About enlightenment in collaborative learning

The presence of others in both teaching and learning always makes a difference. Somestimes the presence of others can be hard to endure, at other times it can be the only way to survive. But sometimes the learning is the greatest in hardship. To quote Leonard Cohen, “there is a crack in everything”. Even in darkness there are cracks, and it’s “through the cracks the light gets in”.

Different commitment levels, responsibilities, effort and limited personal interaction is harder do cope with and understand. What does it stand for and how should I, as a student or facilitator or member of a faculty work team, act on this? As Capdeferro and Romero (2012) quotes, “ There are people who want someone to take the lead and do all the work; that is totally opposite what collaborate work is meant to be”.

The topic of collaborative learning, group work and thinking about the difference between co-operative and collaborative work really comes handy. During the past weeks, I have been trying to find ways of supporting a crising PBL-group of first semester students. I suppose we all have had several experiences of group work that has been un-inspiring and everything but promoting understanding and knowledge. My own previous experiences of group work has much too often been a concern of getting the work done in time and not so much about the actual learning.

In my own teaching I have tried different approaches not to let this happen, but convincing students about the profits of communication, co-operation, collaboration and team work, to reach community is not always that easy. In the web based courses I have planned and been responsible for, I have tried student blogs and group discussions via the course platform making the students, who mostly have been professionals with long experience in clinical work, reflect on how their praxis could be changed or affected by the theory they study during the course. In some groups this has worked extremely well, in other groups it has been a disaster.

Collaborating with others in teaching, listening to fellow faculty lecturing, being critical friends to one another, reflecting together on what has been a success or a flaw or learning about different cultural approaches to teaching, this have made my own personal learning grow and expanded my network both at home and on an international level. Learning that you have or lack knowledge also involves a lot of identity work and self-reflection. To qoute Wenger (2010), learning can be “the production of social structure”, “learning is becoming” and meaningful learning for me as a teacher in social context, also requires participation, for example in pedagogical conferences and seminars.

I see no big differences in communication, collaboration, cooperation and striving for community in classroom and net based teaching and learning. What Brindley et al (2009) mentions as important in on line education, as having a clear structure, making meaning and triggering motivation, is important in classroom teaching also. Nowadays the difference between net based teaching, and campus, or class room teaching has become minor. Thus, I often try to use blended learning whenever possible. Fantastic internet tools perfect to use in different teaching are made more and more available. The problem I constantly have though, is having the time to learn how to use them and to remember what possibilities there are when planning a course. The critical thinking about the tools available is also crucial. For me right now, I feel everything is spinning faster and faster, and in relation to a need for mindfulness and time for reflection, I feel that the use of tools like Twitter only encourages to unreflected and unconsidered answers.

Sometimes (or quite often actually) I wish we all had more time to just sit and reflect and look up to the moon and stars.