This may sound like the intro to a Star Wars movie, but alas if that is why you landed here you are in for some bitter disappointment. However, if you are interested in the topic of networked collaborative learning (which is far, far away from most people’s minds) then you have come to the right place… For my stream of consciousness around the topic at least… Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride of where my mind goes!
Sooooo… Here’s the thing with coming into a new topic, after being largely absent from the previous (hence why this reflection is coming before Topic 2 <facepalm>). You feel like you have to make things up to your team because you didn’t contribute as much as you would have liked for reasons. For me, that meant taking on the moderator role for the PBL group assignment – become the team captain so to say. I made sure I was prepared for the first meeting, had gone through the readings and contributed to the FISh document and was ready to dive right into the discussion with a vision of what the assignment might look like in the end. Let’s just say, things did not go according to what I had planned.
For the better I must add! Half-way through the topic, our PBL group grew because another group had lost a couple of members. This meant that we needed to take extra time to get to know our newest members; bring them up to speed with our discussions; and, of course, be brought up to speed on their discussions. In all of this, we still managed to put forward what I thought was a great presentation that dealt with the idea of team collaboration and how the importance of these skills can be taught to the students. It had the theme of a soccer team working together to achieve a common goal, rather than a bunch of individuals competing. Another PBL group used the metaphor of the group work needing to be like a band – a different concept, but still ultimately the same desired outcome. To be effective, you can’t just be a group of random people, but you also need to TRUST each other and have defined roles so that you contribute effectively towards a COMMON GOAL.
Why is this so important to harp on about (see what I did there? :P)? From my personal experience, it does not appear to be in human nature to work well with other people. And when the world is becoming increasingly smaller because of our level of interconnectedness, we are being forced to work with an ever increasingly diverse team. Therefore, it is critical that students are equipped with the necessary skills to be able to function as a team! I don’t want to repeat everything here, so if you are interested more in how to possibly transfer these critical skills, I encourage you to have a look at our team presentation here.
Two of the key take aways that I got from the webinar with Kay Oddone regarding ways in which collaboration can be instilled include:
- Tasks should be set such that the information isn’t immediately available online.
- Tasks should be redesigned that will build the students’ skills that they will need – in other words, the project should not be chunkable (divide, work separately, and hopefully there’s a cohesive submission at the end) but rather require true collaborative efforts.
While logical, these two ways of (re)designing group work tasks is actually incredibly difficult! The wealth of information that is available is growing on a daily basis making truly unique projects a challenge to define without requiring multiple peer-reviewed publications and a resulting PhD to provide a solution. Additionally, how can the skills actually be measured and properly internalised by the students?
At least to the second point, there were some interesting suggestions that were raised:
- The students should demonstrate how they build on each other’s ideas to demonstrate the interaction and collaboration between the team members.
- Evidence of collaboration (such as WhatsApp discussions, meeting recordings etc.) should be part of the project submissions and assessment criteria.
- Curation of the digital media used during the development of the project can also be used as part of the evaluation process. For instance, a shared Mendeley database where each team member can share the relevant literature and annotations on the uploaded PDFs.
Beyond these, I have personally tried to use peer assessments between groups to also facilitate the collaborative efforts of the groups, as well as the more diverse sharing of knowledge.
While certainly not fool-proof, these suggestions are interesting and could go a long way to help scaffold the students towards a stronger team togetherness rather than being individually driven. As educators we just need to also be critical of whether our efforts are indeed meeting the objectives that we set for the students, or if we are just making more work for ourselves and them.
(Spoilers ahead) P.S. My original plan for this reflection piece was to create a video of an Instagram story to repackage my contributions to the team discussions, since that was the original idea in my mind for the team submission – something different from the monotony of the presentations that most groups appear to tend towards for simplicity sake. However, I was able to convince my team to try the Instagram story idea for Topic 4 so now it won’t be unique here… So instead, you got some more random ramblings from my brain 😊 You are welcome!