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This reminds me of the Progress vs Process debate that is always an issue when working with small groups. I tend to be product/progress focused, so I'm interested in the best tools to get things done but I am very aware that needs to be balanced by "Process" people. Whenever I setup online groups, part of the discussion I suggest they have is around "group roles". If they see different roles as contributors to the overall project, it helps overcome issues of "so and so brings my marks down" so I have to do everything.

So here is a story; when my daughter returned to high school from being home schooled, people complained about her being on their projects because she was obviously severely dyslexic. The team that was "forced" to take her, discovered that she had phenomenal research skills from her years of home schooling and their team marks went up even if she couldn't write the final essay.

So maybe part of learning to collaborate is learning how to discover, trust and utilize the strengths of individuals. The energizer person who brings the "virtual coffee" to an all-nighter is as valuable as the person who brings the research.
The earlier SCoPE seminar Paul refers to was Talking the Walk: Narratives of Online Learner Collaboration. Sarah Haavind, who has done a lot of research on collaborative dialogue, contributed an interesting perspective to that discussion (as she always does!). In this post Sarah attached an excerpt from her methodology that explains the "depth" that leads to a collaborative event.

Interesting points, Paul & Nicholas.

One thing that I think has come out of this discussion very much for me is the differences in ways that we approach how we do things. In another thread,

Colby Stuart wrote,

What I have experienced is that the most important collaborative tool that each of us has is our imagination. Without that, we are simply robots regurgitating information. Many of those blessed with a vivid imagination are poo-pooed by those who expound on information knowledgeably.

And I think it's those differences between us that can lead to fabulous examples of working together, collaboratively, but can also lead to tensions when there are different priorities of approach. I wonder how we can work together.

I can see Nicholas' point about needing to be clear about the situation that we're working in - I've often felt that staff (personal) development is something we don't always consider in the same way that we consider student learning (for example, do we think about pedagogies when we're thinking about working with others on a shared project) - yet often we're doing something that by its very nature involves us in learning.

That's one of the reasons I was keen to look at how we're using these tools ourselves - as my personal view is that it's really useful to feel I've used a tool to learn from others. I guess, were you to pin me down, I'd probably say that it's pretty much a Vygotskyian approach to learning - but not always - though not quite sure what I'd have as the alternative (unless we start to look at connectivism etc)

Paul Beaufait wrote,

A short and silly answer is collaboration fever$: more to the point are:

Actually, I don't think that it is a "silly" answer; I think that we have to decide what's best for the time/place. That's one of the reasons we'd wanted to focus this seminar more on the "tools" than the "pedagogies".

I've felt in the past that we've also used Google Docs because it's "collaborative", when, as you say, it would have been easier (and saved lots of formatting issues) to have used Word & those that prefer Open Office / whatever just having to put up with the choice (though with Google Docs, chances are someone would have preferred Zoho!)

I wonder if this starts to get us back to the discussion of what's the actual key aim ... to enhance collaboration & develop collaborative skills; or the product that's being worked on. Perhaps that also helps to make a choice.

Nicholas asks some telling questions about seminar content and virtual, physical, discussion, and perhaps even personal conceptual contexts (our mindsets, which he or someone else suggests on another thread might be revealed by mindmaps); he suggests that someone provide a notional case study, one that exemplifies the goals and constraints of current activity; and then he makes an interesting observation regarding de-contextualization.

Is this a discussion about distance learning or campus based learning? Is this really a discussion of collaboration or tools? Are we talking about staff or student development? Where is that context?

What about providing a notional case study of pedagogical need as a basis for considering a given tool? For example, what are the design goals and constraints of this activity in which we are engaged as a possible case study for staff development contexts? That would give you time, audience, activity design, aims and outcomes to evaluate amongst a host of other things. We are discussing de-contextualised ideas in at least 2 different places. (15 March 2010)

If I may venture a response to his first few questions, assuming that the two different places to which he refers are this moodle site (seminar venue) in tenuous conjunction with a collection of Google waves (and other sites such as MindMeister), I'd say:

Yes, we're discussing possibilities for distance learning, at least some of us, and yes, probably campus-based, too, though at any particular juncture in the discussion exactly which may be obscure;
Yes, possibly, for staff and students, if there is such a thing as coerced collaboration; and or but also for ourselves and peers, near or distant;
Yes, we're discussing collaboration, per se, at least in this particular forum, possibly online, face-to-face or blended, and again exactly which may be obscure.

