OLC Stories & Reflections

OLC Stories & Reflections

by Paul Beaufait -
Number of replies: 22
Narratives of online learner collaboration (OLC)

This collection of stories, reflections, ... clarifications, and elaborations starts here; just click Reply to start spinning a thread.

Cheers, Paul
In reply to Paul Beaufait

Re: OLC Stories & Reflections

by Bonnie Johnston -
Hi everybody,

This is my first time participating in Scope. I am happy to discover this community of practice of e-learning practitioners!

And hello Paul, it's good to see you again!

Regarding Online Collaborative Learning, my little story follows. To me it demonstrates how groups can function differently at different stages of the task, in this case, talking about the work versus working on the work itself.

I was in an online class last summer and we were to work in groups of 4 and produce a piece of media. We were a mixed group of high school teachers and adult educators with differing technical expertise - from almost zero to highly sophisticated. We also had a very strong personality in the group, who could be quite opinionated but also very, very funny.

In my mind, thinking about this project, I divide the group's work into two distinct periods: there was the first period where we discussed at length about the project, and the second period where we worked on the project itself.

For a number of weeks we used an asynchrounous forum and tried to use a wiki. Because the wiki added another channel of communication, we didn't use it so much, focussing discussion in the forum. However, the discussion dragged on and on. No conclusions or decisions seemed imminent. It seemed we were all reluctant to take charge and make a decision. Perhaps it was because none of us wanted to counter the the strong personality, who seemed to have quite strong attachments to certain ideas. Finally, we met in a synchronous chat, and managed to make all the very important decisions quite rapidly. Ironically, the strong personality was very amenable to the ideas of others and very happy accept other ways of doing things!

Once we began work on the project, our communication with each other became very frequent and very effective, using both asychronous and synchronous channels. Once we actually had something tangible to work on and to communicate about, we began to really gel as a group so much so that our synchronous chats often digressed wildly into other topics. We also had various open forums for discussing different aspects of the project, emailed one another, and used wikis as repositories for ongoing text writing. We were a multi-channel group and it did not seem onorous because we had so much to discuss! Once we reached the end of the project, I had very good feelings about our group. Not only that, our project was fabulous!

In retrospect, if we had had defined roles at the beginning (or role interdependence), ie. project manager, web designer, etc., our decision-making might have been smoother. However, once we began work on the project itself, we attained high positive interdependence in terms of goals and tasks because each of us was responsible for a portion that others depended on. Having the tangible project itself seemed to 'grease' the flow of communication.

all the best
In reply to Bonnie Johnston

A group media production project

by Paul Beaufait -

Bonnie, thank you for making this OLC forum one of your first forays in SCoPE. It is a pleasure to see you again. cool

Now, whilst I traipse offline to give reflection of Bonnie's story a go, would someone else (someone just lurking and reading along perhaps, ?you, yes, you) please assume the role of reflective understander for Sylvia's first drop of dew on the next strand? Just bounce back the gist of what you understand from her (Sylvia's) first part, and encourage her to go ahead and clarify or elaborate in reply on that strand.

I'll be back in a flash, well, maybe two - since I'm fighting with a Japanese keyboard perverted to something else by some generic program update!

Cheers, Paul

In reply to Bonnie Johnston

A group media production project: Initial reflection

by Paul Beaufait -


Please pardon my delay in posting a reflection. Here goes.

Your story starts last summer, draws upon a reflective learners' perspective, and represents group activity online over a period of weeks to produce "a piece of media." You've touched upon group membership, modes of communication, decision-taking, tangibility, feelings, digressions, interdependence, goals, tasks, and more.

At the beginning of your story you mention stages and periods of activity or group development, and at the end you suggest that tangibility of project work may enhance group communication. At times your words indicate frustration, "

the discussion dragged on and on,

" and at others, great satisfaction and pride in your work.

Of the points I discern, or others that remain integral parts of your story, which do you wish to clarify or amplify in our quest for powers to foster and facilitate online learner collaboration? Then again, are there other aspects of your experience, feelings, or learning process that you'd like to tell us about?

Cheers, Paul

In reply to Paul Beaufait

Re: A group media production project: Initial reflection

by Bonnie Johnston -
Hi Paul,

I think you've captured the themes of the story.

