Collaborative learning

In the last two weeks, we have been working on defining collaborative learning communities and activities. We have been focusing on identifying tools to improve collaboration online, understanding difficulties and obstacles that might preclude an effective collaboration and also understanding the role of the teacher in the online learning collaborative environments.

Overall, after two weeks of work on this topic I feel enriched by the experience. The major benefits of the course are still coming  from practical aspects of the course like being exposed to different techniques and tools. I find quite intriguing the use of virtual white boards [1], that Kaye introduced to us. Also, an ONL group used the videoscribe [2] tool. I like to give lectures on white board as all the lectures I had in my pre-ppt studies have been done at the blackboard and I think that are more effective than dry power-point presentations. I need to try and understand how much time it is going to take me to prepare a presentation on the virtual white board. At the moment, to prepare a whole 10 minutes video lecture including the preparation of the ppt slides requires me between four and five hours of work.

But, let’s go back to the online collaboration topic. This is a topic I am intrigued about. I am a computer scientist and lot of the collaboration occurs  necessarily online with people you never met and you will never meet in your life. People know you for what you do and how you do it, easily understand if you are fast learner or a slow brain who does everything carefully. There is space for any kind of learner and this very reassuring. You can take your own pace. Taking an analogy from a famous software engineering book [3], there are basically two kinds of collaborative communities. The first community is the cathedral community that works on the realization of a master plan, carefully checking code, debug it and test it. Information is released in one big chunk on established dates. Pretty much like building a cathedral. The second collaborative community is called the bazaar community. This community works on a common well-established kernels, continuously and independently extending functionalities and fixing the bugs as soon as they find them. Today the bazaar model is taking over as online collaboration and networking tools are more common. Codes are exposed to thousands of independent developers making the development much faster and the code less buggy.

One of the issues I can see in the online collaborative learning is how to teach and lead in online communities. These communities are strongly decentralized and authorities are sometimes not well-accepted. Somebody established by an Institution as teacher, professor or instructor in virtue of his/her studies and career achievements is often challenged and sometimes erroneously corrected. Once in 2010, Gene Parker, who developed the revolutionary theory of the solar wind, was telling me that he wrote a document on the solar wind on a wiki for the solar physics community and he found out shorthly later that the document was largely rewritten by people of the community. He was quite sad about it. So, collaboration in old way,  is clearly not really feasible online. Online collaboration is fast and sometimes impulsive. In fact, nobody would ever question Gene Parker in person. So the question is how much the teacher and professor needs to change to appeal these “new generation” collaborative communities. I am slowly becoming better in accepting these new way of collaboration. But sometimes, I think that it is not the right way to go into the future.


[1] – Realtime board –
[2] – Video scribe
[3] – The Cathedral and the Bazaar, Essay by Eric S. Raymond

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