What a thought-inspiring content this Topic!
As I professionally strongly identify with the teacher I was struck by the possible implications that these collaborative matters have on the teacher role. Yes, of course I should think about my own learning networks, even though I always relied on my naturally (and overly active) curiosity in forming these. As a consequence, I am much more worried about spending too much time caught up in listening and reading about others views and stories. I can only refer to the reading of blogs in this course – it can quickly bite off a whole afternoon!
There were two particularly intriguing areas: 1. The role of emotion in learning, 2. Good connections and individual motivation within a group. I will go into them one at a time:
The webinar with professor Cleveland-Innes brought up the placement of emotions, vis-à-vis the rest of the “social, cognitive and teaching presence” which are the three conditions needed for deep and meaningful learning to occur. Either handling emotion is part of the social presence, or it is a separate category of its own. Cleveland-Innes reclined towards the latter meaning that the implication then must be an acknowledgement that emotions are at play in learning and that teachers should be trained in dealing with emotions in learning, how to encourage to safely express emotions for example. The questionnaires that we filled out during the webinar showed proof of these emotional categories ex: “Emotion is expressed”, “to express emotion is accepted by members”, “I feel comfortable expressing emotions”, ”the instructors acknowledge emotions expressed by students”, ”Participants respond emotionally to ideas and activities”, ”the teacher demonstrates emotions in online presentations..:”. Hopefully this collected data will help to move the thinking even forward in this area. I cannot help but relating to brain constitution where only about 5% is made out of the higher cognitive skills in the cortex, the area that deals with logic and rational thinking – the rest is made up out of more primitive reactions, automatic behavior and instincts and of course emotions, if the proportions are anywhere near that when it comes to logic and emotion in learning it would indeed be a big mistake not to take them into consideration. Anthonio Damasio, a neuroscientist at the university of California, definitely agree in his book “Decartes’ error: emotion, reason and the human brain” (2005) where he argues that emotions play a key roles in decision-making, not to mention Kahneman (2011), who won the Nobel price showing, among other things, to what extent we use emotional heuristics in thinking processes.
The second most captive subject this topic is the balance between enhancing safe climate so that individual dare expressing the real opinion and the too cosy atmosphere where participants go to great length in order to preserve these good relations – also over finding a good answer. Researchers in team work like Wheelan (2010 revised 2013) would argue that having differences of opinion is the most important thing in order to make collaboration work – so a group of friends would necessarily not cooperate well, too much of agreements and too little of critical thinking. In the conference “The power of disorder to transform your lives”, Economist Tim Harford talked about how uneasiness, distraction and unplanned events actually can be what create the highest creativity and best solutions. Having a group of friends trying to solve murder puzzles actually had a much smaller chance of a successful outcome than when strangers were working together. How is that compatible with Brindley, Blaschke and Walti (2009), vouching for a period of sole “getting-to-know” and building relationship before starting to work together? And is it really a good thing to let learners choose groups themselves as suggested by Capdeferro& Romero (2012)? Would that not lead to friends staying together? Among other things that could also cement the expert roles of participants, impeding the group to develop (ibid).
Could the explanation to these apparent contradictions be the goal/purpose that you have in focus? Individuals are more prone to strive for their own personal purpose, and just using the group to attain it (cf Siemens, 2005 first two stages), which would make them more oriented towards the course goal whereas a group of friend would (also) have other aims about being together than the mere completion of an assignment. The interesting question is then what would happen if the product of collaboration is lacking assessments? Would that further deviate the attention of the individual away from the purpose of the group assignment? Drawing on strictly personal experience, I find myself contenting with less production, being less “pushy” in this ONL-collaboration than I usually have been when formal judgment was being placed on the end project. I take more the role of an observer than actively driving. I am not that devastated of posting an end-product that is not “perfect”. Is that good or bad? Is it individual accountability that leads to more learning? I do not know. It is different, that I know. And I do reflect more on the process. Maybe it comes down to the simple but yet so complicated question – what learning are we talking about?
So when a group is not functioning optimally maybe it is better described in Wenger’s (2010) terms: missing common artifacts; a shared language, mutual norms and concepts, and the ability to see the value of the group and yourself as part of that group? Anderson (2008) would more stress that maybe the introductory presentations were too superficial and that the teacher is too much of a guide-on-the-side, either not managing discourse in a satisfactory way or ducking for the direct instructions. Brindley, Blaschke &Walti (2009) thinks that it could just be unexperience: skills in planning and negotiation statements about participation.
Hence, collaboration is not an easy task. I still do feel quite lost on how to design activities in a group that guarantee level of positive interdependence (Capdeferro & Romerro, 2012). The role of the teacher as the one asking question seems to be at least as hard as having all the answers.
Nevertheless, as compared to the elephant attack in last topic I feel quite enthusiastic – and more confident yet with Anderson (2010 p 360) quote: “an excellent e-teacher is an excellent teacher”. You do not need to be a technical expert either as long as you can have some self-efficacy; a sense of competence and comfort and not ending up in severe panic when something is not working as usual. Of course this conclusion would be the result of some serious selective perception on my part, not to mention a good evidence of how emotions guide learning 😉
- Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 343-395). Athabasca university press. Available here.
- Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3). Available here
- Capdeferro, N. & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44. Available here.
- Damasio, A (2005) Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, Putnam Publishing, Penguine edition
- Hartford, T. (2016) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbEMic2RjX8&t=1633s
- Kahneman, D. (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow (2012 in Swedish) (Volante förlag
- Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London. Available here.
- Wheelan, S. (2013) How to create successful teams