One point I wanted to make more explicit is that this experience showed me that successful online collaboration should have some tangible goal, some thing, some artifact that is produced, although I'm still not sure if this reflects my own personal learning and communcation styles.

In the particular story I recounted, I think that we were four very socially and culturally different people and we encountered problems with just "discussing with our group". If that had been the end of the group's purpose, I think we not would have felt our group had been very successful. But because we had to create something, working on a very real, very tangible product facilitated our communication, helped us, and quite frankly, forced us to overcome our difficulties, all without our being conscious of it. I think that one of the best reasons for product/project-based collaborative learning is that in order to be successful, groups put into practice all the important aspects of cooperation  without having to be fully conscious of it, or being didacticly taught it.

all the best, Bonnie
In reply to Bonnie Johnston

Would someone like to step in here, and reflect on Bonnie's elaboration?

by Paul Beaufait -
As you already may have discerned, I'd like to ease myself quickly and graciously out of a primary reflector's role here - even though Bonnie has addressed her elaboration to me by name (Paul).

But some threads on spider webs are sticky, and even spiders' feet stick to them (Wikipeidia: Spider webs and prey capture, ¶ 3).... Would someone please step in, and free me up?

What I'm talking about is a little of the ?cooperative learning enhanced by extended think time? (Aviv 2002) that Sarah points out in small talk or collaborative dialogue? (Tue Mar 28 14:41:00 2006). It's a reflective peer-to-peer development opportunity for the taking.

If you were to adhere to Edge's Cooperative Development (1992) scheme, a second reflection would entail: a) another summary of the writer's foci and feelings, plus b) a prompt to formulate some sort of action plan.

Authentic interaction, possibly not (Stewart, 2003), but not so inauthentic as to prevent Edge followers from taking it online (Edge, 2002). The nature of any technique or tool is what you make of it, isn't it?

Any takers?

Cheers, Paul


(in the OLC Annotated Bibliography)

In reply to Bonnie Johnston

question for Bonnie

by Sarah Haavind -
Bonnie's story conveys such a great experience. I hear her valuing the learning challenges inherent in collectively constructing an artifact of collaboration that tangibly represents the thinking and learning of the group. She states,
...in order to be successful, groups put into practice all the important aspects of cooperation  without having to be fully conscious of it, or being didacticly taught it.

Bonnie, can you tell us more about the assigned task exactly and how was it assessed? In other words, can we delve a bit more into the key elements of the task design?
In reply to Paul Beaufait

Sylvia's story -- part 1 the main bits

by Sylvia Currie -
I wrote out something much longer then cut it way back to the bare minimum. I decided to explain what we did, then fill in the pieces about roles, how we went about our work, how we were graded, what made it collaborative, etc (ideally based on your questions... nudge nudge wink)

1996, course in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University taught by Esther Tiessen. Esther was visiting faculty from OISE and her research interest was in collaborative online learning, so needless to say she knew what she was doing!

In this course we were using the first version release of Virtual-U software. (I can't find a link for Virtual-U software, but here's a brief article http://technologysource.org/article/virtualu/
Also, you it was used for the Global Educators' Network which still has guest access set up Username :Guest, Password: Guest

As a class, our focus was to provide a design plan for refining Virtual-U  software and present it to the Virtual-U development project team.

During the first few weeks of the course we engaged in a debate activity. I can't recall the topic of debate, but this gave us an opportunity to become familiar with the software and work through any access problems.

Then we began our project work.
We divided into 4 research groups of 4 people, based on interest:
1. Metaphor
2. Consistency
3. Hypermedia
4. Navigation

These topic areas were selected by Esther, and she provided us with readings as a starting point. In our groups we researched our topics and prepared group presentations. The presentations were actually done f2f, since we were all campus-based students.

We were then divided randomly into 4 new groups using the Jigsaw model. Each new group consisted of an "expert" from each of the former research groups. We then set out to so our design work. Each learner had something unique to contribute to the group based on their earlier research. Each group prepared a group paper and presentation which included a literature review, a critique of the existing Virtual-U software, and design recommendations.

We then came back as a whole class again to share our final design projects (again f2f). Members of the Virtual-U development team were invited to attend our final presentations.

