Friday, August 27, 2010

Online collaboration in formal learning environments = hard squared

I feel frustrated with collaborative activities in a formal online educational environment because in the most part they are poorly designed. It's like they are conducted to tick a box on student attributes, but not actually supported. It's like being told to assemble a piece of Ikea furniture without the correct tools or instructions, and then criticizing the resulting bookcase (because it was really a coffee table).

As an elearning professional it hurts because I know it will make my job harder to convince my fellow students that these tools can be utilised effectively when they are seeking informal online collaborative tools in their workplace. In many cases they will be so scarred by their experiences that to get them to use the tools will seem like the choice of cutting off your arm or starving to death because you are pinned under a rock. So how do we?

Firstly I think we need to take the bitterness out of the pill. Consult, listen, hear their problems and communicate how they have been resolved. This is from both a Faculty and Student perspective. How do address lag in low-bandwidth areas? How do you simplify the layout? What tools will you provide to support their ways of working, and help build their PLE's?

Then provide them with training and support. Do let them know they have been using a spanner as a hammer, and how to bang something without squashing their fingers. Make it longitudinal and embed it in practices so that it does get used. Set up Communities of Practice so people can start to share their experiences and we can learn from great ideas. Make it cross-disciplinary so faculty can be exposed to diverse ideas from weak ties. Set up safe fail environments where teachers can experiment on the new faculty inductees.

And for students, please provide some scaffolding. Set out the roles that need to be filled, provide a sample agenda with timings. Actually show some cognitive presence during the shouting match, don't shut the door and tell us to come out when we've sorted it out. When my parents did that it just meant being physically intimidated by my older brother for fourteen odd years until his size advantage was lost. The virtual space will be dominated by the more powerful, and teachers need to be the advocates and encouragers' of the timid. They need to ensure a level-playing field, not sit in final judgment with a summative assessment - it should be about the journey, not the destination.


andy said...

Online collaborating and teaching can work, If you have trust and the right tools.
I recently tried - good app for uploading documents and working on them in real-time.
Most file types are supported and it needs no installation. - andy

Andrew Hill said...

This is a great tool for online collaboration Andy, thanks so much for the link, I'll being using this for sure.

And I think you really hit the nail on the head with 'trust' being the glue that holds virtual learning together.

I've been thinking about this topic and am posting something about what learning looks like in this new paradigm.