Teaching Digital Skills: Collaboration and Communication

Digital Literacy and ICT

In many respects, changing to the term ‘digital literacy’ has enabled a very swift movement to teaching core skills and embed digital learning across the curriculum; however, our drive is now so often focussed on these ‘core skills’ that we forget some of the fundamentals in becoming truly digitally literate.  We have moved so much into using the term ‘digital literacy’ that some people refuse to use the acronym ‘ICT’ anymore.  In fairness, many people neglected the core addition to its previous acronym, ‘IT’ anyway.  Let’s look at this more. ‘IT’, or Information Technology, was probably the first term we used to describe computer lessons or the ‘subject’ of computing.  It was later changed to ‘ICT’, Information and Communication Technology, thereby demonstrating the importance of communication as a staple part of technology.

Whilst helping your children to become digitally literate, it is vital that emphasis is put into developing communication skills.  Often, the use of technology is seen as an anti-social or isolated experience.  One accesses the internet to research, or play games, or write, or view media.  How often is this actually an individual experience though?  Very rarely these days do we play games online in which communication is not a key aspect.  Indeed, internet safety is a huge priority for this very reason (I have added two posts about internet safety in the ‘parents’ zone‘ section of this site, so will not go into that more here).  Moreover with social media, video calling and other means of interconnectivity, we are more connected and likely to communicate more frequently on a daily basis than ever before in our history – however, it is not always in the ‘conventional’ face-to-face manner.  Learning to send formal emails is now just as, if not more important than learning to write and send formal letters.  Poorly worded emails that depict an unintended tone can cause offence and often result in many in-work problems.  Learning to communicate effectively is vital in learning digital skills.

In my mind though, the ‘C’ in ICT should not only mean ‘communication’.  Now more than ever, ‘collaboration’ is the important driving force behind digital literacy and pedagogy.  Teachers are collaborating more effectively than ever before in online shared environments and professional learning networks.  Places of work are using online tools to work collaboratively and build documents, design projects and sculpt their future.  Collaboration has always been the most powerful way to learn and build; now with digital technologies, the potential is limitless.

Teaching our young people to be ‘Effective Contributors’

So what does digital collaboration look like?  How can we use the technology in our schools to enable our children to collaborate effectively in a digital environment?

Truthfully, when I reflect on my practice since I started teaching, I didn’t really provide children with opportunities to collaborate effectively online until a few years ago.  If my children were preparing a powerpoint or a digital document of any type, I would assign a computer and a few children would work together.  Sure, they were collaborating – they were working together and strategising and creating – but was that virtual collaboration?  No.  If I had removed the computer, and given them paper, they would have achieved a similar learning experience.  Yes, there were aspects of digital literacy being developed in the creation of their work; however, the activity was not teaching the children to be ‘digitally collaborative’.  To teach this you need to emulate the environment that the children will be working in post-school; although, this can be tricky to achieve as we don’t know what that environment will look like. The first thing we can do is remove all forms of verbal communication.  Sure, phones and video conferencing will exist, but people communicate, plan and strategise more commonly through written formats.

There are two ways to teach digital collaboration that I have found work well:

The closed learning environment

For this learning experience, I put my class into teams of 3-4 and I gave them a challenge: each team had to create a single document about a subject of their choice using only Microsoft Word.

The rules:

  • The children were only allowed one computer per team and only one child could use it at any one time.  The other members of the team had to sit away from the computer and away from each other.
  • No team member was allowed any physical / verbal contact or interaction within the learning environment with any other team member, so could not pass notes or chat.  The only means of communication that they had was the computer.
  • The teams could plan on paper / iPads at their individual tables, but could not let any of their team members see their plans.
  • Each child was allowed only 10 minutes on the computer before the next child would go on.
  • Children could not delete or edit another child’s work other than to add notes in a different colour

What I found was that the children would start working on the computer and putting their plans into action.  As they got into it, they stared writing notes on the computer about what they wanted to do.  If they didn’t like something that someone else did, they would leave notes about how they thought it should be corrected and changed.

Initially, it did take a long time for the children to get used to, but it was quite powerful as it demonstrated how one person can use digital communication (emails / internal shared areas etc) to collaborate on a document and provide feedback.  This environment also guaranteed effective peer and self assessment and effective feedback by its very nature.

The online learning environment – MS Teams

Whilst the closed learning environment was a fun learning experience, and a good problem solving challenge, the most powerful collaborative learning experience has been when I have used an online learning environment – more specifically, when I have used Microsoft Teams.  I have only used it once with a full class, as for the last four years I have been teaching NCCT.  I loved using it with my class, however now I use it very regularly with my groups including the ‘Mosspark Tech Team’ and the ‘house captains / vice captains group’.  Here is an example of the Tech Team using MS Teams on the school Twitter feed.  See also my blog post about ‘Starting your own digital leaders team‘ for more.

In truth, it does take a little while to set up a MS Team, and adding all of your children’s GLOW accounts to the team, and getting their usernames and passwords, and helping the children add the tile to their launchpad can take a lot of time and patience; but do it.  Once set up, you will not look back! Here is a helpful guide to setting up a MS Team

Whenever my Tech Team needs to present a lesson or assembly, we use MS Teams.  I add a PowerPoint to the teams tab, or upload it as a file, that has a ‘skeleton’ template of the topics that should be covered.  The children then access their own account (in the team meeting, and then at home) and use the ‘conversation’ tab to discuss and plan who is responsible for each part / aspect of the presentation.  They work collaboratively to a given deadline to create the lesson, at which point I view it and add my own notes and observations.  Other than during the first meeting, the children do the work in their own time – be it for home work, or a supervised lunch, or during class time.  Moreover, as the responsibility for creating the lesson by a given deadline lies solely with the children, and they are continually reminding each other to contribute, I have not yet had a team fail to complete the work in time.

Of course, I proof-read the work before it is presented, but the children take so much ownership for it, and truly understand the topic that they are presenting by the end of it due to the nature of the process.  I have not simply asked two children to sit in a corner and make a presentation.  I have asked children (without specifying it) to self and peer assess, provide feedback, research a subject, collaborate and communicate through writing, add media, deign and create, and more.  The whole process and learning experience is truly incredible.  Yes, you will be spammed by memes in the conversation tab for some time, but you will be truly amazed at how your children can work – and it is so similar to real-world digital collaboration happening in businesses across the country.

There are of course many other online learning environments where your children could gain similar skills, but I am yet to find one that rivals MS Teams.  As part of Office 365 within Glow, Teams is free to use and available to all of your children.  For any of your children without computer/tablet access at home, do remind them that their local library has free access to computers.  It is a great resource, and I often used to take groups to my previous school’s library to show them how good and convenient it was.

For a free interactive demo in how to use MS Teams, click on this link.  See also Malcolm Wilson’s guide (with resources) for setting up and using Microsoft teams with classes.


Communication and collaboration are core to teaching your children to become digitally literate, and they are skills that your children will need for life and work.

I hope that this blog post has been helpful and that it has given you some ideas about how you can teach digital collaboration effectively in your own learning environment.  There are many ways that it is possible for your children to access these skills, but the ones that I have sited are ones that truly have worked for me in the past.

Next week’s blog will be looking at digital exit tickets and plenaries.  As always, if you have any feedback or suggestions for future posts, please get in touch on twitter, @mrfeistsclass.

Have a good week!