An interesting week covering issues I have been struggling with in my own practice. Running a blended learning course with students in the vicinity most of the time has introduced some obstacles to online collaborative learning. I’m using a slightly modified mode of team based learning (moving from a PBL oriented approach) so collaboration is an integral part of the learning process. For long and in periods I have tried to facilitate digital collaboration by adding forums and chat rooms with next to zero impact. Having read Asynchronous & Synchronous E-Learning by Stefan Hrastinski I have realised that there needs to be more specific reasons for the students to engage with the tools than just collaboration per se. There is an intense use of other online learning objects posted on the LMS with the intention of illustrating problems or scenarios that calls for investigation and solutions. They’re also used in such a way that students collaborate in groups to present such solutions. However, collaboration occurs in the classroom and moving it out of the classroom into online spaces requires critical rethinking of the actions needed in my role as a facilitator in the team work process. Based on the suggestions by Hrastinski I would start out by adding tools in the LMS for synchronous communication with the intended use for planning preparation for the classroom face to face activities. Proper preparation must be dependent on online collaboration e.g. by instructing students to produce a padlet for each group illustrating their basic understanding of the topic to be covered in the face to face meeting. If that works out well, the next step might be to replace the face to face meeting as well. The only thing holding me back at this point is an uncertainty that every student in fact is in possession of the required digital skills and tools.
Another problem I have been thinking about relates to intended learning outcomes. Teaching in a fairly strict outcomes based curriculum ending in a certificate for a profession I’m relying on a shared agreement between students and faculty that what is happening in the various venues (lecture hall, group room, clinical ward attachment online quiz etc) somehow acts in the direction of a common outcome with minimum criteria for achievement, in the best of worlds understood by all involved individuals. In this sense collaboration could be seen in the light of a common goal. From my understanding, so far admittedly being a complete novice in the field, of open networked learning, this may be an assumption at times or even frequently violated and individuals more likely have individual goal as the primary focus. I challenge other course participant to disprove me on this one. Some insights in how the asynchronous collaboration can be enhanced and become more meaningful are given by Randy Garrison in Elements of quality online education: Practice and direction 2003. The importance of creation of and reflection on learning outcomes as well as deliberate actions in relation to those outcomes are stressed.