Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reflection: Online Collaboration and Web 2.0

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Many of the online courses I have taken require group work. The prospect of creating a group in an online course can be stressful. I know when I introduce a group work activity in my classroom, you can see the students deciding on the strategy they will use to form their desirable group. Sometimes it has more to do with who they prefer to socialize with as opposed to which of their peers will make for the best group to do the work. Nevertheless, the forming of a group, I think, is an important part to the whole process of collaboration and cooperation. I seldom assign students to groups, unless there is a history of conflict between the students.

I took two online courses this semester and worked with two different groups with four of us in each group. In one course we did most of the group work through CBU's Moodle in the group discussion forums provided to us. In contrast, the other group I worked with decided to use Google Drive. Both courses were very different projects, yet one thing I did discover is that the synchronous nature of Google Drive that offers chat and the ability to share and work on documents simultaneously made it more dynamic and less stressful. While the course discussion forum got the job done, it felt more like an upgraded type of email. There were, at times, in both group work experiences that I felt like I just wanted to sit down with the group face to face and spread out some "real paper" and start brainstorming and planning. The reality, however, is that more and more Web 2.0 applications do allow us to make online collaboration almost as effective (and sometimes maybe more so) than face to face collaboration.

Stephan Downes touches on some of these dynamics in his online article "E-learning 2.0." He discusses the evolution of the Internet and states: "In a nutshell, what was happening was that the Web was shifting from being a medium, in which information was transmitted and consumed, into being a platform, in which content was created, shared, remixed, repurposed, and passed along."

I think some of the issues I experienced in my groups from using an online platform constructed for learning by an institution (Moodle) to utilizing an independent Web 2.0 application (Google Drive) is what Downes is describing when he says:

The e-learning application, therefore, begins to look very much like a blogging tool. It represents one node in a web of content, connected to other nodes and content creation services used by other students. It becomes, not an institutional or corporate application, but a personal learning center, where content is reused and remixed according to the student's own needs and interests. It becomes, indeed, not a single application, but a collection of interoperating applications---an environment rather than a system.

Downes then discusses the use of portfolios, and how learning becomes a place for students to display their work and demonstrate their learning. I know from my own experiences with teaching high school courses, when I opened the courses up to the Internet, and students started to post and publish their work online, new experiences and opportunities were created. It is not uncommon for students to find their own online resources to house their content or Web 2.0 applications to help create their content while they make contact with people outside the classroom walls.

The use of Web 2.0 applications and social media platforms is changing the way students collaborate online with each other for courses (among other things). As Downes points out, this is not a technological revolution, but a social one. Now we hear talk of Web 3.0! It is hard to predict how our online learning communities will look even in the next five to ten years, but it is safe to say they will not look like they do now.

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