Supporting every teacher: A checklist for choosing effective collaboration tools

Delia Kidd

Interaction is a vital part of learning a language. This means being able to communicate with others through different modes and means. As teachers move to online methods of teaching, it can be hard to keep the same level of interaction up as there would normally be in the physical classroom. That’s why it’s important to find ways of allowing your students to continue interacting with each other, and even with those beyond the virtual classroom. One way of doing this is through online collaboration tools. In this post, I will provide some tips on how to identify effective online collaboration tools for your language learners.

Good collaboration tools should meet several core principles of language learning:

1. Meaningful interaction – we learn best when we use language in a meaningful way

2. Positive engagement – we learn best when we’re engaged, motivated and challenged by the language learning process

3. Autonomous learning – we learn best when we develop the skills to manage our own learning

Let’s take a look at each of these principles to understand how online collaboration tools can best meet them.

Meaningful interaction

Effective collaboration tools…

…allow learners to interact with authentic audiences
This type of authentic interaction can be achieved between learners (emulating the type of interaction in the classroom), but also with learners in other locations and time zones to create a wider community of sharing their learning together.
Connecting to expert speakers of English will also be beneficial to learners. It can replace the types of interactions learners might have when travelling abroad or speaking to tourists in their country.

…facilitate effective peer-interaction
Learners need to be able to interact with their peers both in and out of the classroom. Collaboration tools can create a space for them to do so, through direct messaging, video conferencing, forums and online group tasks.

…create opportunities to communicate in authentic modes/means
Even for learners who are new to online learning, most will have experience of communicating via digital modes in their everyday lives. They will have some experience with using voice and video calls, messenger apps, email, etc. Since learners are already comfortable with these modes, using them in their language learning will help to make the experience more meaningful and relevant as it emulates their real life experiences.

Take away tips

  • Look for tools that allow learners to interact with each other, both during and outside of class time – for example, web-based learning management systems (LMS) with forums, or group chats on WhatsApp or Google Hangouts.
  • Look for tools that allow learners to connect with others in the outside world – examples include social media channels like Facebook, or platforms for language learning pen pals like com or InterPals.
  • Ensure the tool has media capabilities for learners to communicate with voice, video, chat, document upload and screen share.
  • Choose tools that are easy to use and familiar to learners.

Positive engagement

Effective collaboration tools…

…motivate learners
There is value in bringing learners together in a digital space. Learners are more motivated when they can see others are going through the same experiences. Encouraging peer-interaction will help learners to feel less isolated.

Are inclusive of learner identity
Tools can be engaging when they allow learners to personalise the experience; for example, through creating customisable avatars or environments.

…build a positive learning atmosphere, with positive feedback, collaboration, and safe spaces for learning
In many ways, online collaboration will be more appealing to some learners – it can create a sense of independence. It is a semi-autonomous space in which to interact, without feeling anxious or scared about contributing publicly in class.

…give learners access to relevant, authentic and interesting topics
Teachers and learners can upload and share links to authentic content relevant to their learning, such as articles, blogs, videos, podcasts, etc.

Take away tips

  • Look for tools that provide options for personalisation – for example, Zoom features an option for participants to change their video background to an uploaded image, and Edmodo allows learners to choose an avatar for their profile picture.
  • Ensure there is some flexibility for how and when learners collaborate, and what they choose to share.
  • Look for tools with options for learners to share their content by various means – for example, learners using Explain Everything can upload media from a variety of sources, including voice chat, presentations, drawings, etc.

Autonomous learning

Effective collaboration tools…

…help learners develop confidence to take risks
Learners can take risks they may not normally have taken when allowing them to interact anonymously in non-threatening environments with others. The pressure of communicating in face-to-face environments is mitigated when interacting online.

…support the development of metacognitive skills
Moving their learning online will mean that learners are having to develop a range of new skills – how to manage their learning, and identify tools to support this. Of course it’s important for teachers to support the development of these skills, but you should also encourage learners to share their experiences with each other to find the methods that work best for them.

Take away tips

  • Ensure the tool allows for learners to share answers and ideas anonymously, for example, through the use of polls as in Microsoft Teams.
  • Encourage learners to share ideas on how to manage their learning remotely, with or without you present.


These are just some ways in which online collaboration tools can support rich and authentic interaction between your learners as well as with the outside world, particularly in the absence of face-to-face interaction.

Have you used any online collaboration tools that you would recommend to fellow teachers? What makes them effective? Share your ideas and join the conversation!


If you would like to read more blog articles from the Supporting Every Teacher series, click here

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