School was once a place where teachers were the experts.
They stood at the front of the classroom and transferred their knowledge to
students in the form of step-by-step instructions and premade problems that were
unrelated to real life. And the students' primary tasks were to memorize and
upon a time, this model worked. But that time is over.
This research project is different.
It addresses all six of the ISTE
Standards for Students (ISTE Standards·S) It's a student-centered,
challenge-based, authentic learning experience
. It gives them practice using
basic research methods and collaborating in an online environment much like the
ones they will encounter in their future workplaces. And it encourages them to
be lifelong, self-taught learners who are prepared to master the rapidly
evolving technologies of their world.
meet these learning objectives, this unit incorporates three
Students collaborate in small teams entirely online.
must communicate with each other only through digital media, so
that they can gain online collaboration skills that will serve them well in
the future when they will be expected to collaborate with colleagues from
different offices or different parts of the world. This will also help them meet ISTE Standards·S 2: Communication and Collaboration and 6:
Technology Operations and Concepts.
Students practice basic research and reporting skills.
this unit, students are in charge. They are responsible for running their own
collaborative research project, from start to finish, including identifying a
research question, surveying their classmates, analyzing the results, creating a
presentation with charts representing the results, making a short video and
posting it online to a potentially global audience. In the process, they will address ISTE Standards·S 6
and 3: Research and Information Fluency. The teacher will address ISTE Standard for
Students teach themselves how to use all the tools.
asked my students to use only free online tools: Google Apps, Twitter, Jing or
Screen-cast-omatic, and a wiki. Rather than doling out step-by-step
instructions, I challenged my students to learn to use the tools on their own,
either from each other or through online tutorials. My school has subscriptions
to both Lynda.com and Atomic Learning, so students searched there, but
they could just as easily have used free tutorial services, such as Jeff
Utecht's Ninja Program.
In addition to ISTE Standards·S 6, this addresses Standard 3: Critical Thinking,
Problem Solving and Decision Making and the lifelong learning indicator in 5:
did this project with college-age students, but it would work just as well with
high school or even middle school students. Here are the steps my students took
to complete their collaborative research projects.
1: Break into groups and identify team member roles.
first day of the unit was the only time the students met in person. They
launched their projects by breaking into teams of three or four members, each of
whom had a specialized role to play in addition to participating in all of the
work. This allowed them to get used to the process of working on a collaborative
I suggested four primary roles:
This person was responsible for keeping the project organized, owning the primary collaborative file and acting as a
liaison with the teacher.
Expediter: This person kept the team on task. She created a calendar of what needed to be
accomplished and by when, then worked closely with the leader to ensure each
task was accomplished in a timely manner.
specialist: This person assured that the data in the report was accurate and that the
quality of the work was as high as possible. He was responsible for editing the
material before it was released.
consultant: This was the most tech-savvy member. Although every team member was responsible
for at least one technological step in the process, she offered assistance to
all when necessary. Each team member was also in charge of mastering one or
more tools and teaching the others how to use them.
2: Set communication protocol.
During their initial face-to-face
meeting, each group discussed and decided which communication tools they would
use for their collaboration throughout the project. Some groups decided to use
the Google Docs chat and its comment functions. Others decided to text on their
phones, send email or engage through Facebook. Many chose to talk to each other
through Skype, FaceTime or Google
Hangouts. A few opted to use the
entire Google+ suite of communication tools, including Gmail, Talk and Hangout.
Most groups ended up changing their communication tools as the project progressed, however, as they identified
tools that better suited their needs.
students moved to other rooms in the school, or at least to different places in
the room, so that all communication and collaboration would take place online.
The primary requirement for the working locations they chose was access to
Step 3: Write the research question(s) and
leader of each group created a Google Doc and shared it with the other team
members. The team then collaborated via their chosen communication channel to
develop a research question that would guide them in developing questions for a
survey they would administer to their classmates.
have found it best to use research questions that are simple enough to complete
in a short time but complex enough to make it interesting. It's ideal to relate the research to
something the class is studying. But if your main objective is to provide
practice using these collaborative tools to engage in research, allowing them to
choose questions based on their interests — such as "What is the most popular band among class members?"
or "Which communication tools do students prefer?" — may increase their
Google Docs is also the best tool
to use for writing the survey questions that they will enter into Google Forms
in the next step.
