Learning to Collaborate in an Online World

In the midst of our first multi-person project, our online AP Government class is learning to collaborate with each other from across the country by making use of today’s online tools. Our assignment is quickly turning into a lesson on collaboration as we perfect our communication skills. Because most of us are in our last two years of high school, we have already learned so much about communicating with a group in and outside of a classroom; however, this online course now calls for new skills, taking learning outside of the classroom to a whole new level.

As we embark on a project to design an Electoral System with the objective to improve democracy, we are quickly learning to take advantage of the resources available to us at our finger tips.

Having already completed two Skype sessions with my four-person group, I am impressed by our ability to stay on task, working towards our goal to develop a new Electoral System. Requiring an overwhelming amount of research, we have learned to make use of Google documents, which allows us to constantly update the group on new information. As we contribute our own ideas, we also listen to others’ ideas. In my experience thus far, I have been impressed by my group mates in their focus and creativity. Seeing as how our online course is well underway, we have all developed great skills for using internet tools, such as Google documents, Voicethread, Twitter and Skype, to communicate with our teacher and peers. For our project, we must use these familiar tools to communicate our ideas with each other. My group mates and I are learning to share our ideas and research in a Google document, working as a sharepoint for all our new research.

At first, a multi-person project seems quite complicated. Having group mates from Hawai’i, California and Tennessee, and myself on the East Coast, we are learning to work together to assign research deadlines and schedule Skype meetings, despite the four different time zones. That’s right – four different time zones! Our first Skype session ended with our agreeing on a first deadline for preliminary research on the Electoral Systems of each region. During our second Skype session, we discussed the requirements for voting already in existence and what changes we would like to implement. By incorporating everyone’s ideas, we are excited to see where our collaboration will lead us. Our next step is to create a WikiPage on Haiku, another online tool, to display our newly designed Electoral System.

In designing our new Electoral System, we are given the responsibility to improve democracy. Compared to other industrialized representative democracies, the United States ranks low in terms of voter turnout. In our project, we are addressing concerns, such as, why is turnout so low in American elections? or is it fair to the majority when a candidate with the largest minority of votes becomes the people’s representative? Also important, Is the American system biased in favor of wealthy candidates? My group mates and I are eager to create an overall fairness to all Americans. In our research, we are developing opinions of the Electoral Systems already in place, and we are forming opinions of what changes would benefit Americans in a new Electoral System.

This project allows us to form views and let our ideas come alive. After all, we are 21st century learners!



  1. Please Note: WordPress.com would not allow for the addition of images to this posting. Please excuse its sparse appearance.


  2. Hannah– This sounds like a great challenge to designa new Electoral System… Have you found it helpful to the group ideas to have you all from so many different areas of the country? How do regional issues play into a fair, redesigned Electoral System? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks.


    • Mr. Rathgeber- Before beginning our project, our teacher emphasized collaboration as a group effort to research the Electoral Systems already in place. In our first Skype meeting, we tried to break up the research without assigning too many independent research roles. With our teacher’s advice about collaboration, my groupmates and I tried to find a way to research Electoral Systems as a group. Of course, we had to assign different research to each partner because, if we all assumed the same role, our research would have overlapped. The regional differences helped us to create a starting point for ourselves. We began by considering eligibility requirements for voting (age, residency, criminal record), polling place hours, time off to vote, and early voting. In our Skype session, we each shared our findings, areas we found surprising, interesting or worth keeping. For example, one of my groupmates shared that, in Oregon, all ballots are mailed to candidates. We decided that we would have both options in our Electoral System, both mail and poling locations. Furthermore, we began discussing financing and regulations for PACs. We would like to model our system after the New Hampshire Campaign Finance System, which gives citizen’s more awareness of expenditures in the elections. Thank you for your posting! Sincerely, Hannah


      • Hannah- That is so great that you were able to look at so many variations on Electoral Systems in states, and then come to some conclusions on systems that you thought worked well. It sounds like the group worked well together, too, playing off of each others strengths, thank you for taking the time to respond. – Brad


  3. Hannah, I found your project extremely impressive. Four-different time zones make communication quite difficult, but because of your utilization of the technology that we are given today, your project is now doable. My Government class is also taking advantage of all the different forms of online tools such as Twitter, Google Docs, Glogster, Flickr. We have come to appreciate each of these just as you and your AP Government class has. Almost every day we create Google docs with our working groups so that we can all post our own ideas and read each others. It is a great way to share notes without having to use paper. Google Docs has allowed us to be a paperless classroom for almost 3 months now! Good luck designing a new Electoral System! Because of your use of the technology you are given, I’m sure it will turn out great. If you discover any new effective means of online tools please comment back. I know my government class would greatly appreciate it.
    Emily Sher
    (student at Parish Episcopal)


    • Dear Emily, Prior to your posting, I had never heard of Glogster. I will have to check out this tool. Thank you for sharing that with me! I think it is marvelous that your classroom is now paperless. Keep up the great work, and I will keep you posted if I find any great new online tools! Sincerely, Hannah


  4. Hannah:

    I sounds like you have a great project plan. I would love to see the finished project. Google Docs is the perfect resource for working in real time or asynchronously. The best part about it is that it is FREE. I have to tell you that I talked about your post with my Curriculum team today. Sometimes we get push back about collaboration projects. There are so many tools out there to make it happen. Your post was a testimony that it IS possible! It is a job skill that you will use in the future for sure.