Then we had a full class debrief of the entire process.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Wanted: Understanding, reflective, story reviewer

by Paul Beaufait -

Wanted: Understanding, reflective, story reviewer  


"?[A]ssume the role of reflective understander for Sylvia's first drop of dew on [this] strand,? bounce back the gist of what you understand from Sylvia's first part?["the main bits,"(above)], and ?encourage her to go ahead and clarify or elaborate in reply on that strand;" &

"[L]et her know the feelings and intents that you [infer from] her telling."

Anyone interested?

Reply to:

Sylvia's story -- part 1 the main bits

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Sylvia's story -- part 1 the main bits [Please bear with us.]

by Paul Beaufait -
Hi Sylvia,

I bear wood; I draw water.

Do you believe in delayed gratification?

I hope you don't feel like I've left your story hanging out to dry. I'll be happy to go over it with you, to suss out fine points, or to get it ready to publish, if that's where you want to go with it once this seminar is over.

However, I'd still like to leave an opportunity open for another seminar participant to give reflection on your story the first go - for a few more hours, at least. Please bear with me.

Cheers, Paul

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Sylvia's story -- part 1 the main bits [OK! Shall we...?]

by Paul Beaufait -
So, Sylvia, with no further a dew; shall we webdance?

You begin by explaining steps you took and decisions you made while writing your story. Then, after a couple parenthetical nudges and grins, seemingly directed at me (PB), you jump right in to the course context framing your experience.

You want us to know that an expert in the field of online collaboration taught you some ten years ago. You seem to imply that "what she was doing" then is just as applicable for online learners today.

You point out that you and your classmates used version 1.0 of software used contemporaneously "for the Global Educators' Network," a network for which you provide a link and access keys that almost make it sound defunct. Though you seem to be inviting us to take a look, I'm not sure what for. Learners in the context that you describe had the pleasure, I presume (for lack of emotional clues to the contrary) of creating plans to retool the tool that you were using.

You recall first using the software for debate purposes, growing familiar with its functions, and overcoming "any access problems" that you or your classmates may have had. Following that period of engagement with peers and familiarization with the software, you remember and relate to us the framework and topics for group research based on pre-authenticated readings from the instructor. I imagine that those readings clustered around the four topics you list:

1. Metaphor
2. Consistency
3. Hypermedia
4. Navigation

Four groups of four people each made presentations during a face-to-face meeting. Though you make it quite clear that geographical distribution was not an issue, I'm no longer as sure as I thought I was whether the class had regular meetings. Perhaps you had more than three (including the final project presentations and debriefing).

You suggest that random regrouping followed the group presentations, but indicate that no two members of a previous group would join the same new one, so that each new group could draw upon learner expertise from all four topic areas. You tell us that new groups had to prepare papers and presentations critically examining the software in use. You suggest that the framework for both papers and presentations followed a set pattern: literature review, software critique, and recommendations.

At the end of the episode, I can almost sense that you were thrilled someone invited the software development team to hear student recommendations for redesigning version 1.0. A full-class debriefing ensues, which again may have been face-to-face, perhaps the same day or another....

At this point, the questions that I'd like to ask are few and fundamental. It's your story. Is there anything I've reflected (or missed) that you wish to clarify or amplify. If so, or not, what more would you like to tell?

Cheers, Paul

In reply to Paul Beaufait

Re: Sylvia's story: corrections and elaboration

by Sylvia Currie -
I?ll elaborate a bit on my earlier story and make a couple corrections ? my memory of what happened 10 years ago seems to come back in small and sometimes inaccurate segments!

Okay, first a correction. There were five groups (not 4) and during Phase II (Research) we developed expertise in each of the following design perspectives:
  1. Human-computer interactions design
  2. educational software design
  3. group communication and computer conferencing design
  4. collaboration and groupware design, and
  5. hypermedia systems and tools design.
I was a little off track with my earlier categories of Metaphor, Consistency, Hypermedia, and Navigation.

As I mentioned, the course was organized into three phases. Phase I (4 weeks) was a general orientation to issues of an information society and an introduction to Virtual-U software in the context of these issues. (This included the debate I mentioned earlier)

Phase II (5 weeks) involved group investigation into the design of technology, and Phase III involved a team design project incorporating the interdisciplinary perspectives researched during Phase II.  

