“Technology enhances collaborative learning”

woodleywonderworks, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0
woodleywonderworks, flickr.com, CC BY 2.0

Valentin Ruest, CEO US of Go Pollock, explains how technology can encourage collaboration instead of competition in the classroom.

Aisha Schnellmann: Why is it important for students to learn collaboratively in the classroom, working as a team to achieve common goals?

Valentin Ruest: Students tend to perform better when they are in a learning environment that encourages them to work together with high-performing peers to reach a common goal. We also see this in families and sports teams: Positive teams reinforce themselves. When my co-founders and I started working on our ed-tech solution for classrooms, Go Pollock [Editor’s note: GoPollock was recently rebranded to Classtime], we heard from many teachers that it would be helpful if we could come up with something that would encourage collaboration.

Classroom learning is a wonderful opportunity for children not only to master the curriculum, but also to develop the socioemotional skills they need to work together effectively and succeed as a team. Furthermore, teaching students collaboration instead of competition is absolutely essential in preparing them for the digital economy, where innovation is driven by partnerships and cooperation.

AS: How does learning collaboratively change the classroom environment?

VR: When individuals in a classroom are encouraged to compete, students who answer questions most correctly or quickly are rewarded. In my experience, this usually means that the performance of top-tier students will be consistently above average, and it will continue to improve. Since each individual is motivated to win, there is no incentive for students to help one another.

“Teaching students collaboration instead of competition prepares them for the digital economy, where innovation is driven by partnerships and cooperation.”

Over an extended period of time, such a learning environment leads to divergent patterns of achievement and demotivates students who perform poorly relative to their peers.

Clearly, competition can be motivating. But competition in the classroom should involve small teams, or the whole class should compete together as a unit to overcome challenges and achieve the common goal. When students understand that they are contributing to the success of the entire group, the classroom dynamic changes dramatically. They are incentivized to work together and help each other solve difficult problems, because they want the team to win.

When the whole class works together as a team to tackle a collaborative challenge, students are excited to keep track of their success. In the case of Go Pollock, success is visually represented by a real-time progress bar projected on the classroom’s screen. The students are consequently fully engaged in the lesson. Then, when they complete the challenge, the entire class can celebrate.

“When students understand that they are contributing to the success of the entire group, the classroom dynamic changes dramatically.”

AS: A collaborative classroom environment presents its own challenges. How can ed-tech help teachers in this context?

VR: These are challenges that the students themselves need to overcome. For example, they must learn to achieve their common goal by remaining engaged and on task. It is helpful for the teacher to set guidelines and model appropriate behavior, but the students need to learn how to succeed in a team. Ed-tech can help by providing greater transparency. It can also help by highlighting the common goal and the team’s progress – for the teacher, but more importantly for the students themselves.

For example, our Collaborative Challenges activity not only shows how well the class is answering each question on a quiz; it also provides an animated depiction of the students’ progress toward their common goal, for example by showing the gradual construction of a roller coaster.

AS: Have you encountered skeptical teachers or school administrators who have reservations about working with ed-tech?

VR: Yes, regularly, and often for good reasons. They are skeptical about the ability of ed-tech to solve their problems; and rightly so, because certain problems they face are in fact better solved without the intervention of technology. This is why, when we meet teachers and school administrators, we generally start not only by talking about technology, but by seeking to learn more about the problems they are trying to solve and how we might help.

The willingness of teachers and administrators to try ed-tech also differs from country to country. In Ukraine, for example, the growth rate of ed-tech usage is quite high. Educational reforms and generous budgets have created a great deal of momentum in that country; school administrators are motivated to modernize classrooms using proven resources, and teachers are eager to integrate ed-tech into their teaching.

This is also the case in the United States, especially in California. In Switzerland, on the other hand, educators seem to be more hesitant; perhaps because the country’s ed-tech industry is still relatively small so there are not yet as many technology products in the market developed specific for use in the Swiss educational context. This is why, in Switzerland, incubators such as the Swiss EdTech Collider are important.

Education technology can help teachers make better decisions by collecting learner data, but it cannot make those decisions for them.”

AS: The use of learner data derived from ed-tech to assess understanding and proficiency can have its drawbacks. Some parents worry about an overreliance on such data to determine proficiency. How can we ensure that learner data are used effectively to benefit all students?

VR: I share parents’ concerns about overreliance on data – which can be an issue in a variety of areas, and not only in education. While it is relatively easy to collect enormous quantities of data, it is significantly more difficult to convert those data into actionable insights. The role of the teacher is essential in this context.

Education technology can help teachers make better decisions by collecting learner data, but it cannot make those decisions for them. Our goal is to enable teachers to save time and to challenge their natural biases and expectations, while making sure that the source of the data remains transparent.

When analyzed incorrectly, learner data can be detrimental to a child’s learning and development. This is one reason for my skepticism about (mostly hidden) personalized learning algorithms that other ed-tech solutions tend to celebrate. Ultimately, it is the teacher who is crucial to ensuring that students’ needs are met.


Valentin Ruest is the CEO US and co-founder of the ed-tech startup Go Pollock. He studied business administration and economics at the University of St. Gallen and Harvard University. Currently based in Los Angeles, he focuses on Go Pollock’s growth in the US market and teaches personal finance in public schools.

Go Pollock is a solution for classrooms that complements in-class teaching with immediate feedback on students’ level of understanding. Launched in early 2017, Go Pollock is used by teachers and schools globally throughout K-12 and Higher Education. Their offices are based in Switzerland, Ukraine and USA. In Switzerland, Go Pollock is located in the EdTech Collider. [Editor’s note: GoPollock was recently rebranded to Classtime.]

The Swiss EdTech Collider is Switzerland’s first collaborative space dedicated to ambitious entrepreneurs transforming education and learning through technology. It is co-founded by the Jacobs Foundation.

Located in the EPFL Innovation Park just a few steps away from EPFL’s Center for Digital Education, the EdTech Collider provides a modern coworking space to its members ranging from early-stage to established startups. Unlike a classical startup incubator or accelerator program, the EdTech Collider offers ongoing support and access to ed-tech experts, industry leaders and investors.

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