Rethinking Teaching: How K-12 and Higher Education Leaders Can Facilitate Collaborative Learning with Technology

Technology is transforming teaching and learning, and preparing students for the future of work. But educators must learn to leverage teaching tools to engage students and support their personal growth.

by CISCO / July 2, 2018

K-12 schools, colleges and universities are awash in technology that would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Interactive tools have transformed online and blended learning from passive experiences to active, engaging environments that allow students to work together on projects tailored to their specific needs and interests.

Next-generation education emphasizes collaboration and interactivity, whether students are in the classroom, learning from outside experts or working on their own time. But they’re only as effective as the educators who use them.

We are going to explore ways in which technology is transforming teaching and learning, and preparing students for the future of work. We will also offer suggestions on how district and higher education leaders can help educators innovate.


The 4Cs — critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity — are the cornerstone skills learners of all ages need to be successful in life.

That’s why the most transformative use of connected classroom technology, whether in face-to-face learning or online and blended learning models, isn’t presenting lectures or material. It’s leveraging these resources to help students collaborate and problem solve in new ways.

Collaboration tools such as Cisco Webex blur the lines between synchronous and asynchronous models, making learning a hybrid, continuous experience for all students.

In a connected classroom, technology helps enable:

  • Collaboration. Students can securely connect and communicate with peers, teachers and experts.
  • Flexibility. Whether in an online or traditional classroom, tools such as video, whiteboards and lecture capture give students the opportunity to access learning materials when and where they want.
  • Blended learning. Students use tools like Webex Teams to gather materials and collaborate in class, then return to their projects on their own time.
  • New connections. Video conferencing can help educators connect with parents in new ways.
  • Bringing the world to the classroom. Students can speak to experts and collaborate with peers in other classrooms, cities or countries across the globe.


The use of digital content and learning management systems (LMSs) is becoming nearly universal in both K-12 and higher education (see “Key Stats” on page 3 of the full issue brief). Used by educators to create and deliver content, monitor student participation and assess performance, LMS technology is rapidly evolving to provide new functions that can help educators more deeply understand each student’s progress and tailor teaching and learning to meet individual needs.

Analytics. Systems integrate student data from multiple sources to help educators better understand the progress of each student, down to specific learning standards. When this is automated to provide actionable information “at the speed of learning,” teachers can adjust and personalize instruction, while principals and administrators can track overall trends and identify gaps in curriculum or professional support.

Personalization. Next-generation systems allow students to set their own learning goals and connect them with the resources and assessments to meet and demonstrate mastery of specific skills.

Collaboration. LMSs can help students connect and work with peers on individual projects or expand group efforts to a broader scale — including other classes, schools or systems.

Transparency. Analytics and insights can be presented to different audiences — administrators, parents and community stakeholders — using dashboards, including the ones required by federal policymakers for both K-12 and higher education institutions that tell the story of students’ progress.


To fulfill technology’s promise of transforming teaching and learning, educators must learn to leverage these tools to engage students and support their personal growth.

Today’s technology-empowered educator must wear more hats to ensure every student has the opportunity to learn in an environment that meets his or her individual needs and abilities (see “The Technology-Empowered Educator” in the full issue brief).

The strategies that can lead to effective online pedagogy have been discussed for more than a decade. Herkimer County Community College Professor William Pelz summarized them in three principles:

  • Let students do most of the work — including student-led discussions and online research, peer assistance, etc.
  • Emphasize interactivity — students collaborating with one another on projects focused on real-world problem solving.
  • Strive for “presence” — through social connections, cognitive connections and active facilitation of student learning.

To support educators in creating this kind of digital learning culture, leaders should start by shifting the lens. Rather than starting with students — who today are digital natives at all ages — focus on the adults who teach them.

For a complete look at rethinking teaching, download our free issue brief here to see suggestions on how district and higher education leaders can help educators innovate.

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