4: Create the survey form.
should include two to five questions, and it works best if one students enters
them one by one into a Google Form. I have found that questions with a
predetermined set of solutions generate data that's easier to analyze. That
means students should select either the multiple-choice question type, which
allows one possible answer, or the checkbox question type, which allows
respondents to choose more than one answer.
an example of a checkbox question:
your top three preferred tools for communicating for personal
Learn more about using Google Forms in this screencast.
the surveys are ready, it's time to let the world — or at least the class — know
about it. Each group needs to send out a tweet asking their classmates to
complete their survey. This meant that each member needs to have a Twitter
account. Keep in mind that, to sign up for Twitter, students must be at least
13. Younger students can post their announcements on a shared Google Doc
announcement tweet should include the request, the deadline for submission and a link to the survey Google Form. But the most
important part is the class hashtag that the teacher or the class establishes
ahead of time — something like #myclass or #DrZTechClass. The hashtag lets
students find the surveys in the vast Twittersphere. They search for the
hashtag, and all tweets that include it will be returned in a single stream. If
you haven't created a hashtag before, it's as easy as deciding on a word that
applies to your class, adding a # to the beginning and searching Twitter to make
sure it's not already in use.
an example tweet:
Which communication tools do you
prefer? Complete our short survey by Tuesday @ 3:00 #drztechclass http://tinyurl.com/commmsurvey
creating the presentation.
students didn't want to waste time while they were waiting for the survey
responses, so they started work on their slide presentations right away. They
just added a couple of blank slides for the charts and diagrams they would
create in Step 9.
is where they got to address ISTE Standard·S 1: Creativity and Innovation, and
it was also a fun task to discuss over Hangouts or Skype.
student can start a Google Presentation slideshow and share it with the rest of
the team. They all open the presentation file together and then discussed what
needs to be done while it was being developed. Typically, they would each
identify a separate slide to develop, but they could talk about it as they
worked. My students found especially useful when they were searching for
copyright-appropriate images to use in their presentation.
See how one student group used Google Presenter to collaborate on their presentation.
7: Analyze and report the data.
data collected through the Google Form is automatically captured in a Google
Spreadsheet. After the survey deadline, all team members can access the
spreadsheet and discuss how to analyze the final data over their communication
doesn't need to be a formal statistical analysis if students don't have those
skills yet, as the results are not as important as the process. They can just
select the Show Summary of Responses tool in the Form menu to generate an automatic data
They can also create
graphics, such as pie charts and bar graphs, using the Summary of Responses
tool. For example, they might generate a pie chart showing
ratio of preferences for various tools. Finally, they paste their graphics into
their Google Presentations.
See how students used Google Spreadsheets to capture their data and create charts to report it.
8: Record the presentation.
of doing live presentations in front of the class, my students recorded their
presentations and posted them on the internet.
doesn't require cameras. Instead, students can create a screencast — a video
recording of your computer screen — using a screencast tool. Students can record
their slideshow and narrative as they give a presentation. They just start the
tool, identify the part (or all) of the screen they want to record and press the
I like to use Jing because it is free and easy to
use. Jing allows you to upload your recorded presentation to the screencast.com
website and gives you a link that you can post to a wiki to make it available
for your classmates, your grandmother or your blog following. Screencast-o-matic is another free tool that also allows you to upload to YouTube. The free
versions of these screencasters have a five-minute recording limit, so students
must keep their screencasts short.
group added the link to their screencast to the organizational Google Doc that
they began at the beginning of the project.
Check out an example of a final presentation! We used Screencast-o-matic to create this presentation because it is compatible with YouTube.
Step 9: Post the group's Google Doc.
The last step in this research
project is sharing it with the world. Each group began the process by creating a
Google Doc that, when completed, becomes their research report. They should
include explanations and links to everything that went into the project,
- Group members' names and roles
- The research question
- Link to the survey form
- Link to the survey announcement tweet
- Link to their survey data spreadsheet
- Link to their Google Presentation
to the screencast of their presentation
share, the owner of the Google Doc needs to set its sharing setting to "Anyone
with the link," then post that link on the class wiki
page so that the other groups can see their work.
project-based unit was challenging, engaging and exciting for both my students
and me. One of my students described it as "scary but amazingly rewarding." For
me, it was a perfect way to begin the semester because it laid a foundation for
using collaborative tools for the rest of the course. For my students, it
provided a chance to flex their collaborative, creative, critical-thinking and
technical muscles while engaging in an authentic, real-world learning
Thank you Kathy
Wegley (from the ICE 2014 Conference) for your editing contributions to this
Leigh Zeitz — aka Dr. Z — is an associate
professor of instructional technology at the University of Northern Iowa. His
vision of education involves challenging and empowering learners by providing a
learning environment that is teacher led and student driven. Visit him at
follow him on Twitter @zeitz.
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