One aspect that made this a powerful, collaborative learning experience was the situated course design. We were involved in an authentic task of using educational technologies in an educational setting to critically examine the influences of software design from an interdisciplinary perspective. We were assessing the effectiveness of Virtual-U software as a communication medium for accomplishing our collaborative work.

Another essential component was that we were clear of what we were working towards. At the same time the work was broken down into smaller chunks and we were clear on each step, but we always had the bigger picture in view.

The sequence of full class > small groups > full class > small groups > full class allowed for sharing, checking of our work and progress, then we went back to the smaller groups to focus on the next phase.

In addition, a clear purpose for these activities was held in common view throughout Phase 1:  We become aware of  background knowledge, learning needs, and interests, in order to determine our fit into the design teams formed during Phase II.

Throughout Phase II students were encouraged to use V-Groups as much as possible. This serves two purposes: students experienced first-hand the affordances and limitations of the communication technology under review, adding to the authentic nature of the task, and the process of group work was made explicit to assist class members in reflecting on their educational experiences in using the technology. In other words, students are able to use examples from immediate experiences to illustrate shortcomings of the software under review.

Scheduled team meetings with the instructor during Phase II provided a focal point requiring students to articulate their own progress as a group. The structure of these meetings modelled authentic interdisciplinary design team environments.

Phase III was 4 weeks in length. Project teams from Phase II were recombined into five new groups using a jigsaw method where membership in each new design team includes an ?expert? from each of the earlier project teams. Each team was assigned the task of producing a design for Virtual-U. In addition to drawing on individual areas of design expertise, students reflected on the experience of using the virtual space to accomplish their assignment during Phase II.

At the end of Phase III students published their final work for other class members to view and each group presents a design for the SFU?s Virtual-U supported by the five design perspective. The collaborative efforts of the students in the course are expanded by inviting members of the Virtual-U design team and interested faculty to the presentations. Functioning as software design teams, students were required to creatively and succinctly articulate their designs and theoretical support for their decisions, and defend their work through open questioning by other class members and visitors.

That's the description in a nutshell. I remember what really struck me at the time was how important the instructor's role was in guiding the process, how supportive she was, but also how little we saw of her throughout the course!
I also recall a few grumblings about group grades. Some students had issues with the distribution of work.

The collaborative model was sure a perfect fit for a research & design project!

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Stuck - or so it seems! (Meta-comments?)

by Paul Beaufait -
When a facilitator establishes a communication model, Feenberg & Xin argue, "the facilitator must play the specific leadership role it implies, such as chairperson, host, teacher, or entertainer" - or spider, as the case may be.

"In part, this role will consist in monitoring conformity with the communication model and reassuring participants that their contributions to the discussion are appropriate, or where they are not, gently guiding them toward a better understanding of the model. To keep the conversation on track the facilitator must also occasionally offer explicit 'meta-comments' which broach communication problems encountered by the group as a whole" (Feenberg & Xin, c. 2001, Facilitation, Establishing a Communication Model, ¶ 2), or, one might add, predicaments of a facilitator in particular.

How accurately does that describe what's happening here, on this thread? If what is going on is a problem, what would you do to solve it, or avoid similar problems in future endeavors? Shake the web, strip away sticky threads..., spin looser, more, or tighter?

Cheers, Paul
In reply to Paul Beaufait

What a pleasure! Stories from learners' POVs

by Paul Beaufait -

It is truly a pleasure to read the stories Bonnie and Sylvia have prepared and shared, from reflective learner - group participant points of view (POVs). Thanks to Bonnie and Sylia, we have a couple threads to dance on. I'm much obliged for their contributions.

The rest of yous out there, whose presence we feel on the web, are more than welcome to manifest yourselves via short stories - stories that need be neither as polished nor reflective as the first two. I'd also like to call again for a volunteer to reflect on Sylvia's "main bits," to let her know the feelings and intents you detect in her telling.

In the meantime, let's consider the various perspectives at our feet (or whatever dancing spiders call them -

I hope no one is afraid of spiders

big grin), Bonnie and Syvia's stories:

  • One is of a fairly recent experience; the second from some 10 years ago;

  • The first, a media production project, the second, a software design plan;
  • First, multiple modes, methods, and means of online communication;
  • Second, a blend of face-to-face (f2f) and online activities?.

