Enabling collaborative learning.
Sebastian has found Martin Terre Blanche's wonderful blog. He quotes a good post on obstacles to collaborative learning.
- Students and lecturers are more familiar with a knowledge-transmission model of education and don't always understand what is expected of us in a more constructionist environment.
- We have too little information about lecturers' and students' backgrounds, networks and skills - so often we don't realize that there is somebody in the group who could teach the rest of us a lot about some aspect of what we're studying.
- No or very limited mechanisms for students to talk back to the lecturer and (especially) to talk to one another.
- Inadequate 'course memory'. Lecturers often are the only bridge for this year's students to the knowledge created by last year's group - students don't get to see what last year's group did. There is no mechanism for students who want to stay in the group after the course is officially over (and who could be a useful resource for next year's students) to do so. [Martin Terre Blanche]
Reading through this list made me realize that the people who pioneer new modes of communication in hi-tech conferences these days are in the process of fixing these issues - through backchannelling and real-time blogging, the product of which most often gets turned into permanent, hyperlinked, googlable archives for the benefit of those who aren't there.
Here are some more obstacles elicited from one of Martin's readers.
[Seb's Open Research]
So good to have Seb back blogging again. The ideas in this post are dear to my heart as I teach online at UPEI. I have found that effective teaching online demands a really different pedagogy from the sage on the stage model of content transmission. I laugh when some e of my colleagues in the faculty worry about their content being stolen when I have found that what works best is dialogue, By about week 3, I hardly post at all and the class have taken over.
What I find works is to have a big idea for a class - This term we look at how businesses that use the principles of the Natural Step are not only doing good but doing well. Thus solving the paradox of the supposed choice between the planet or jobs which seems to paralyze movement.
We have at the core of the class 2 books The Ecology of Commerce by my old mentor Paul Hawken, who comes here to PEI on August 13-14th, and The Natural Step for Business by Brian Nattrass and Mary Altomare. Each week we have a series of questions that we use as a formal structure and we have assignments which are posted for all to see. So far it looks pretty conventional. But 40% of the mark goes for participation judged on quality and quantity. I have found that this feature gets the juices going. With a class of 20 we get about a 1,000 posts in a 6 week half semester. Very soon we shift gears up from the abstract to how each of us can make a difference. We leave the world of the case studies and we look at ourselves. By week 4, we have lost the academic voice and we are in Cluetrain territory where all of us are revealing a great deal about who we really are as people. The material has become an excuse to explore our lives.
If we are lucky a student goes very deep and this stimulates the rest of us to open up as well. So the content is really only a catalyst. We have gone back to the Socratic method and it is hard to tell the prof from the student. We use WebCT which is very clunky but we mainly just use the discussion tool. I would love to use Groove which I find very smooth and has great features such as images and drawing tools. I have found that it is the quality of the conversation that counts the most. Asynchronicity is a popular feature with both me and the students. I get up very early and many of them work and post late. I have even taught while on vacation in Thailand! There is huge resistance to this type of approach from most faculty because they know no other way of teaching. Many of the younger students have a problem too as they have come from school, and also know no other way of learning. I have found that my adult students fit best as they have long ago left school and are very comfy with taking a leading role themselves. They also want o lear so that they know something new while many of kids take a course because they need the credit - very different.
A lot more has to change before this approach is commonplace. School itself is a huge barrier as it en-cultures the kids to be passive learners.