When it comes to ICT work in the classroom for students, this usually means some form of collaboration or group work. Collaborative ICT work is not an aspect that teachers should fear. To begin with, students should learn real-world practices and with an ever changing ICT landscape in society at our doorstep, it is important that this occurs. This is a method that teachers therefore should embrace in the classroom.
In primary schools, in particularly, collaborative work brings many new skills to students such as teamwork and communication skills. Research has also shown this enhances their learning experiences as they talk and discuss any issues involved. However, it also comes with some baggage issues so to speak as well. How do you determine the individual achievement of students in a group?
The first strategy that you should use is something that most teachers do naturally in the classroom – they observe! Observing students in their ICT work is a great way to assess student capabilities. Any observation made should also then be supported by records kept by the teacher. These records of your own observations can be tested against what you may ask the students about their work to identify the contributions made.
Another method you can use which is important is to intervene. When doing so remember that it shouldn’t be negative or critical, but supportive and formative (e.g. “That’s a good start. Can you see disadvantages of doing it this way…etc). As a teacher you should be able to draw from these responses to your questions a feeling an individual student’s understanding. It is also important to note here that assessment should not be a “one-off snapshot” as Richard Ager (2007) puts it. It needs to be a continual process that will gradually put together the pieces of the individual student’s abilities.
For these strategies to be successful, however, it is best that you as the teacher create the groups yourself rather than letting students form their own. Research has shown (Kennewell et al., 2000) that schools that implemented this approach were effective in developing student ICT capability. When pairing students, it is best to do so by taking in to account the following factors:
- Differences in ICT capability;
- Personalities of the students;
- Sex and;
- The nature of the task.
Finally, it has been discovered in the past by successful primary teachers that by using the so-called ‘student ICT experts’ in the class to their advantage, students can learn from their peers. Students who are more capable can develop clearer concepts about the processes by having to analyse what they do in order to explain it to their friends. A potential problem that may arise is that it could distract these students from their own work. If this is the case, research has found that by using mixed ability pairs, particularly when there are important ICT learning objectives, can help minimise such a problem.