Sunday, November 11, 2012

Handshakes in Collaborative Projects

Group projects involving one or more classrooms from other schools are a fantastic way to teach the 21st century skills of collaboration and communication.   Organizing a formal lesson that focuses on introducing all the students in a project to each other is often referred to as a handshake.  Time zone differences and class scheduling often limit the opportunities for students to meet face to face but need not impede the process.  Handshakes  can also incorporate a variety Web 2.0 tools like wikis (student introductions,) blog posts, vodcast introductions, Voicethread,  talking avatars, etc... All the collaborative project needs is a common space to link, embed, or post these handshakes for all other members of the group to view.

Handshakes are so important in that they are the first form of acknowledgement between group members.  Handshakes confirm that all involved are in agreement and ready for what is to come in the project.  In a global project the handshake unites all members as they embark on a similar voyage.  Many times this handshake is the  first time many students in the project will interact with someone outside of their school, state, and even country, making the handshake exciting and rewarding.

The handshake also gives students in a project the much needed practice of interacting in appropriate ways with others they don't know online.  This practice of experiencing and interacting with new tools is often referred to as the sandbox. The handshake space is very much the sandbox of the global project because it is here that students will learn appropriate methods of online introductions.  The handshake a learning space and should be treated as such.  Students may make mistakes and instructors or leaders in a the project can easily use these mistakes to educate all on the values of appropriate interactions online.

Prior to initiating a handshake be sure all leaders in the project are familiar with the chosen tool.  A good idea is to initiate a handshake with project leaders prior to launching the project with students.  Not all schools have access to Web 2.0 tools so be sure to complete any necessary checks on limitations particular schools may have.  Some schools have rules against students posting images of themselves online.  Know your school rules and instruct students on the appropriate course.  Some teachers have students post images that represent the student's interest or use student created avatars.