Saturday, 21 February 2009

Collaborative learning- some questions

This is a short post.

Why when we talk about collaborative learning do we usually refer to online activities rather than face-to-face small group work?
Why do students see the value of discussing a topic and learning from each other face to face much more than contributing to a wiki?
Why does everyone, including educators, find online collaboration hard?
Does the interaction that wikis produce actually facilitate learning?
Why do we worry so much about assessing online collaboration when we are happy for students to work in small groups in a tutorial without assessing relative contributions?
Doesn't the focus on assessment rubrics mean that we will make the students focus on external motivators for particpation rather than internal?

I have many more questions but it feels good to get these of my chest for now.


  1. While I don't have answers for you, I do have a good resource where you can talk with others asking the same questions!

    The Team-Based Learning Collaborative (TBLC) is a group of health professions educators dedicated to using team-based learning to further medical and allied health education.

    Our purpose is to support other faculty implementing team-based learning, to share teaching resources, and to promote evaluation and scholarship on TBL in medical education.

    I hope this may prove to be useful.

  2. That's great! I am really interested in a complexity approach to education- based on the idea that interaction is where learning takes place, but I am disappointed by what I see online. Great that people are looking at f2f as well!


  3. Some attempts to answer your questions Anna Marie:

    1 - In my experience because students are now not often on campus at the same time together. At Glamorgan the vast majority of our students commute to University - therefore the long standing small group discussion groups need to be mediated with new technology.

    2 - Students are already socialised to know the form and style of face to face interaction, we are not at the point yet? when students have the same experience of, or ability in, other forms of interaction.

    3 - I guess it is even harder for us than for some of our students - we are stuck in our ways.

    4 - In my discipline, Business, wikis work well in drawing different themes and ideas together. As a social science knowledge in the discipline is socially negotiated - i.e. there are better and worse answers, not right or wrong answers. Wikis allow the knowledge formation and challenge process to be explicit in a way that books do not (unless you read many).

    5 - We don't need to assess online collaboration, unless we want that form of knowledge creation to be the primary skill being assessed in a module. We used to assess face to face contribution to discussions.

    6 - Yes, I would only use contribution based assessment if the process of designing the wiki was itself a competence you were looking for (which in marketing and Knowledge Management subjects it would be likely to be)

    Sorry to go on, but the questions are ones which I have often reflected on.

    my twitter id is haydnblackey and saw that you had posted them because I follow Mike (wmjohn) on twitter.

  4. Whenever I teach medical students I'm always impressed how collaborative they are (within limits) compared to other students I teach. In our medical degree, the students form tight groups which pre-echo the teams they will work in when they eventually practice. In comparison, science students go for the "rugged individualist" approach. What does this tell me? That students pick up on overt as well as quite faint signal of what is expected of them culturally.

  5. AJC's comments link to my experience too.

    I suspect he is right. Students do begin to acquire the expected skills of the industry.

    In my experience teaching postgraduate/post-experience students the interaction (online and f2f) is even better.

    i.e. where people are already encultured into working life they are more likely to see the value of collaboration than even learners who aspire to that life.

    The last module I delivered, which was about teaching using technology. Was made up of school teachers all over Wales, they really engaged in discussion and collaborative development - because the technology overcame geography. It is sometimes less clear to students who could get together f2f why we might ask them to do it online.

  6. 1. Maybe the contribution of the people involved is potentially more obvious online (eg edits history on a wiki)?

    2. Don't know as I am a web convert lol

    Why does everyone, including educators, find online collaboration hard?

    3. This could be a huge answer, lack of web based skills, anxiety about having contribution recorded, discomfort with lack of f2f cues as to how and when to join in?

    Does the interaction that wikis produce actually facilitate learning?

    4. My gut feeling is yes but developing evidence based which is always a challenge!
    Why do we worry so much about assessing online collaboration when we are happy for students to work in small groups in a tutorial without assessing relative contributions?

    5. Maybe in reality there are concerns about participants abilities to use the platforms and this is why educators feel they have to monitor?

  7. Kia ora Anne Marie!

    Some real nutty questions you put forward here.

    I have always been of the understanding that there is nothing new in collaborative learning, F2F or otherwise. Communication between experts in their own field of work and of collaborative research has been taking place for centuries.

    Notably and perhaps more recent are the Nobel Prizes that, for over a century, have been awarded in particular disciplines to collaborative groups of researchers. No one could ever deny that these collaborative groups of researchers didn't learn from one another in their research pursuits.

    You are right to question the usefulness of some online collaboration in the light of what's known about the way different people approach it (the 90:9:1 rule for instance), and I do agree that the current fad is to imply that working collaboratively suggests that it should be online.

    As well, I believe that collaborative workers are successful at this mode of sharing and learning when they have a drive (and a need) to use technology.

    I cite the use of online technology in the field of surgery where (and when) a specialist may work remotely with another surgeon (even in another country) in performing what really amounts to collaborative surgery online. But again, there's no denying that learning takes place between workers in those situations either.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  8. Dear All
    Thank you very much for your useful comments and links.
    Anne Marie

  9. 1. Collaborative learning is more f2f than online - tutorials and seminars are more common than wikis.
    2. Because they've grown-up experiencing learning in a f2f setting not an online setting.
    3. See previous answer - because it's hard to imagine what the new f2f experience should be.
    4. Possibly. Ask yourself does copying notes from a powerpoint onto A4 paper facilitate learning? Possibly.
    5. Don't fixate on the collaboration process, worry about the learning that takes place.
    6. Very little of what your students will learn will be for intrinsic reasons. :)


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