Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Collaborating at a distance

Although I've started a Coursera online course about Virtual Learning K-12, I am currently trying to reflect on this in the light of where I do most of my online facilitation - with adults in the IB PYP online workshops.    Although adult learners are very different from those in K-12 there are many similarities too.  The workshop I'm currently facilitating for the IBO has several activities that involve collaboration in either pairs or groups.  I'm therefore keen to learn more about how to promote collaboration at a distance.

The lecture I viewed today dealt with where and how to use technology to foster collaboration and communication and the types of technology tools to use.  There are many advantages of designing collaborative activities as part of online learning, and the most important one from my perspective is the idea of active learning.  As mentioned in a previous post, I have done online course which involved simply reading and then reflecting (and in one case not even receiving any comments from the instructor apart from things like "good job, keep going".  In this course I had no interaction with any other participant and I felt this was a real disadvantage as I could have learned so much from their feedback.  Breaking up the tasks (jigsawing) in collaborative groups allows the group to delve deeper and to broaden the scope of the project as different people can do different parts of the project and then put it all together.  Another advantage of working collaboratively, both face to face and online, is that it develops teamwork and leadership skills and also the skill of being a productive team member.  In the course I'm facilitating at the moment, there are some participants who post very late, holding up the rest of the group from moving forward.  Hopefully they will come to develop these skills through the social interaction of the online workshop.

There are 3 main reasons for collaborating during an online course and each is enhanced by using the most appropriate tool:
  • Collaboratively creating content can easily be done through wikis or collaborative tools such as Google Docs.
  • Sharing content and media can be done in many ways, for example using Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.  These social media platforms allow for comments. 
  • Discussions and reflections can happen with blogging and microblogging
I was interested to hear about the tips for teachers who collaborate with technology.  I think these are very important for teachers in a K-12 setting.  For example it is important to model good collaboration as students are learning to move from using social media to socialize to using it as a learning tool.  It's also important to emphasize quality over quantity.  I was interested in this as we often ask our workshop participants to comment on at least one other participant's post.  We want to encourage meaningful dialogue, but not a random collection of posts saying "I agree with you".  Another tip was to allow for personalization as the participants share their identities.  We have a section called the Coffee Corner where they can introduce themselves and I always encourage participants to post a photo of themselves so that we can put a face to the name.

Here are some more tips which I find useful for those teaching online courses (especially as I do struggle with the word "balance").  Set expectations about your availability and don't respond or moderate 24/7.  I'm finding it hard to do this because the participants in our workshops are from all over the world and they are posting at so many different times.  I feel I need to be monitoring the workshop constantly to make sure that anything that is urgent and important is dealt with.

As with all MOOCs I'm finding that this Coursera one is very much lecture driven up to now.  With about 15,000 participants in this one, I haven't yet been able to make contact with any other participant.  I'm wondering if this is likely to change in the upcoming modules.

Photo Credit: samuel van dijk via Compfight cc

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