Bemused cake creatures. (Photo by me.)

I was both happy and unhappy when I realized during this topic that online computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL, Capdeferro & Romero, 2012) is something that other learners also seem to struggle with. These results made me feel supported in my own experience during this course of course, but also a bit disheartened. According to pedagogical research, collaborative learning aids the development of critical thinking and reflection skills, and can even function as a gateway to transformative learning (Brindley, Blaschke & Walti, 2009), which is all well and good, but what I wonder is what happens when learners who have already conquered these skills are required to work together in this way? What happens then? One presumption may be that the effectiveness of the group work and the quality of the work output would benefit from this state of affairs, however, this is not the experience of our PBL group, more or less to our collective surprise.

At the start of topic 3, we had a group meeting where we addressed other things than the practicalities having to do with the presentation of our work for this topic. I wrote the following in the meeting log that I’m keeping during the course: “First meeting of topic 3. After having finished off two topics now, the group is “settling in” and because of the scenario of this topic we were able to talk quite openly about our experience of the course so far which felt really good. We also shared our personal goals for taking the course and discussed possible individual goals related to topic 3. All expressed a desire for more focus on our learning instead of just focusing on the output. This, I think, was our first really good meeting.” What we also discussed was how most of us were less than satisfied with the work we had produced so far and we discovered that we are all high achievers in this group who have high quality demands on the work that we put out in the world which means that, at this point, we are all a bit frustrated.

So, the hypothesis that a group of experienced critical and reflective thinkers would find few challenges with online collaborative learning didn’t fly. At all. Instead, we seem to experience all the same frustrations that are described in the literature (Capdeferro & Romero, 2012): An often asymmetric collaboration that is due to difficulties with scheduling meetings over several time zones and technical difficulties; difficulties related to group organization and a lack of shared goals; an imbalance of the level of commitment; and difficulties around communication. So, the question is how you as a course designer minimize these kinds of frustrations which are not directly related to the learning process itself? Well, more questions than answers in this post, but then, I do find questions more interesting and also very conducive to my own personal learning process.

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 Distributed Learning, 10(3). doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v10i3.675

Capdeferro, N., & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences? The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(2), 26-44. doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v13i2.1127

The woes of collaborative learning. Topic 3