Currents in Electronic Literacy

Collaborative Teaching in the Computer Classroom

by Alexandra Barron

  1. Can you teach MLA documentation to a class without putting students to sleep? Is it possible to discuss such a dry topic with your students without having the information go in one ear and out the other? More importantly, how can we make learning collaborative even when we have to convey certain specific information to our students?

  2. Having just reviewed a set of drafts which failed to use evidence effectively and meet MLA documentation standards, I knew a lecture on this topic was in order. I also knew I would face 50 minutes of glassy-eyed stares. So I came up with the following idea: Why not have students teach each other? That way they would be sure to master at least a portion of the material--the portion they taught.

  3. I put students into small groups and divided what needed to be covered into four topics: 1) how to use supporting examples, 2) what types of information needs to be cited, 3) how to format quotations and integrate them into an essay, and (4) how to cite sources. Each group was given a topic and then researched it on the Web and created a PowerPoint presentation to teach the topic to the class. I specified that students needed to adequately explore the topic, provide examples of how to perform the given task or operation correctly, and offer resources where classmates could find more information. I originally gave the class only 25 minutes to do the work, but I quickly realized that was too little time and allowed them to have the entire period. When they presented their work during the next class, I was nothing but impressed--they had been relatively thorough, had created attractive presentations, and were excited to show off their work.

  4. While one drawback to this exercise is that students may focus more on the fancy capabilities of PowerPoint and less on their topics, the computers got them excited about an otherwise unexciting topic. In addition, the students were engaged while creating and displaying their presentations. I found that the visual capabilities of PowerPoint, the fun of creating something to present to the class, and the dynamics of group work mitigated the dullness of the material. Using the computers in this way thus enabled me to make my classroom more about collaborative learning and to move away from the model of the teacher as the one who has the knowledge students must passively absorb.

  5. I recommend this exercise for teaching any topic that can be researched on the Web and especially for dry material. Although I designed it as an in-class exercise to use in a computer classroom, it could be redesigned as a group homework assignment for teachers in non-computer classrooms.
Please cite this article as Currents in Electronic Literacy Spring 2002 (6),