    I am working on a presentation for our state Social Studies conference on “Classrooms Without Zip Codes: Bridging the Demographic Divide.” Your project is the perfect example. Kudos to your teacher for working with rather than against technology in the classroom.

    I am curious to hear if you will be using collaboration for AP reviews? I know that AP students LOVE to compete.


    • Thank you for your post. My skepticism of online collaboration has now been replaced with the realization that it is more than possible to make collaboration work from across the country. With so many tools, many classrooms should be resorting to online media. In the previous posting, Emily spoke about how her classroom was now paperless because her teacher makes use of online tools for assignments. How cool is that! What a great way to make use of the tools we are fortunate to have today. Sincerely, Hannah


  5. Hey, Hannah:

    Nice reflection!

    You’ve outlined an ambitious project, spanning from Hawaii to the East Coast. Just finding time when everyone is awake can be a challenge. Yet this project is exactly what is going on in the working world; distance is no longer a barrier to collaboration. With such simple tools as Skype, the four of you can easily communicate not just in words but in facial expressions and body language.

    You’ll find that the key to collaboration is a common goal–which you already have. They other key is respect for yourself and for everyone in the group. If you respect yourself, you will want to contribute your best work. If you respect everyone else, the whole group can work together rather than working against each other.

    You’ve done a great job reflecting on this experience. As I’ve often said in responding to Mike’s students’ posts, reading your thoughtful ideas gives me great hope for the future of our world!

    Rob King
    Author–Inquire: A Guide to 21st Century Learning


    • Mr. King,
      As the editor in chief of Thoughtful Learning, you are well versed on the topic of 21st century learning. Simple tools, such as Skype and Google Accounts, are the easiest way to collaborate with people from across the states and internationally. Since the beginning of this class, I have been impressed by all the tools that Mr. G. has introduced me too. My group project is progressing nicely and the communication is consistent thanks to these online tools.
      Thank you for your post.


  6. Hello Hannah,

    I have written a comment about your political task, namely improving the electoral system, but decided to add it as a post on one of my blogs. This will save space here and keep the information about the Australian system I shared where it can be ignored if uninteresting. Here is the link to the post…


    Now to the collaboration aspect…

    One of the great advantages of our online world is the ability to instantly share with others. As you point out, the problem for a class can be the differing time zones.

    Recently, an elementary class in Los Angeles arranged a Skype interview with me. We agreed to have the session at 13:30 their time. For me, the time was 07:30. This meant I had to set up around 06:30 for what turned out to be a wonderful session with the children asking me questions about blogging, blog commenting and my teaching career as a primary school teacher in Australia. Eighteen hours is quite a large time difference but a little planning can overcome most time barriers.

    With the time difference out of the way, I felt a part of the LA class’s day and, despite the low res video, was able to see the reactions on the faces of the children in real time.

    As my town is about a three hour drive from our nearest city, our region lacks a university yet students can study here. One university (5 hours drive from here) offers online courses at a university site in the biggest town of our area (about 20 miles distant). Students use the internet to view lectures or submit work and have Skype sessions for tutorials. They do have to travel to the main campus at times but this option allows them the chance to save accommodation costs and work locally.

    Having been involved with educational computing since it started in my state in 1981, I have seen the tremendous growth of computing power over the years. Imagine taking your studies to the world. I have taken steps in this direction and love the challenges it brings.

    Teacher, NSW, Australia


    • Ross,

      You continue to make an important contribution to my students’ learning through your comments on our blog, and we are all grateful for your time and effort. Thank you! Further, I hope all my students take the time to read your post about Australia’s electoral system (in reply to Hannah’s posting).




    • Dear Mr. Mannell,

      I am always so pleased to receive your comments below my posts, and my US Government class really appreciates reading your input. Your comments are always helpful and insightful.

      Your blogged reply to my post was very interesting and included points of interest for my group project. I think it’s interesting that voting is compulsory in Australia. In America, we pride ourselves on the right to Free Speech, which includes both voting and not voting. Your blog was very helpful in explaining to me more about the Australian government.

      Fascinating post, and thank you for the time you took to reply.



      • Dear Hannah,

        There is a court case happening at this moment where someone is challenging the constitutional validity of the compulsory vote but, if I have learned correctly, it will probably not succeed because the constitution doesn’t exclude government imposed voting. This doesn’t exclude freedom of speech although it does enforce attendance on polling day.

        Once there, voters have every right to choose to mark the forms with their vote or leave them blank if they don’t want to vote. I have seen some forms where a voter has added a choice of their own. Such votes are invalid but sometimes can be amusing. In one of my polling locations, Mickey Mouse once recorded three votes. 🙂



  7. Hi Hannah,

    Congrats on your group’s admirable collaboration in this project. It is definitely such a challenge to navigate different time zones successfully, and it sounds like your group has done a terrific job with it, and with the task of proposing a new Electoral College system.

    Kudos to all of you, and just think of how these skills will benefit you in the future when you need to collaborate professionally!


    • Hi Heather! Thank you for your post. It is so true, the tools that I am learning today will prove to be helpful in the future both at college and in my career. As technology advances, collaboration becomes easier through these online tools. Again, thank you!


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