That's right, I stopped collaboration this year. For this I have to thank SEAB who introduced a new rule this year in which students are not allowed to exchange their working documents with one another.
I practised a form of peer assessment in which students had to exchange and give comments on each other's work. The idea was that students would address the simple mistakes and more importantly, get exposure to the range of quality of work that was being produced. Google Documents was a splendid platform to leverage on. I could see who was participating, the comments given and the changes made. Students shared their document with me and with the classmates. It was collaboration at its best.
As Google improved sharing and collaboration, I began to notice a problem emerge. The platform worked so well that students began to treat me as a collaborator. This is a problem because the ownership was now being perceived as a shared responsibility. Thus, instead of becoming more independent, it had unknowingly strengthened their dependence on me, the teacher.
In the past, students had to send me a draft of their work as an email attachment. Google's sharing platform removed that hassle. That might seem an improvement but the 'hassle' had another function that I was unaware of. Each attachment that a student sent was a product that they were sending across. At the click of the 'send' button, there was no way of reversing that process. It created a situation where students had to be sure that that was the best piece they were submitting. But when a document is shared, the beauty is that students could edit as I was looking through and giving comments. Without a tangible deadline and product, there was no longer any pressure to perform and the drafts started to lose that edge. I can't describe it precisely, but the drafts that I read felt 'raw'.
Another effect that I noticed is that students don't necessarily collaborate and compete to best each other. Interestingly, quite a number adopted a 'save me' attitude and became dependent on their classmates. As birds of the same feather flock together, so did students with the same disposition and attitude flock together. To good became better, the bad didn't progress as much, and the two never quite mixed.
The new rule put an end to sharing and I wasn't too pleased with it at first. Nonetheless, if there's anything Singaporean teachers are good at, it's improvisation. Students could no longer share their work but discussions were allowed. I made each student talk with at least 3 persons a day about their ideas.
The tongue is faster than the pen; and so it is with conversations. It was a far more efficient way of getting feedback for the students. A 10-minute conversation covers more ground than an hour spent typing and reading comments. Also, no social media platform has the same degree of interactivity as a face to face conversation. Body language, tone of voice, hand gestures and the ability to ask and answer questions instantaneously.
Face-to-face conversations was how students polished their ideas. The written work was merely an expression of thoughts and ideas, not a working document.
It wasn't entirely smooth sailing. I soon discovered that students had to learn how to listen to one another. In many of the conversations I sat in, students often missed the valuable insights and opinions their peers were offering. Every so often I had to stop the conversation and ask the listener to repeat what was said and reflect on its value.
Another problem is that the students did not have the habit of making notes. I had to repeat many times - to the point of nagging - for students to jot down key points in the conversation for future reference.
The result is that the drafts I've received are much better in quality. In some sense, these students have gone through more drafts than previous batches have. Except that the draft was crafted, cut and polished through face to face conversation.
Perhaps the lesson to learn here is that collaboration isn't only possible through ICT. While ICT does create new opportunities and ways for collaboration, it is important to consider what might be lost and if it's always the best medium or platform. Just because something is easier doesn't mean it's better.