The topic of this blog deals with issues that are dear to me. I have been involved in course development at the university for several years. When reading the blog of one of my fellow course (ONL211) member Michail Galanakis, I stopped and reflect. He states that collaborative learning and democracy fits together and then he asks himself if it works in institutional education, does it even create more social in-justice? I sense how the academic system today is far from supporting real collaborative and co-creational work. We put students in groups to be efficient, and we do so regardless the complexity of working in groups. We almost pretend that it´s easy, that the students are prepared for it, but they are not. They come with a lot of bad experiences and often with a static mindset, more interested in product than process (Dweck, 2016).
For me it is self-evident that for any course to be efficient it must involve social dimensions. I believe that learning has to do with relations, relations to structure, content, and people. The question is how do we inspire, encourage and support students to be truly co-creational? According to Siemens in Brindley, Blaschke & Walti (2009) a four-stage continuum in e-learning goes from communication, collaboration, cooperation to community, in the last stage, community, participants strive for a common purpose. Siemens argues that it is not very likely to expect community in online courses.
In a course that I am responsible of, applied aesthetics, a five-week course for first year bachelor students in Culinary Arts and Meal Science, we have designed for community. The course is planned as a case study and has grown from an iterative process of ten years. A fictive client challenges the students to conceptualize a meal event starting from an historic style period. The students work together in groups of five. In times of covid 19 with the shift from onsite to online courses we decided to use Miro and Zoom as a digital platforms. Here the students work with different parts of the design process together, both synchronously and asynchronously. We offer a clear structure with templates for each task. The templates are designed for students to work in the same document.
In reading the article of Brindley, Blaschke & Walti (2009), on how to improve group collaboration online, I recognize many of their findings from my own reflections after the course. To facilitate readiness for the students we form the study groups with great care, in collaboration with students, and the groups all write contracts and learn about group dynamics and feedback. To build trust and relationship we talk about fears and difficulties, motivation, struggles, willingness, attitudes etc. to create more transparency in the study groups. We also have manuals and tutorials for how to use the digital platforms. When we see that all students in the groups are more familiar with each other and the structure they have a great deal of flexibility in how and when to work. In recurring tuition and open zoom hours we monitor group activities and support group dynamics and give formative feedback. As a design process is a working model that is best suited for group collaboration it includes methods that encourage students to be innovative and find their own path on the way to a concept solution. This is something that I find provide meaning and purpose to the students as 95 % passes the examination (both in writing and as a performative presentation), where they show new skills, pride, and strong relationships.
With that said, the process is not without problems. As stated in Capdeferro and Romero (2012) some of the most frustrating elements for students in group work are poor work ethics and unwillingness to participate or contribute. This is also true for our students and the most common reason for the teacher to intervein. In this case we perform a dialogue together with the actual group of students using their common contract as staring point. Here it is an advantage if the teacher has a competence in managing group processes, not being afraid of talking about difficult themes or handling conflicts.
So why do I think that we design the course for community? The students work in small groups performing a common task. They are challenged to work in a design process that is known to be messy because it honors process before results and it does not have “fixed answers”. Therefore, it is important to support students with a clear structure and lots of tuition and facilitation of group dynamic problems. When the students realize that there is a lot of freedom in how to solve the assignment and that many of the methods used is playful and supports meaningful and professional insights, they show high intrinsic motivation. This enables a dialogue in the digital classroom that is open, respectful yet informal which supports a feeling of community.
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).
Capdeferro, N.& Romero, M., (2012).
Are Online Learners Frustrated with Collaborative Learning Experiences?
International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 13(2):26-44.
Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of succsess. New York: Ballantine Books.