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Leading adult education through support for and the effective application of technology.

Let’s Continue Classroom Collaboration!

by OTAN SME Cindy Wislofsky

Collaboration. Collaboration Tools. Collaboration Activities. All good terms for working in groups to move learning forward and enhance the learning experience. The California Adult Education Digital Learning Guidance document reminds us that collaborative opportunities are essential for learners in higher education. They foster a more engaging and interactive learning environment, prepare students for future careers, support distance learning, and help develop a wide range of skills that are vital for success in both academic and professional settings. For more details about collaborative tools, make sure to read the Digital Tools for Collaboration section starting on p. 70.

How are you using tools or apps for collaboration with your adult learners? Would you welcome a few more ideas for your technology bag of tricks to keep your students engaged in interactive ways? Let’s review three collaborative digital resources that could be used to enhance your lessons, talk about any new collaborative features or tips for use, share some suggested classroom activities to engage your learners in teamwork, and list a few resources for further learning.

A. Google Docs- link for more info and to sign up; Google Docs are housed in your Google Drive.

google doc icon First, there is Google Docs, of course. You’ve probably used this popular document creator/editor for your own purposes, but one of its superpowers is how easy it is to share with others, just like other Google Apps (e.g. Sheets, Slides). Remember to select the Share button in the top right above the document to see your sharing options. Once a doc is shared, collaboration begins. Imagine partners or groups writing about a historical figure together, completing a table to share ideas for an upcoming team presentation, or adding multiple images to form a category collage of a current topic or theme.

Besides basic word processing tasks like changing the font style/size, page layout, headers/footers, or adding bullet points, did you know you can easily make comments, add emotions, and suggest edits to team members’ work? Perhaps you want to ask a question about a certain word or section. Maybe you want to show your support for an idea you agree with or want to suggest an alternate wording. Learners can support each other, learn from each other, and problem-solve in a collaborative way.

How to Add Comments, Emotions, or Edit Suggestions

  1. Highlight the text in the document you wish to respond to.
  2. See the small three-icon menu that pops up to the right.
    vertical icon menu for adding comments, emojis, and suggested edits
  3. Click the top icon to add a comment, the middle one to add an emoji, and the bottom one to suggest an edit.
  4. A window opens in the right margin where you can add your choices.

Note: There are tons of emojis - just like on your phone! See the category groups at the top of the window or use the search line to find what you need.
emoji search box, category icons, and some smiley face options below

Tip: After using the suggested editing feature, to turn it off, select the pencil in the top toolbar and in the dropdown menu, change Suggesting to Editing. Otherwise, you will be suggesting and suggesting and suggesting!

editing menu options; Editing, Suggesting, and Viewing

Checklist Feature

In addition to the commenting features, there is also a new checklist feature. Maybe teams will be collaborating on a project requiring different tasks. Why not have them use this feature to list the tasks right into their group document to be checked off by any member as each task is accomplished. It can be a cooperative organizational tool. Find the checklist icon in the main editing toolbar above the document. It looks like a list icon but with check marks, rather than the familiar bulleted list or numbered list icons.

checklist icon

There are only two choices for the checklist style when you use the down arrow, text crossed out along with the box checked off (default) or only the box checked off.

two checkbox options, one with box checked and text lined out, the other with only box checked

Classroom Activity Ideas using Google Docs

  1. Reporting Interview Results - after students interview a partner, they input what they learned onto a table in a document shared with the entire class. Use discussion, comprehension checks, or a scavenger hunt to work with the content.
  2. Team Story-Building - groups each have their own document. One student begins their group’s story with a short paragraph. The next student adds to the story with their own ideas. The story builds until all group members have had a chance to add to the story. The group decides on a title and adds images to reflect the storyline. Groups share their story with another group or the entire class.

Video Tutorials

B.Padlet– link for more info and to sign up

Padlet icon Next, there’s Padlet, a digital bulletin board for posting text, images, video, audio, links and more. If you haven’t used this collaborative tool yet, it is definitely worth trying out. A free account (Neon level) allows three active Padlets at a time, but you can archive a Padlet to free up space to create another Padlet. Then, unarchive it to use again. For unlimited Padlets, consider a schoolwide paid account for 10 or more teachers (Padlet Backpack).

Make a new Padlet by naming it and selecting a Format choice.

New board visual. Named The Rocky Mountains with Wall selected for format choice

Use the Settings wheel to continue through more options to add a description, icon, wallpaper, fonts, get a URL, decide if you want to approve posts, etc.

Settings icon

Use the Share Settings arrow to copy the Padlet link for your learners, add collaborators, set the privacy level, get a QR code, and more.

Share Settings arrow symbol

Once shared with students, they start a post by clicking on the plus in the bottom right corner (or double-clicking in the Padlet itself). Here they can title and/or put their name on the Subject line, click on the quick-access icons to add a file, link, image, take a photo, and type a response below.

Padlet posting window; shows subject line, quick-access buttons to upload a file, add a link, take a photo, find an image, and more options; a write something section is at the bottom

But the More three-dots red icon on the right opens up to a magical list of posting/uploading options, including a video recorder, audio recorder, and screen recorder, access to YouTube videos, GIFs, Google Drive, etc. So many options for sharing information and course-related material!

