Different types of online tools can bring out different ways of communicating and collaborating, leading to a fuller partnership.
As your partnership develops, your communication and collaboration needs will change. Luckily, there are a range of different online tools to meet these needs. Here we look at the most popular tools and explore their key features.
‘At the start … establish what you want from [your partnership] and remember those goals all the way through, so if something doesn’t work … see if there is another tool that does.’
Samantha Hubbard, teacher at Greenmount Primary School
Points to consider
- Some of these tools may be restricted or banned in certain countries, so ensure you discuss with your partner school before setting any up
- Many of these tools offer personalisation options, such as background images and avatars, which is a good way to engage pupils.
Online meeting platforms
Online meeting platforms enable everyone to get involved in the conversation, so they are a great tool for joint meetings, lessons and conferences with your partner school.
The most popular online meeting platforms are:
While features may differ depending on which tool you use, most online meeting platforms enable voice and video calling, screen sharing and file sharing, and can be used on both mobiles and desktop computers. They will also typically have a chat functionality for asking questions during a session.
Breakout rooms (available in Zoom, Hangouts and Teams) are another great feature of online meeting platforms, enabling you to split session participants into smaller groups, for example, by Key Stage or subject area, to discuss topics and share ideas. Breakout rooms will usually be available as part of your free plan, but you may have to change your account settings in advance.
Time limits can be set while working in breakout groups and teachers can go into different breakout rooms to monitor their students’ discussions. This feature can be less intimidating than speaking in front of the entire class.
A wealth of how-to and step-by-step videos on creating and using breakout rooms can be found on YouTube. See the useful links below for some examples.
Points to consider
- The recording function can be used to document project discussions for later reflection, or for sharing the meeting with those who could not attend.
- If possible, meetings should be recorded for colleagues who cannot attend. These recordings can also be a useful reference later on.
- Concentrating in an online meeting is more demanding than face-to-face communication – especially when participants are using their second or third language.
- Some online platforms use a lot of bandwidth, so the picture and speech can be affected. If your meetings are being affected by internet connectivity issues, you could try Google Duo, which is a video chat application designed for low-bandwidth networks and can currently host video calls for up to 12 people.
- If you are hosting, send a link to participants nearer the time of the meeting. Open the meeting 15 minutes before the start time to ensure your audio and video are working.
Groups for communication
Successful partnerships encourage different levels of communication between staff. Closed groups can be like the conversations that take place in a staff room. They can also be a great way to facilitate more controlled discussions.
WhatsApp is a mobile calling and messaging app that allows you to set up groups with your contacts. WhatsApp groups can be a great way for staff from partner schools to get to know each other at the start of a partnership, to plan joint visits and to share useful links. It is useful to select members to act as group admins, to monitor the group and to add new members as the group develops.
Some partnerships use Facebook Groups to discuss and collaborate on specific topics, ensuring the information is more controlled and focused. You can set up groups for free, and as your partnership develops you can add areas to share photos, posts, files and ideas – although it’s best to start simply and build up extra features as needed. You can also apply different security levels to control who can see and access the group.
There are a range of education-focused collaboration spaces available to schools that allow pupils to share ideas, complete assignments and work in a safe environment with speedier responses than more traditional, non-technological methods. Your school may already be using one or more of these, so explore ways they can facilitate your partnership projects.
Edmodo gives teachers the tools to share engaging lessons, keep parents updated and build a vibrant classroom community. It enables global communication between students, parents/carers and fellow teachers.
Padlet is a free-to-use online bulletin board that can be used in a variety of ways. First, it’s a great way to curate and share resources within your partnership. You can use it to capture and display the work generated by your partnership in one place, which can then also be shared as a useful resource. Groups of students can also build and develop their own Padlets on different topics the partnership is working on, and develop their own learning resources. The free version of Padlet limits users to a maximum of three boards. A pro (paid-for) version is available that gives you the ability to create more boards.
Jamboard is a digital whiteboard that enables real-time student collaboration. It has a handwriting and shape recognition tool, and enables you to draw with a stylus but erase with your finger. As it is connected to the Google Cloud, you can quickly pull in images from a Google search and save your work automatically.
Also check out Seesaw and Showbie.
Points to consider
Online collaboration spaces can boost parent/carer involvement, as they help children upload work from home. This creates a powerful learning loop between pupils, teachers and families. ClassDojo is a platform that provides a great way of involving parents in classroom activities. Files, links, media and updates can all be shared via an online secure feed.
Blogging and Twitter
Blogs and Twitter are a great way to document and share your partnership successes with the wider community, as well as facilitating collaboration and discussions within the partnership.
Blogging platforms such as using WordPress and Blogger make it easy to set up a blog for you and your partners. Not only can they be used to showcase project work and document joint visits, but they can support joint project work between partners by initiating discussions. Teachers may write the blog for younger children, but there is no reason why children cannot use the blog with adult supervision for safeguarding purposes.
Possible areas of discussion and blog content include:
- A day in the life of a pupil at the school
- What can be seen outside of our windows at school and at home
- What our school looks like
- Meals and shopping (but do be sensitive to the possible issues this might raise)
- First-hand experience of a school visit by teachers.
Twitter is a great way to connect your partnership to the wider education community and beyond. You can set up a dedicated Twitter account for your partnership, and create a partnership hashtag, to enable partners to Tweet from their own professional and school accounts.
Remember to include other relevant hashtags in your posts, such as #ConnectingClassrooms and #UKAid to encourage others to spread the word about your great work.
Setting up a Twitter page for your school
Quizzes and polls
Setting up a quiz or poll is a quick and easy way to encourage joint collaboration.
While many online collaboration tools have integrated poll functionalities, there are a host of dedicated quiz tools. These allow learners to explore and share questions and answers and to develop ideas.
These can then be shared with partners. Quizzes can be set up easily, and once the quiz code is shared, students can be encouraged to take a quiz during a lesson.
Some popular quiz and poll platforms are:
Video is a great content format for sharing digitally and really helps to boost engagement. You don’t need high-tech recording equipment and advanced skills to produce good quality resources and communication. Videos for online collaboration can be quick to create, polish up, upload and share.
You could also look at creating a dedicated YouTube channel for your partnership.
Five tips for recording video on a camera/ smart device.
Need guidance on safeguarding? Refer to the Key safeguarding points to consider in the introduction section of this toolkit.
Sometimes, there are restrictions on the size of a file you can send via email. In these cases, using a tool like WeTransfer can help to send large files such as videos and images to your partners around the world. The basic package can be used without any costs and can transfer files up to 2GB for free.