What commonalities do their stories reveal?

In reply to Paul Beaufait

Commonalities, elements, key elements... (Understanding Colllaboration)

by Paul Beaufait -
All of the above are under discussion on the Understanding Collaboration thread, yet you are more than welcome to reflect upon them here on this Stories and Reflections thread, as well.

Then - if you're interested in reading all about it - there are lots of resources and references in rapidly expanding OLC Annotated Bibliography. Please feel free to point out some of your favorite readings and resources there.

Cheers, Paul

In reply to Paul Beaufait

Our story: no success without collaboration

by Derek Chirnside -
"no success without collaboration" - at least we hope.  My summary, a little wordy, a little late, but I had to do it sometme anyway.

Summary of our approach to the Applied e-Teaching and Support qualification

The basic premise that we built our planning on was to work towards a learning community styleThere were two parts to the course.  

Below the line was inside a closed course space. This were two set activities after our icebreaking time.

Topic 1: Adult education

Topic 2: Learning design/educational design.

The idea was that by about Week 4 each participant would have planned their own learning trajectoryThey were to opt into activities to meet the learning outcomes. Interactives were spun off as needed: some we set up from a small menu of options ? other emerged from interests amongst the participants: if there was a critical mass of interest, a group could coalesce and have an existence apart from normal course activity, with a huge focus on self determination. We enabled participants to create their own group space with full admin rights/power when and if they wanted to.

Illustration (1)

One participant wanted to set up a national network in her chosen field. Someone else got involved as they were interested in online support of such a community activity. Illustration (2)

[This was where my (personal) learning from the course occurred] Another group focussed on Wikis. The side issue:The main thread:It went through a series of phases over about four weeks, includng several participant initiated chat sessions.

Some individuals reflected on their experience of using the wiki as a rank beginner in using wikis, but as an expert in adult education theory, some as a novice in BOTH areas.   They dug up sme research on wikis. I merely watched. Aside.  What happened to me during and in this interactive: After the project had been going over 2 weeks, I got an e-mail ?We?re in chat in 5 minutes, care to join us?? 

This was our course. There were about 7 interactives that spun off. All went forward to one degree or another.

Our aims: Each person was to fulfil their own learning outcomes for the course. They were to work with others. At times there was deep interdependence, and other times they?re just working alongside. Sometimes they?re working on a project where two radically different strengths are brought to bear on the same task. Other times we saw pure information exchange. Either a question & someone else provided an answer - it was interesting to note that more answers came from participants than from staff. [We have yet to decide what caused this, whether this was our tentativeness about being too directive (which bordered on the obsessive at times), or whether there genuinely was a groundswell of helpfulness from one participant to another - like happens in a pilot sometimes] Our aspiration is for this qualification to not be completable without having had a deep experience of community and collaboration.

Post script: The fundamental differences in the groups on the course represented technology skills at one end, and teaching skills at the other. The topic was teaching meets technology.  Our aim was to blend these two by setting up an environment where collaboration is essential. We?re running it again this year, we shall see.

Our questions: a little rhetorical.  Lots you guys have talked over here have helped clarify things . . .

Is collaboration really such a good thing it should to be built-in in this way?  (The learning styles argument etc)

Can collaboration be built in (naturaly and organically? [Can we set up course assessment to genuinely allow for collaboration?]

If yes, what ways can we set up a formal taught course to enhance the chance of genuine and deep collaboration occurring? [What is collaboration??]

As I said: We?re running it again this year, we shall see.

Attachment WebOverview.jpg
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Our story: no success without collaboration

by Nick Noakes -
From 1998-2000, I took a 2-year MEd in Networked Collaborative Learning - online baring 2 x 1 week in the UK at the beginning and middle (it's now called eLearning and is completely online). The course was structured around the notion of learning community (if you want to find out more about it do a Google phrase search for "David McConnell" [ Homepage ]

We had two assignments per module; one cooperative and one collaborative. What's the difference?

