Active Engagement & Cooperative Learning in Digital Learning Environments.

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Done hastily, shifting lessons entirely onto digital platforms runs the risk of doing to education what television does to the imagination. The temptation is to create videos or host live meetings or publish notes – all of which amounts to pushing content to a passive audience. We know this does not work in our physical classrooms. And it doesn’t work online either.

(See this post on the difference between emergency remote teaching and e-learning, and this one on e-learning tips and tricks.)

Yes, we need chalk-and-talk sessions in our classrooms from time to time. But no teacher does this all the time. And we shouldn’t do it online either.

Students need to be involved and active in lessons to learn well. They need to investigate, to discuss, to ask and answer, to think, to collaborate, and to co-create.

We can still assess learning online with quizzes and the like. And we can host Q & A sessions in a variety of ways. But how do we get students more involved in collaborating, discussing ideas, debating issues, and engaging actively in more meaningful ways?

Here are a few ideas:

Class Wikis

Set up a table in a collaborative document and set up terms and concepts in the first column, then have students fill in the information in the next columns. This works well both for an introductory activity to gauge existing knowledge and understanding, as well as for concluding sections. A nice idea might also be to compare these wikis to those created by students from previous years – and even other schools. It also works nicely across classes.


Collaborative Presentations
Assign slides to individuals in groups. Let them work collaboratively to produce content and insights. You could even do this as a whole class activity. Works very nicely with Visible Thinking routines.


Collaborative Websites

Allow students to co-create websites to showcase knowledge, research, or as a summative assessment.

Resource Curation and Lesson Building

Ask students to find appropriate images and information to include in lessons. Wakelet is a pretty cool tool for this kind of curation. We could even gather ideas from students about how to teach certain sections and include their ideas in these lessons. This kind of ‘backstage view’ of education has immense benefits to learning.


Online Discussions and Debates

Asking rich questions on the right forum is a great way to get students collaborating. It works especially well when we get them to collaborate in a small group first.

Peer Review

Giving students a ‘behind-the-scenes’ peek at assessment practices helps them with their own learning. Encouraging rich and diplomatic feedback encourages metacognition, diplomacy, and reflection.

Collaborative Writing

Such rich ideas emerge when students collaborate on a piece of writing to enhance ideas, correct faulty language and propositions, and enhance arguments.

Problem-Solving / Investigations / Inquiries

Rather than force-feeding content, we could consider giving student problems to debate and potentially solve. These could be in the form of open questions and ‘wicked problems’, but also in the form of imagining and designing solutions to current problems.

Visible Thinking

Please see these posts for more on implementing Visible Thinking routines:

What is Visible Thinking Really?

Technology Suggestions to Enhance Visible Thinking and Cooperative Learning Routines (Microsoft Version)

Technology Suggestions to Enhance Visible Thinking and Cooperative Learning Routines


A Few Others


All of these ideas do rely on changing pedagogies and reimagined roles for teachers. We need to step back, to monitor, and merely to nudge where necessary. We become educational architects – we design, we plan, and then we hand over the process to our students to build and to make real.

And we need to set the scene for active, engaged, and collaborative learning by asking students to reimagine their own roles in the learning process. They will need to be accountable, cooperative, and involved – and they will need to understand the merits of active learning.

Technology gives us the tools to move beyond simply replacing what we would have done in person, and to elevate these methodologies to places they could not have reached without it. Once we move beyond emergency remote teaching, we have the opportunity to fuse and blend technology with face-to-face teaching in order to continue to offer a more engaging, active learning experience for our students.



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