All the Padlet options of things to upload or insert into a post. Includes Padlet, Upload, Link, Camera, Video recorder, Audio recorder, Screen recorder, Draw, Poll, Google Drive, I can't draw, Image search, GIF, YouTube, Spotify, Web search, and Location

New Padlet Features

1. Slide Show option

Here’s what a Padlet might look like after everyone has posted something. This example is for book recommendations.

wall of visuals of several book covers, titles, and text describing each book

Now, look for the play icon in the right vertical toolbar and select it.

play slide show symbol

Instantly, a slide show begins! Each post is a separate slide just like the slide below. Note the numbering underneath showing what slide you are on. Can you picture your students presenting their group’s Padlet on a particular topic to engage the entire class?

slide of one book called Peace Life a River by Leif Enger; includes book cover and a short description of the book

2. Create a Multiple-Choice Poll Question

Another new feature is to add a one-question multiple choice poll for your audience to vote or share their opinion! What a great way to get everyone involved, get instant feedback, and keep the conversation going on the topic at hand.

Here’s how to start a poll.

  1. Start a new post.
  2. Select the More three-dots option.
    Padlet more options quick-access symbol
  3. Choose Poll.
    Poll and Google Drive options
  4. Complete the form and Add it.
    Poll window, includes question and three possible choices (Do you need more time to study this topic? yes, no, not sure) and the Add button in the top right corner

Classroom Activity Ideas using Padlet

  1. Get to Know One Another - at the start of the school year or semester, students introduce themselves, post a photo of a place they like to visit, and video record, audio record, or write something to explain about this place. Others comment or ask a question to learn more by typing in the Add Comment line at the bottom of someone else’s post.
  2. Ask Questions during Day’s Lesson - share a Padlet at the beginning of class for students to post questions anonymously about the lesson. Use the last few minutes of class to address the questions. This can help to clarify confusing content, offer the teacher some valuable feedback, and level out the playing field for those students who may lack confidence to speak up.

Video Tutorials and Article

C. Figjam - link for more info and to sign up

Figjam icon symbol, looks like 5 balls that combine both letters F and J Another useful collaborative tool is a digital whiteboard such as Figjam. Figjam includes common elements like a marker, highlighter, eraser, sticky notes, textboxes, and shapes. However, Figjam also offers easily insertable tables, arrows, shapes (with textboxes automatically inside them), stamps (e.g. thumbs up/down, question mark), widgets (e.g. dice to roll, voice memo), stickers (e.g. editable clipboard agenda), and more.

Once you sign up for a free account as an educator and you start your first Figjam, you will see this bottom toolbar.

Figjam bottom tool bar choices; includes select and hand tools, pen/highlighter/eraser, shapes, stickies, stickers/plugins/widgets; textbox, arrows, stamps, sections, and tables

And these items in the top left above the Figjam.

visual of top left Figjam tool bar; includes main menu, timer/music/voting, AI design generator, templates, and comment choices

The multitude of templates are one of the best features of Figjam. Find ones to brainstorm, plan, guide a meeting, list pros and cons, and more. Check out the For the Classroom section for templates that might be useful in your particular course, including the popular Whole Class Check-ins.

Templates listed in the For the Classroom section; includes whole class check-ins, pros and cons activity and others

Tips for use

  • Figjams can seem like one infinite whiteboard. There are no individual slides or frames (as was the case with Google Jamboard). Make different Figjams for different purposes or use one for multiple activities. However, you can make sections and duplicate them for different groups to interact with on the same Figjam. Create a section (from bottom toolbar), add items, duplicate it (Ctrl/Cmd + D), and new sections are automatically numbered. Rename the Sections as desired.
    Section 1, 2, and 3 next to each other with the same two sticky notes on each
  • To get started, create a ‘team’ (e.g. course) and a ‘project’ for the team (e.g. assignment).
  • Templates or widgets, etc. may appear small on the whiteboard. Use the zoom controls in the top right corner, do the 2-finger zoom on your laptop touchpad, try Ctrl + mouse scroll wheel or Cmd and +/- on a Mac.
  • It takes a while to get used to the hand tool to move around the board vs. the arrow tool to select an item. Besides choosing each from the bottom toolbar, try the shortcut by pressing H on your keyboard for the hand tool and V for the select tool.
  • Along those lines, move your mouse slowly over each of the bottom toolbar items to see their keyboard shortcuts (e.g. textbox = T, sticky note = S).
  • Students can join at no cost as well as the teacher. Currently, when sharing Figjams with students who don’t have accounts, there is a 24-hour time limit when editing can occur. This may or may not meet your needs, but it is Figma’s policy.

Classroom Activity Ideas using Figjam

  1. Brainstorm – when introducing a new topic, have all students type their basic prior knowledge or questions about the topic on a sticky note. Then, categorize and group the notes in teams in order to develop organizational skills. Use their input to drive your lesson-planning.
  2. Exit Ticket – after a lesson ends, learners answer the question, “How can you apply what you learned today in your own life?” onto a textbox or sticky note. Use that information for group discussion another day and to determine if transfer of information/skills has occurred into students’ lives outside of class.

Video Tutorials and Articles


In conclusion, are you ready to engage your learners with one or more of these tools to continue collaboration efforts? Although there are many other possibilities, consider Google Docs, Padlet, and Figjam for their unique features suited for teamwork and the ease of use to interact with them.

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OTAN activities are funded by contract CN220124 from the Adult Education Office, in the Career & College Transition Division, California Department of Education, with funds provided through Federal P.L., 105-220, Section 223. However, OTAN content does not necessarily reflect the position of that department or the U.S. Department of Education.