The first two weeks of the course were challenging to say the least. I was part of the leading group responsible for organizing activities around Topic 1. Considering that hardly any of us had had previous experience with collaborative work online I think we performed rather well as a group and did our job well. In many ways this exercise reminded me of collaborative writing a scientific grant proposal except that we knew little about the topic so we ended up arbitrarily assigning pieces of work to everyone, naturally in the course of discussion. In that respect, it was rewarding to see the involvement from the group members and commitment to the final mini-project outcome.
As for the technicalities that we all had to plough through a myriad of links, webpages, shared documents etc. To some extent, the multitude of communication channels turned out to be overwhelming, thus inhibiting the actual communication within the group in the beginning. Connecting online to discuss the progress has not so far in my view facilitated collaboration, it is what we do offline that matters in the end. I am curious if this is going to change in the course of events ahead of us. On the other hand, admittedly, seeing each other online helps us build congenial atmosphere in the group, which I enjoy and appreciate a lot.
These thoughts on effective communication in the process of collaborative learning bring me to another point. Having read some of the recommended literature (Savin-Baden and Wilkie, 2006; Savin-Baden, 2014) I could not resist skepticism about the suitability of problem-based learning (PBL) for online scenarios. I do not necessarily see how the online learning setup facilitates or enhances classical face-to-face PBL. Interestingly, PBL in itself is not a well represented form of learning at universities. I could imagine that PBL would be suitable to complement more traditional educational approaches. For example, it could build upon fundamental knowledge transmitted by a teacher (here I do not see an immediate need for students to search by themselves for these fundamental aspects of the knowledge domain they plunge into in a given course) and help students relate or apply that knowledge (thus extend it) in some specific problem-oriented context. At a technical university I could then imagine that the first teaching process mentioned could be moved to the online world in the interest of time as it does not rely so drastically on the live interaction with the teacher, peers or even didactical material. Still, the online value of PBL remains questionable from my point of view. I am expecting however that I will learn to appreciate it throughout the course as my understanding of the PBL online processes grows.
Trying to summarise my position in the digital/online learning environment I must admit feeling as a stranger (“digital immigrant” (Prensky, 2001)) but at the same time I am not fully convinced about any added value of moving towards the resident status (White and Le Cornu, 2011). I could not really say what that status would imply since as a “visitor” I already rely on internet tools (googledocs, skype, messengers, cloud services for storing research relevant information, literature etc.) in my daily research and teaching (rather supervision) practice. Yet I am far from being fully immersed in this world. What adds another dimension to this experience? I am not quite sure, really, it is a collaborative learning aspect in the spirit of PBL.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.On the Horizon. 9 (5): 1–6.
Savin-Baden, M. (2014) Problem-based learning: New constellations for the 21stCentury. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching 25 (3/4) 197-219 Preprint Savin-Baden JECT (3)
Savin-Baden, M. & Wilkie, K. (2006) The challenge of using problem-based learning online. In: Problem-based learning online. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
White, D. & Le Cornu, A. (2011) Visitors and residents: A new typology for online engagement. First Monday, 16(9).