Digital libraries are increasingly considered an effective tool in classroom environments oriented to collaborative learning processes. Opportunities are easily originated by a digital support whose very essence is the act of sharing, allowing people to build, exchange and enhance knowledge in all its shapes: magazine articles, books, papers, images, sounds and videos.
Starting from the beginning, a digital library is a collection of documents (of all the types previously mentioned) in electronic form, available on the internet or on a digital support, enabling the access to a potentially infinite number of resources.
There are some major advantages in using digital libraries and they are directly connected to their format. First of all, regarding storage processes of physical documents, the need for plenty of space automatically comes to mind. This limitation is easily overcome by digital libraries, which can collect a great amount of contents without requiring room, accessible anywhere and at any moment.
With physical documents, a huge effort must be also dedicated to organize and maintain a precise and easy-to-use filing system, which is instead automatically provided by a digital library, avoiding the risk of misplacing or – even worst – losing important materials.
Beside these featured benefits, there’s an inherent function in digital libraries that makes them so useful in learning environments. These tools are, before all, made to be shared. It is acknowledged that, in an increasingly evolved and connected world, the learning process is progressively changing, keeping up with the new living standards that young people are experiencing. By now, the greatest challenge for all those in charge with education is to find a balance between the proven methods of traditional pedagogy and the opportunities offered by education technology, to which new generations are accustomed even before taking their first step into school. Young students are, although at different levels, comfortable with the digital language, and the education system has the possibility to address this ability towards any productive and formative direction, taking advantage of all the benefits technology itself offers.
Within the advantages provided by technology into classrooms there’s definitely the possibility to share knowledge, which is indeed the essence of collaborative learning.
As a famous statement says, “the whole is more than the sum of its parts”: when people are engaged in a collaborative learning process, they actively interact by sharing experiences, information and understandings, with the specific purpose of generating more value for all the individuals involved.
From this perspective, it’s easy to see how important it can be for students and teachers to benefit from tools specifically designed to provide a shared space, where contents and documents are not only stocked, but also developed with the contribution of everyone.
Digital libraries, besides collecting a huge amount of knowledge and making it easily accessible to anyone in need, can definitely facilitate learning activities inside classrooms, ensuring the availability of materials to anyone and making them a collective asset to expand further and further.
Collaborative learning, in order to be effective, needs to maximise engagement through all the phases. If the process is shared, source materials should be so in their turn. Digital libraries can flank collaborative learning at different stages: the most encouraging aspect is the easiness through which these tools can turn ordinary, usually individual actions – such as research, archiving and retrieval – into shared and social activities that engage people and make them feel part of a valuable process.
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