You can go to just about any venue where educators come together, and hear umpteen (yes, that really is a word) strategies to use in the classroom. You will hear catchphrase after catchphrase, all claiming to be the be all end all fountain of knowledge, the bringer of prosperity to all students. Ok, that may be a wee bit extreme, but you know what I am talking about.
Teacher conventions are filled with people like those described above. People who say this ONE thing, be it strategy, app, program, or whatever, will do more for kids than any other. The fact of the matter is that no one thing does that, it is how one implements that one thing that makes a difference.
“Collaboration” is another one of those phrases where people espouse the greatness of it, and how kids should thrive because of it. However, when asked how teachers have students collaborate, often, it is the same thing that has been done… over… and over… and over again. If you just change the name of a practice, without changing the practice itself, odds are, you get little to no change in result.
Google Docs is an excellent venue for collaboration. We have used it for quite some time, and can honestly say, students collaborating using Docs does make a difference. “Back in the day” teachers had students “collaborate” by switching papers and marking them up. Collaborating stopped when students were told to hand the papers back.
Using Google docs, what you get is a bit different, if handled in a way that allows kids to feel comfortable. What you see below is a screenshot of one page of one Google doc. The assignment was for students to write a short story in 500 words or less. It was part of a writing contest put on by the local Kiwanis club. This was classwork, not homework. The students were told they are welcome to work on the assignment at home, but generally speaking, I belong to the #noHW club.
Look closely at the comments. Not so much in what the comments say, but the time. You will see that two students were working on the story at night. What you don’t see, is that the students worked on each others documents, providing feedback, tips, etc. off and on between the hours of 6:45pm and 9:30pm. That is collaboration. To make it even better, these two students were not even in the same class period. That is a level of collaboration that passing papers across the room can not get.
If you are afraid of kids doing work for each other, no worries. Google has ways to see who made what changes to a document… but in all honesty, I don’t see that as much of a problem. These students, as well as numerous others, decided to collaborate at home, working on writing, that was not assigned.
That, my friends, is what “Collaboration” is supposed to look like, thanks to Google for making it so easy! So, in short, to answer the question. Yes, Collaboration does really matter, when done in a way that is meaningful to students, not just what is easy for the teacher.