For the tutors, a cooperative assignment was one that was done individually but with self-nominated peer and self-nominated tutor feedback. We had to post the assignment at various stages and it had be based on our work practice and something we could research into for a practical outcome .. very EdD like. So we usually had two peers plus a tutor who have us feedback on our initial ideas, proposal/plan, postings as we implemented, draft written assignment and final assignment. This also meant that I would be a peer review buddy for a couple of other participants (there were about 25 or so participants in total).

In the collaborative assignment, we formed groups around shared interested. We decided what the project would be about - it's goals, outcomes/deliverables and work processes. Again each group had a tutor, who, as far as possible, elected to be an advisor due to shared interest.

For both cooperative and collaborative assignments, authors had to post criteria against which they wanted feedback. There were also instituional criteria (up front) to me policies within the institution (Sheffield University, UK).

I'm writing abou this briefly in the hope that it will give another lens to what can be meant by "learner collaboration online".
In reply to Nick Noakes

Re: Our story: no success without collaboration

by Derek Chirnside -
Hi Nick, I saw your comments on a blog today as well.  Thanks for this.

OK, lenses. That's exactly what I'm looking for.

My standard questions: How did YOU feel in these types of assignments? How did you like/dislike them?  And where did you learn?  Or learn most?
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Our story: no success without collaboration

by Nick Noakes -
I liked them both very much. I found both types of work very beneficual for three main reasons:
  1. They both allowed learner choice of focus
  2. Having both provided balance of individual vs group/team (formed on the basis of shared/common interest)
  3. Peer feedback against self- and group-developed criteria at various key stages was extremely helpful (btw these assignments were graded Pass or Fail). Peers were in very different disciplines and so looked at the work from different perspectives, but at the same time with our shared experience of the MEd progam
In reply to Paul Beaufait

Beyond the mines of Bboria...

by Paul Beaufait -
It was in a constructivist - collaborative course-build. The instructional plan combined three sections of the same course. Students could introduce themselves by producing courseware supported web pages. There was one big forum for introduce yourself, get-ta-know-ya, hi-how-have-you-been, what're-ya-up-to messages. Though a peek at an instructor's view might reveal literally hundreds of unread student messages, they constituted a massive tableau from and through which students could draw together, and form obligatory groups for ensuing project work.

Alongside, ran a set of course readings, topic-specific discussions, and jigsaw analyses of core concepts. Focused and stimulating discussions with guests prominent in the field rounded out the suite of interactivity.

A course schedule, plus group mates' diverse experiences, practical needs, and individual interests drove group work on to a plan, proposal, and elaborate framework for a multi-faceted online instructional program. Except to say that our group of four had compatible personalities, in spite of diverse socio-cultural backgrounds, let me go into no further details on that point here.

Not only did I realize that the course instructors collaborated on building and updating the course, it also was evident that they collaborated among themselves as well as with students on group formation. Being in one section didn't restrict student-to-student interactions with those in another. In fact all my group mates were from other sections, and another instructor supervised and supported our group activities.

It was, all in all, a warm, fuzzy, collaborative production zone, until... (peer groupwork assessment, coming soon to a thread near you).

In reply to Paul Beaufait

Re: Beyond the mines of Bboria... (peer groupwork assessment)

by Paul Beaufait -
Peer groupwork assessment

Final group reviews and tweaking of our jointly planned and substantiated product went like clockwork. Incremental file naming, one author at a time editing, annotation protocols, change tracking, references, and peer-to-peer suggestions got approved, bettered, and confirmed - pass after pass, following the sun around the globe. One by one, we signed off on what was left, proud to have done the best that we could under the circumstances, and went to bed (ourselves).

The final group assignment was done, and collaboration was over. Our next task was to assess ourselves, and each of our group mates, individually, using an evaluation framework that course developers and instructors had prepared in advance. We submitted individual forms to individual instructors, and that was that.

In reply to Paul Beaufait

Thank you for sharing your stories. Perhaps there's still time for...

by Paul Beaufait -
Thank you, indeed, for sharing these stories. Perhaps there's still time for a further reflections as this seminar draws to an end - what with global time differences, and all.

Anyway, collaboration doesn't end here. I'll get in touch to find out whether you'd like to walk the talk a step or two further, with eyes out towards possible publication in a modest collection of collaborative tales.

Cheers, Paul