Does the Technology Always Have to Drive the Collaboration?

I was asked last week by one of my teachers to provide an online, possibly collaborative, video editing tool. It was an easy question for me, as I’ve been using WeVideo with students and teachers throughout the district for years. At one point, we had so many users that one of the co-founders of the service contacted me to talk about the high volume of students we had working with WeVideo, and setting up a possible school-wide account. While that partnership never came to fruition (we have Macs, and iMovie does far more than WeVideo does currently), the appeal of video editing in an online environment has continued to lure the interest of teachers; students could start a project at home, and finish online, or vice versa, without the need to take devices home or work on the same device for the duration of a project.

That lure still pulls at me as well, but I’ve started to wonder about the structure of a “collaborative video project” and the very nature of technology-driven collaboration. The idea of students working collaboratively on large video projects in the cloud is tempting, but in practice it leaves me with more questions than answers. It’s easy to understand the defacto collaborative work process that many schools have adopted with Google Docs; students can all write on the same document synchronously, editing various portions of the text, revising selected passages, or making changes based on shared annotations and comments. These are all digital writing practices that fundamentally changed the way we think about collaborative writing. But when it comes to group video production, the process is already heavily collaborative through traditional means; students have clear roles (script writing, camera work, directing, “on screen talent”, etc.), the editing process is typically a collaborative conversation around editing choices.

And the fundamental shift that made online writing tools so powerful has yet to truly transform video editing; synchronous video editing is currently not a viable method of working on a group video project. Without being able to “walk back” to previous edits or revisions (unless you’ve saved at each step along the way, and let’s be honest how many of our students do that), it’s a pretty linear process, with video editing marching in one direction typically. But that doesn’t stop people from asking me for collaborative video editing options, nor does it stop them from asking about other collaborative creative tools; audio editing tools for collaborative podcasts, and communal social streams where individuals shared a group social media account are two of the most requested items for assistance with. And I get it; we want students to be able to work at any time, collaboratively within a group, in the same exact way many tech-savvy and connected educators now operate. We certainly need to honor the call to have students working and publishing collaboratively with technology, spelled out by the Common Core State Standards, but does the technology itself need to drive the collaboration, or serve as the linch pin for the collaborative efforts?

Should we work on establishing effective collaborative group norms and routines before we try to shoe-horn a piece of technology into a project in the name of efficiency? Are there projects that could have been more successful, had we focused first on what the collaboration looks like, and then on the technology that will serve as the work or publishing environment? Do we sometimes allow ourselves to be caught up with the allure of “students must work collaboratively” to the point where every aspect of a project must be done in an “all hands on deck” manner?

If we were to focus on just the collaborative process first, what would that look like sans technology?


  1. In working with students and WeVideo as well, I will have to agree that largely, even with the ability to collaborate in video editing, students will self-select into the roles in which their talents lay in order to complete a project. This means that one student, usually, is designated as the editor while others choose the role of director, actor, etc. I think, where collaboration comes in handy is when you have students who work on the project from different locations or, more commonly, when the “editor” is absent and the project deadline is near. Students rarely use the tool even when it is available. Collaborative video is not the draw for me. My draw is video editing on a Chromebook. WeVideo is the tool of choice when working in a strictly web-based environment.

    Now, to touch on another point made within this post, “Should we work on establishing effective collaborative group norms and routines before we try to shoe-horn a piece of technology into a project in the name of efficiency?” From this statement, I read, “Are we choosing the technology first and then designing the lesson or learning experience?” If your goal is to teach software or how to use a tool, great! If not, then we as educators seriously need to reconsider the use of technology in the classroom. Technology should always be regarded as the means to an end. Determine the learning goal first. Then decide if technology will enhance that end. If so, choose the best tool. If not, then pen and paper may be your best use of technology.

    My two cents. Thanks, Ben, for continually helping me to refine my thinking.

    1. You nailed it, Paul! Educators are GREAT at being creative about the tools we use, re-purposing them, and trying to figure out how best to make projects and tasks efficient. And in many situations that’s a great thing. In others though it supplants the natural inclination of a process, or creates an environment that’s naturally beneficial to the project overall; putting the technology, and the experience we want to have with it above the learning goals can create tension where it doesn’t need to exist. So often I find myself coaching educators in the dis-use of technology, or a more appropriate use of technology, in many circumstances.

      And thanks for the comment! I haven’t been writing a lot lately, so it’s nice to know there are others still thinking about things like this 🙂

Comments are closed.