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Essential Collaboration, Web 2.0 and Social Learning Platforms For 21st Century Education

Using New Technology to Increase Student Engagement, Build Partnerships, and Drive Productivity

Collaborative virtual workspaces are one of the most effective new ways to assist in providing a high quality 21st century education. ePals’ latest platform, LEARN365, fosters social learning by providing a virtual space that is not bound by space or time for students and teachers to come together and exchange information. This web seminar, originally broadcast on November 14, 2012, addressed the importance of social and collaborative learning technology and Web 2.0 tools in providing a holistic, connected, social education for today’s students.

Tim DiScipio

ePals has been around for 16 years as a pioneer in carving the path for social learning. It has been a very exciting era in the field because of the great technology, content, and learning communities that are available. These factors have resulted in increased student writing, deeper critical thinking skills, and empowered learning.

ePals connects classrooms around the world by allowing teachers to create a profile of their class and find another class with which to connect. The students can have a cross cultural exchange or a shared science experiment; all subject matter can be shared in this safe, on task, customizable environment. There is a convergence among curriculum content, collaboration tools, and the virtual community that is a recipe for powerful learning. While some may see this convergence as a novelty and simply want a foolproof means to higher test scores, content and the digital community can powerfully interact in a curricular way.

Ken Graham
Assistant Superintendent and Technology Director (Retired)
Hauppauge (N.Y.) Public Schools

Being retired, I admit I am jealous of the educators working today that will get to implement this digital community technology in an effective way. We had problems in the 20th century in Hauppauge and I want to share those will you in the hopes that this can make you aware if your school is making the same mistakes. By 1965, the idea of addressing the goals of the “affective domain,” which reinforce the notion that social learning is important to cognitive development, had disappeared from curriculum.

Emphasis on the “psychomotor domain,” which encourages the use of the creative mind, also disappeared. Pedagogical theory states that we can teach kids to go from what they know now to what they don’t know, but we have to teach them in the zone of proximal development. The skills are too difficult for a student to master on his or her own, but can be done with guidance and encouragement from a knowledgeable person. There is a role a teacher must play in guiding a student on this path from not knowing to knowing.

Learning precedes development, and in this view, the child is not just a learner but a participant. One of the elements that characterizes best practices in 21st century learning is the idea that the students take responsibility for their own learning, but it is done with collaboration and guidance. This is a powerful change from 20th century practices. In the 20th century, we did not have the tools that we have today. When we wanted to bring the collaboration, creativity, and cognitive aspects of learning together, we had to physically create the learning environment. In my school district on Long Island, we had a problem with students not being interested in science and math.

To address this, we built a science center that prompted excitement and engagement, as well as curiosity. The students took ownership of the center, whether it was by feeding the fish in the ponds or caring for the plants. They were working with, mentoring, and learning from one another. Through that collaboration, they could discover individual talents. Our district’s enrollment in science and math courses doubled. This type of environment had to be created brick and mortar style; today we could virtually build it with 21st century technology.

Similarly, we had a problem with a lack of time to teach about China. We had our teachers integrate Tai Chi, Chinese art, and folk songs into their curriculum. It culminated in a final day celebrating what the students learned. The key is that to teach about China effectively, we needed more time. That is time we can now get back with social media technology. As technology boomed, in order to get our students to be active media users, we installed TV studios and computer labs that allowed students to create media.

We included screens large enough for students to work together. While the labs and science center were good ideas, they consumed a lot of time and resources. The limits of the 20th century could not be reconciled without some sort of great innovation.

Tim DiScipio: With ePal’s global network program, we learned that students wanted to learn with and for each other and feel that teamwork. The idea of collaboration and making it curricular led us to coin the term “social learning.” The idea of bringing the elements of thinking and schoolwork to a virtual world was very exciting. Teachers came to us with stories about students who needed just a bit more time to learn and process a topic.

The virtual world gives students the time to do that. Students who may not be the first to raise their hand can use online space to form their thoughts and upload their ideas to the rest of their class when they are ready. These are some of the strengths of online learning. The socialization of the online world engages students and prompts them to produce more.

Ken Graham: The question is: why are these collaboration, Web 2.0, and social learning platforms essential for 21st century education? The answer is that they can deliver what we could not before. They engage both the affective and psychomotor domains, balanced with project work. In my district, providing a cloud-based, school-safe Web 2.0 collaboration platform inspired digital native students to make schoolwork part of their real lives outside of school. The power of authentic, collaborative engagement can transform a class into a connected learning community.

Technology itself empowers teachers and students to participate in safe, accessible global learning. There are more days of great teaching and learning. Cognitive development occurs in a social learning context, for the individual and the class as a whole. We broke the curriculum free from the time and place constraints of a school building. Learning could be done from home. Straying from the overemphasis on pencil and paper testing allows educators to open a new world of discovering and developing the unique talents of every student.

Bruce Lai
Vice President, Market Solutions

Learn365 is ePals’ latest social learning platform. It is robust and collaborative at the project, classroom, school, and district level. It has a safe and secure email system, as well as global social networking on a classroom to classroom scale. Schools can choose to use another email system if they don’t want to use our SchoolMail365 product.

Learn365 was built on several core philosophies, including offering teachers easy-to-use tools, engaging students in the socially networked world they live in today, and empowering district administrators to manage and deploy the platform. As with all ePals products, the system is completely safe and secure. Learn365 has integrated Web 2.0 tools, including wikis, blogs, forums, digital lockers, and a homework dropbox. We offer integration with Google Docs and the ability to integrate other third-party applications. Teachers have the ability to create project-based groups across the classroom, the school, or even outside the school, which allows for differentiated instruction and new forms of collaboration. We believe in anytime, anywhere learning, with peers, so the cloud-based platform allows for students to communicate in and out of school.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to