
    • Create their own channel with favorite content.

    Parents can:

    • Block individual websites.
    • Get kids’ online activity graphed for 90 days.
    • Get unlimited history of their kids’ activities.
    • Add favorites to their kids’ accounts.
    • View their kids’ top interests by their online activity.

    Kidzui requirements are:

    • Intel Pentium III 500MHz or faster processor.
    • Windows XP (Service Pack 2 or later) or Windows Vista or Mac OS X.
    • Internet Explorer 6.0 or later or Firefox.
    • Adobe Flash Player 9.
    • 512 MB of RAM or more.
    • High Speed Internet Recommended.
  • KidThing

    Kidthing offers a work environment for children, which has interesting and educational content. It is different from kids’ Web browsers because Kidthing creates its own content. It uses the Internet, but it is not a Web browser. Kids can use this product without being connected to the Internet. After downloading the software the kids have access to limited number of activities. Parents can add content by purchasing additional content such as, books, games and videos available for a fee of 3-10 USD each.

    Kidthing requirements:

    PCs running Windows XP or Windows Vista.

  • Kido’z

    Kido’z Web browser is currently free. In the future, the company intends to charge for premium services. It is a Web browser that allows access only to content which is suited for children ages 3-7. This Web browser offers content that was pre-filtered to suit children, games, videos and YouTube for children. Parents can add their own content to the system. They can also decide to share this content and have it reviewed by the company editors. If it is found to be suited, it is added to the product directory for the use of other members in the community.

    A few of its features:

    • Supports 17 languages.
    • Exit Control protected by password so the child will not be able to leave the safe environment.
    • Daily Time Limit function.
    • Automatic Customization of the content based on the settings of the child’s account such as, gender, age, language, nationality etc.
    • Video Search.
    • Content Ratings – parents can rate the content and view other parents’ ratings.

    Kido’z requirements:

    KIDO’Z uses the Adobe AIR runtime and can be installed and used on every system for which AIR is available. These are the recommended requirements by Adobe:

    Windows

    • Intel® Pentium® III 1GHz or faster processor, 512MB of RAM.
    • Recommended: Pentium 4 2GHZ or faster, 1GB RAM.
    • Windows Vista® Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise including 64 bit editions, Windows Vista SP1, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition SP2 and SP3, Windows XP SP2 and SP3, Windows 2000 SP4, Windows 2003 Server.

    Mac OS X

    • Intel Core(TM) Duo 1.83GHz or faster processor; PowerPC® G4 1GHz or faster processor.
    • Mac OS X 10.4.11 or Mac OS X 10.5.4 and 10.5.5.
    • 512MB of RAM.

    Linux

    • Intel® Pentium® III 1GHz or faster processor, 512MB of RAM.
    • Recommended: Pentium 4 2GHZ or faster, 1GB RAM.
    • Fedora 8, Ubuntu 7.10, openSUSE 10.3.

Websites for Tweens and Teens:

Tweens (=kids ages 10-14) and teens have developed language abilities and they usually surf freely without the need of adults help. Differently from young children, they are not limited in their abilities to surf the Web. Sometimes they are more Internet savvy than their parents.

On the other hand, they still need to be protected when they use the Internet. Studies have shown that Internet parental control software has limited success in these age groups so it can not be a sole solution. Parents strive to protect tweens and teens when they use the Internet, educate them about Web ethics and warn them of Internet threats.