Experiences in collaborative learning – my first encounter, later developments and conclusions:
My first encounter.
The journey of my post school studies started way back in 1974. This period commenced with a massive cloud hanging over my head since I had dismally failed my final exit (grade 12) school exams – I never felt so embarrassed in all my life. Somehow I knew this was not the person that I knew was inside of me – I was not a failure! I had never studied at school, at most I only ever did my homework, and wrote all of my tests/exams purely on what I remembered from my classes. I had no clue whatsoever of how to study and was very frightened of what the future held for me. I started out in the field of electronics and radio as an apprentice and I knew that I had to get some reasonable qualification in my chosen field to make a life for myself and I had to start right at the bottom level.
As I progressed up the ladder to higher levels of study, I noticed that the guys who performed with distinction all worked together in a group – my first sighting of a collaborative learning environment. They were always with one another, chatting, laughing, seriously debating and to my amazement they all they seemed to enjoy every second of their time together. What was their secret? They were labelled as nerds by their peers and I was a big rough, tough rugby player and certainly not one of their type. Intrigued by this association and their brilliant success, I plucked up the courage and asked them if I could join their group. To my utter surprise they were only too glad to welcome me. That’s where my first collaborative learning experience began. No laid down rules and regulations, just good honest passion, 100% commitment to the cause and to each other, a common goal to understand and master whatever it was we had to, a bond of unquestionable trust, friendship and faithfulness existed and I loved every second of it. Never once was there an experience of negative emotion in our four years of study together. In fact, a very healthy and competitive learning network was created without us consciously being aware of it. Never were there any frustrations because of free riders, social loafers or guys not pulling their weight. Also, there were no computers back in those days so much of our time was spent in the library sifting through many reference books for the gleaning of information and knowledge manufacturing activities which we all shared. Certainly a different scenario to today’s modern personal learning networks and the community of learning that exists due to computers, many software programs and the internet.

Later developments.
During my tenure as a member of the engineering faculty at the university where I have worked for the last 31 years, I started to integrate the use of computers, software and the internet into my subjects in 2000. That is, I have progressively instituted blended and online learning into my subjects without really realising that I was doing it. Reading of the literature has educated me into the pedagogical advances, that is, the social and psychological benefits, the advantages and the complete logical sense of collaborative online learning and the formation of learning communities. My first real attempts at blended and online group work were forced upon me rather suddenly due to massive student protests on our campus, most of which turned very violent and students who wanted to participate in the normal face-to-face classes were intimidated by political groups and physically prevented from doing so.
To deliver the subject material to my students, learning groups of students were formed. I had very well organised and documented rules, regulations and guidelines for everyone to adhere to. Collaborative problem based learning tasks/assignments were given to each group with specific outcomes and submission dates were stipulated for all participants. Due to many of the students not having connectivity at their homes or their own laptops, use was made of local shopping malls, internet cafe’s and libraries for group meetings. I made rounds to each group during the day to show my support, passion and commitment to their cause and also to provide explanations and a guiding hand where necessary.
The first of many issues and emotional frustrations surfaced soon after the first few group sessions commenced and when the group work submission dates drew near. There were a host of complaints ranging from interpersonal issues, social loafers/free riders, zero commitment issues, strong student controlling issues, to subtle attempts at exploitation of the rules and regulations to extend submission dates. The ability of the students to interact with their peers in a mutually beneficial manner was severely lacking as was their commitment to expedite that philosophy. These issues and frustrations definitely demoralised many of the participants which compromised their own learning experience. This attitude is difficult to understand given that most of the students knew the immense benefits of a collaborative learning environment. They just seemed hell-bent on confrontation and non-collaboration with their peers at the cost of a themselves gaining the maximum out of their group learning experience. This just did not resonate with my unbelievable experience way back in my student days!

I am convinced that it is the poor attitude of many students, towards both their studies and their fellow humans, that is the main contributing factor to the success/failure of any form of education they choose to follow. In fact, I have found that about 90% of students all over this world, irrespective whether use is made of face-to-face delivery of the subject material or the latest blended online collaborated learning is used, just want a piece of paper which says degree or diploma on it, irrespective of what they know and understand. Just show me what I have got to do to pass sir – that makes me cringe! I have also learned that many faculty members are lecturers because they cannot do what their qualifications say they are supposed to do – they too just learned to pass and cannot get employment in the industrial sector for which they studied. So sad, and a massive disservice to our youth which I am afraid will continue for many decades in the future!


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8mJX5n3IEg&feature=youtu.be:- PLN’s Theory and Practice by Kay Oddone, Part 1

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LqSBTr9DPH8&feature=youtu.be:- PLN’s Theory and Practice by Kay Oddone, Part 2

http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1127/2129:- 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

http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/675/1271:- 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).5.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242404879_Online_collaboration_principles:- Garrison, D. (2006). Online collaboration principles. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. DOI: 10. 10.24059/olj.v10i1.1768.

Reflections on Topic 3 – Learning in Communities – Networked Collaborative Learning.