fredag 11 november 2016

Topic 3. Collaboration and Cooperation

The promise (benefits)

My experiences in Collaborative Learning is mostly based on my work as a teacher. Since many of my students are online students  I try to provide opportunities for them to interact with other students.
 I believe it is good for the students to work together for a number of reasons:
  • Students get an opportunity to build and participate in a Personal Learning Network that benefits them during and perhaps also beyond the course.
  • My own experience is that learning in a group makes studying so much more fun. My most cherished memories from my own study period are intense group discussions.
  • Less work for me as teacher answering same questions over and over again (calming students) since they can ask their friends in their network first.
  • Group work is especially important for online students since studying alone might be very dull.
  • The group may encourage each other to learn deeper since students with high interests share their interest.
  • Students need to development critical thinking skills in order to sort between group opinions[1]. It is also easier to be critical towards authorities (maybe me as ateacher) in a group compared to a single individual, this may encourage different views on the learning material and perhaps I will learn too.
  • Since students need to communicate what they learn and learn what they communicate they are effectively co-creating knowledge and meaning[1]"
  • The very act of explaining a concept to a fellow student is extremely good for achieving a deeper understanding of the concept. A similar situation is when students are forced to state their questions aloud to the group. Who has not asked a question aloud and in the same moment found the answer?
  • Students are encouraged to reflect on the material in order to communicate it reflection[1].
  • Learners become active since they have to communicate, discuss and search for information with their peers[1].
In short:
"In a collaborative learning environment, knowledge is shared or transmitted among learners as they work towards common learning goals" - 
 Blaschke, Brindley and Walti [1]

The drawbacks (problems)

Group work is not without difficulties. Blaschke, Brindley and Walti draws up a list of a few:
  • First who has not heard of an unproductive peer[1] who does not share the load of the group. This may be due to Social loafing (an individual is less productive in a group than alone) but is probably more due to the inherent difficulties of coordinating group work. 
  • Secondly, Blaschke et al points out the trouble of having a difficult peer[1]. In my experience, these students are students that have a hard time when they are faced with other views than their own. But there are also cases of students who do not share the spotlight.  
  • Third problem according to Blaschke et al is that students had "... to carry more than their fair share of workload"[1]. A task designed for a group is often deliberately designed to be too large to do alone. But when students are faced with above stated problems one way forward is to do too much "at least that will show that I did my best". I do not think we should aim for fair division of the work, instead we must make it worth it to cooperate.
  • Finally Blaschke et al points out that students felt it problematic to have"... received a grade that they felt did not reflect their level of contribution to a group project[1]". 

The strategies (solutions)

 Siemens[2], draws up a continuum of involvement from Communication to Community. The ideal case of a learning community is where students discuss, share, work together and also have a common purpose (Se figure below).
Siemens and comes to the conclusion that in most online courses it is not realistic for groups to reach the community or even cooperation part of the continuum. I would say that this is true since building a community takes more time than is normally available during a course. Building a community could, however, be the longtime goal for educational providers such as universities that are giving educational programs with many courses that follow each other. Such a community would greatly benefit students even after a finished education. 
Siemens[2] continuum of involvement

Brindley, Walti and Blaschke[1] draws up a list of best strategies that can be used to increase motivation in group work. Most of the things are very simple and obvious like giving sufficient time to solve the task, having clear instructions, having an appropriate task for group work etc. Other things are designed to make sure the groups form early and also to make sure students have the tools and have mastered the subject to that extent that they can participate in the group. Giving enough flexibility in the tasks is important to make sure students have the freedom to learn what they think is important for them. This freedom must be balanced by the clarity of the task[1]. Finally the groups are also monitored by instructors enabling early interventions when something might go wrong.

Things that we have worked with in our educations is to create spaces where the students are able to meet (both online and real life spaces).

Finally something I try to give the students before a group discussion is a clear communication strategy. I tell my students how to give feedback, how to respond and I try to be present in every group a couple of times to monitor how the students work together. If there is a group that does not seem to work I usually just give them some more communication strategies that might resolve things. Finally I have learned that online groups usually work better if they are small (2-3) students per group.


[1]. Lisa M. Blaschke, Jane E. Brindley and Christine Walti, "Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment", 2009, Online Available
[2]. Siemens, "Interaction, Elearning Course", 2002 Online Available

5 kommentarer:

  1. Really nice read. I found Siemens model to be very confusing because what he is saying as cooperation is collaboration for me - actually for many theorists as well.

  2. Good to read your considerable personal experiences in the area of motivating your online students to collaborate, when assimilating their group work. The importance of clear communication of the objective to be achieved, keeping motivation levels of the students at a good level regularly throughout the learning process is certainly factors to bear in mind when seeking to create an effective collaborative learning environment. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this area.

  3. Thanks for sharing a great post. I have to agree with Raheel, my understanding of co-operation is that it comes before collaboration in terms of development. Interesting too that Siemens chose to highlight the community, when a lot of his research focuses on the network. I liked the way you set out the post; easy to read and follow. Cheers!

  4. Thank you! I guess its just language confusion.

  5. Thank you for this interesting blog post Daniel! You seem to have good ideas about collaboration in online courses from before, but I'm wondering if there's anything you will change in your courses/as a teacher after ONL162?

    Lina (couldn't comment from my wordpress for some reason)