The fabulous start of an interesting topic “collaboration”, moreover collaboration in an open course. Quite challenging isn’t it, still very interesting. Collaboration in online environment and online course is  said to be based on several factors. Like Transparency of expectations, Clear instructions, Appropriateness of task for group work, Meaning-making/relevance, Motivation for participation embedded in course design, Readiness of learners for group work, Timing of group formation, Monitoring and feedback, Respect for the autonomy of learners, Sufficient time for the task. All these factors if met thoroughly can contribute to collaboration. These 10 factors fit sufficiently well in constructively alignment of a course yielding desired results.
An interesting discussion in our Pbl meetings brought up the topic of social loafing affecting collaboration, that meant free riders on the course doing nothing but taking advantage being a member of the group. Several ideas came up suggesting how to solve this problem and affective solution by one of the colleagues was to put unproductive students in one group to make them do the work. Thinking deeply into the problem I am wondering what makes the learners unproductive, why they are not interested in contributing to the group work? Is it the group dynamics? Are they introverts? Or their motivation level is too low? If so what kind of motivation an adult learner needs to have?
Assuming I being a free rider, and reflecting on myself, following factors would play a role:
Intention behind joining the course: Whether I was forcefully put up to enroll for the course or I was interested myself. Means motivation plays a role. If I were forced for some credits motivation was still there but that was external so I wont be much interested, only hurry to complete the course, but yes If I am internally motivated , keen to excel myself I will leave no stone unturned.
A facilitator or a leader’s role: If a group is kept highly organized from day one by the leader it will not make me a free rider, I will feel a sense of responsibility as the environment around me is quite a responsible one. For me at least a facilitator needs to be firm in laying up ground rules for newly formed groups as nobody knows each other.
Group Dynamics:  How a team has organized itself, if members respect each other, and adequate healthy peer interaction exists, hardly anybody falls behind.
But no matter what exceptions exist, still free riders are out there, I would be really interested to know more about them.
Moving on to collaboration itself, collaborating online in open courses is highly challenging. Collaboration is mostly taken a team completing a project but if collaboration is supposed to create new knowledge in online course which dose not require group works or group tasks, then how can one arrange for distant peers ready to embark the same journey as ours. Personal learning network in this regard is a heavenly solution in an online environment. As “online applications and services that enable communication, collaboration, content creation and sharing.” (Dabbagh and Kitsantas, 2012)
Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal Learning Environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and higher education, 15(1), 3-8.
Getting on together…