22 March 2013

Collaboration: The Legacy

Dipping my toes...
For the first three months of 2013, I took part in my first MOOC, 'Designing a New Learning Environment' offered by Stanford University via an initiative called Venture Lab. I signed up because it ties in with my Octopus's Garden Project and also because I wanted to experience this Flat Classroom-global-type of learning for myself.

The course required us to watch weekly lectures and complete readings; for assessment we had to submit five individual assignments, one final team assignment and five peer assessments of other final projects. We signed up for teams of our choice and developed an area within new learning environments; developing our final project design based on our findings, readings and experience.

Leading & Contributing
I became team leader late on in the project as the original one, the one who set up the actual topic, went quiet and dropped off the radar. Having 40000 people taking part in a course makes it hard to communicate with those who may offer help or advice and what I learned through this role most, is that leading a team of adults can be challenging, as contribution levels are so diverse. It made me wonder how my learners cope with this? I found some team members very quick to make suggestions yet slow to contribute; others contribute and are supportive, mostly though, they lack the ability to think independently or actually do something without being told what to do explicitly. Interestingly, this is the the very skills that I am trying to instill most in my learners - to self-motivate and regulate; to think critically and independently; to contribute fairly. My experience from the MOOC means it has become even more important to me as what amazed me t is the absolute inability of some adults to be able to conduct themselves as a independent and autonomous learners. We do not want this as the future.

I learned a lot about the nature of learning via this first MOOC; I do believe collaboration is key and yet I feel, I could have done better if I was by myself perhaps... On occasion... Despite my previous thinking about Collective Intelligence Ratios - perhaps some are lifted, whilst some are dragged down...

The inability to use the tools I suggested and the absolute reluctance to even try baffled me. I truly thought that in signing up to do collaborative learning online, there may be some skill set or at least some willingness to want to try. However, more often, I came across comments that, "I can't...", "it won't work", "I don't get it". I provided multiple tools as suggestions yet team members did not engage or sign up. These are tools that I suggest to my learners who have had equally limited exposure to prior to use - and yet figure it out. When do we ever hear kids moaning about not having had PD on something new we ask them to use? The lack of willingness to even try and the sit back and let the leader do it attitude very frustrating. Is this symptomatic of the way they were taught - the legacy of past educational methodology?

Testing the waters
It did not put me off though - oh no! Since completing the above, I have taken part in another MOOC, 'E-Learning and Digital Cultures' through Coursera (read more here) along with a few other online courses - English B Category 1 via the IBO, Project Based Learning Certification through PBLU (still ongoing), Flipped Classroom Certification through Sophia.org and of course, Flat Classroom Certification, which is still ongoing. I have also signed up to do my Masters in Education in Instructional Technology via online learning through the University of Maryland, as I believe online learning is rigorous and effective - as long as the participant is a learning-junkie, self-motivated to work and learn.

Flat Classroom
My experience of the Flat Classroom collaborative element so far has been quite different. Our first (formative) attempt was as a Quadblog, where a group of us were assigned a topic to create a collaborative post on. However, even though we completed this successfully, we did 'lose' one member along the way - one group member never contacted us and never contributed. We contacted the moderators who also tried to reach out, but still, they did not contribute. I guess there are always going to be occasions where not everyone can contribute for a multitude of reasons and non-contribution remains a perennial issue. It is just harder to understand from people who choose to sign up to these courses rather than learners in a class who have it as a mandatory part of their education.

In my classroom
One collaborative project I have tried in the classroom is The Great Gatsby website I created with my Grade 10 class. I designed the project to be a way of getting learners to think about a text a did not have time to 'teach' (a variety of issues have conspired against these learners who I inherited in August, having done nothing for their IGCSE language or literature exams this summer but who have worked incredibly hard to cover both courses in the space of seven months) and also as a revision site for them to use to prepare for their final exams.

We had a variety of issues - namely that the Google Site kept kicking them out and wouldn't let them edit, which meant they ended up emailing/sharing their work with me for me to upload and edit. Not ideal for a teacher already stretched to the max. However, even though this is still work in progress and not completed, many said they found it helpful for their mock exams and intend to use it for their summer exams. The downside of course is that as learners were responsible for individual pages or sections, some are always more conscientious than others and contribute more fully - however, as I have learned, this is not something something that seemingly changes with age or maturity and so perhaps, is a valuable lesson to learn at school!

I have written extensively on The Octopus's Garden project that was primarily designed as a capstone for my PBLU course and a preparation for the Flat Classroom course. Two grade levels have worked together on this creating problems of communication and collaboration similar to global classrooms - however, they do have the advantage of meeting at break-time, although Skype allows this too.

For the final presentation we did have one member join us via Skype as she was sick - it was brilliant as she was able to contribute to the discussion and even answer some of the questions put forth by the Principal.

The final term of the school sees me designing a new project for Grade 7 and Grade 8 who want to continue to work 'together'; my intention is to try to reach out globally for this one if I can to expand the boundaries of our experience.

I have also made a connection (via Twitter) to share learning with a class in America. I responded to a request for mystery Skype but our time difference made it very difficult. Not wanting to give up on the connection established, we devised a work around and so now, the Grade 5s in America are creating a video for my second language Grade 12s who will have to try to guess where the Grade 5s are. Then my Grade 12s will reciprocate - helping to develop their language skills even further.

Dive in!
For those who want to take control of their learning, both the MOOCs mentioned in this post are running again. Check out VENTURE LAB and COURSERA to sign up.

Learn more about the thinking I did through the two MOOCs:-
- Are Two Heads Better Than One or Do Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth?
- 21st Century Teachers
- Graveyards of Technology
- The Machine is Us...
- Going Digital = Going Dumb?
- What is Human? What is Humanity?
- Evolution Technology: Visual Digital Literacy