I gather from the example Nicholas gives, listing elements for "a possible case study", that he is quite interested in "design goals and constraints … for staff development contexts", and this makes me wonder (again) how all the big pieces fit together:

Instructional design and actual learning;
Collaborative design and collaborative learning; and
Staff or student development, administered or coerced, and collaborative development, self-initiated and self-directed.

Nicholas, most of the rest of this post might better be directed to you:

I get an impression that you have a preference for highly contextualized discussions, a preference perhaps of the sort to which a "personal preferences" twig on the mindmap Emma started refers. However, I'm unsure to what extent you feel discussion manifests or reflects collaboration. (In a previous SCoPE seminar, Sarah Haavind, as I recall, suggested that discussion does that, if it reaches a certain depth. [Perhaps Sylvia can reconnect us to that discussion.]). Yet I sense a desire on your part for productivity or deliverables, motivation to produce and promulgate, if not formally publish, a case study on staff development, collaborative or otherwise.

How far is that off the mark?

Deirdre's findings that "visual people like mindmaps but auditory/kinaesthetic people don't" (12 March 2010) continues to intrigue me. At first it was the contrast or distinction she draws between "visual" and other intelligences, and then the conjunction of "auditory/kinaesthetic", that made me wonder about other combinations like visual/spatial and perhaps a more familiar spatial/kinaesthetic.

After stewing on it a bit, and reading the follow-ups by Emma, Nick and Colby, I'm stuck thinking about skills contributing to "ease of use and accessibility", a branch that Emma, I believe, added to the concept map she started some time ago. It dawns on me now that liking concept maps could constitute a bundle of:

a) liking reading maps, that is having had positive experiences interpreting and understanding them;

b) liking drawing them, or just doodling, as Colby suggests (16 March 2010); and

c) liking affordances and constraints of computer- or web-based mapping tools.

One reason, I believe, that automobile navigation systems caught on in such a big way is many people need maps read for them, because map reading is a skill just like any other they disuse and lose or loathe to develop. Another, like the web compared to papers, is the hyper-textual and hyper-visual richness of digitized maps compared to their creased and crumpled cousins that used to reside (maybe still do) in automobile glove boxes or side door pockets.

Then come the skills of drawing maps and elaborating upon them, which, like most skills, take years to develop and hone toward perfection. If I may (re-)turn for a moment to a pedagogical point of view, I'd like to ask: Aren't those skills that educators are bundling, or will bundle, within early childhood curricula? If so, doing it with computers may or may not, as the case may be (depending upon preference and available resources), be like icing on the cake.

Deirdre's role, I gather, is andragogical rather than pedagogical. In twenty years time, let's hope, the sessions she runs to introduce adults to concept mapping will be as necessary as introducing fish to water.

Colby Stuart wrote,

What I have experienced is that the most important collaborative tool that each of us has is our imagination.

Colby - I love the picture you're painting! I've used this quote in another thread - where it also fitted in:

Aren't using examples and case studies one of the most useful ways for helping others learn or collaborate? Seeing what's going on is integral to "getting it" sometimes.

Here is a link to 35 Great Social Media Infographics

What I have experienced is that the most important collaborative tool that each of us has is our imagination. Without that, we are simply robots regurgitating information. Many of those blessed with a vivid imagination are poo-pooed by those who expound on information knowledgeably.

Just a suggestion: Help others to take the time once in awhile to let that imagination loose to follow the trails that others reveal that capture the attention or imagination. This is truly the greatest collaboration tool - because you will then ask so many questions and learn so many new things.

For instance, what are the things you have learned here by simply asking questions? Isn't asking great questions is a great collaboration tool? Couldn't that be one of the primary behaviours for high level engagement? Isn't listening with resonance another great collaborative tool?

Who helps people learn how to ask great questions to frame what you truly want to learn? Who helps people learn how to use their imagination as a collaborative tool? Who helps people learn how to listen with resonance?

Emma (15 March 2010) suggests that students aren't "particularly keen" on using Scholar for bookmarking in a VLE this year, and weren't, about using Delicious last year, either.

That makes me wonder what students are keen on, in the VLE, and whether they can take their Scholar bookmarks with them when they leave it.