In the third topic ‘collaborating online’ was front and center. My first insight was that it can be difficult to change collaboration, get to know new people and find new ways forward after having settled into certain ways. With regard to my own practice, I make the reflection that collaborating online can be difficult and that it might be a kindness in a harsh environment to continue to allow my students to form groups themselves.
I did however want to focus on my second insight, which is on communities of practice. As noted by Wenger (2010) these highlight the social nature of human learning, that the most effective and long-lasting learning takes place in social settings. Through communities of practice, participation and reification can come into interplay. Drawing on my social science experience I would characterize the community as a sociomaterial assemblage (Orlikowski, 2007) where both social and material agents are working together. The material agents in the assemblage are not only the physical and conceptual artifacts that the human agents produce throughout their collaboration, but they are also the computers, programs, LMSs, etc that take part in the collaboration.
By including material participants in learning communities, I can see that when my students currently work together both synchronously and asynchronously they are also working together with Canvas, with Zoom, and with google docs (among other tools). These are part of creating the boundaries each community of learning establishes (Wenger, 2010). The community is thereby at least partly created by what tools they use. When I look back at my own experience from topic 3, as we merged two groups and formed a new one, the material constraints in how we worked affected how our new community formed. the affordances in a google doc were different than the ones in a miro board, but only half of the new group was used to working with the respective tools. So as Miro was introduced as a brainstorming tool it was a collaborator that had it easier with some of the humans and more difficult with others. This could be seen as reinforcing a boundary set by the old communities or as part of the conscious work of breaking down that particular boundary.
When I compare this to how I set up collaborations for my students I think that there are a few things I could do differently. To further their collaboration and the forming of a community I could let them use tools that (hopefully) none of them have used before. Then no one in the group has pre-formed practices for the specific tool and they can form their learning together. I would however need to allocate time for this practical learning, in addition to the time they have to collaborate at the moment. I could also find other ways to encourage them to organize a combination of asynchronous and synchronous work; so that they are encouraged (or maybe even forced?) to do the creative and innovative work together synchronously and then work asynchronously on tasks that do not require that kind of collaboration. This would mean that I need to change how I supervise their work, for example in my course on project management, the students show their collaboration through a series of meeting protocols that they submit with their finalized artifact. However, the meetings are not organized to be brainstorming or creative sessions, instead they have more of a reporting function. One possibility would be to have the students work on a shared board like Miro and submit that work instead of or in addition to a protocol.
The idea of viewing my student groups as collaborative communities provides me with new exciting ideas as well as some challenges some of my assumptions about my students. I look forward to trying this out during the spring.
Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London.
Orlikowski, W. J. (2007). Sociomaterial Practices: Exploring Technology at Work. Organization Studies, 28(9), 1435–1448. https://doi.org/10.1177/0170840607081138