Wednesday, November 15, 2006

e-(collaboration)
After reading the previous post on e-collaboration I was a bit puzzled. In the report the following conclusions are being drawn: The main driving force for e-(collaboration) is determined by the personal interest of one (or more) person(s) in an organisation. It also becomes clear that each organisation (or person) more or less designs by trial and error and needs to ‘re-invent the wheel’. This means that much depends on coincidence and not on appropriate research. This raises questions, at least on quality control.
The two main reasons mentioned to start e-collaboration are information sharing and building or maintaining relationships. However, much of the content in the report reflects on the technical issues of using tools, and on implementing them (the organisation or even a person selects a tool and introduces that to the partners).
Basically, what I miss is the part of collaboration, which is so prominent in the title. Is using Skype a form of collaboration? Or is it just a communication tool and nothing more? For me it is only a communication tool just like a telephone or e-mail. And yes, some form of collaboration can be achieved by using the communication tool, but it is not collaboration by itself.
So what do I think e-collaboration is? In the past we, at The Network University, have encountered this question many times. This originates from us offering collaborative e-learning for many years now, and especially in the first few years we did this (1997-2000), people had no clue what we were talking about. To go into this some more, I will first post an explanation before continuing with my question.

How TNU thinks about collaboration
Collaborative learning programmes are not based on individualised reading and a single final examination, but rather on multiple interactions leading towards common and negotiated understandings, based on differences in ideas, knowledge and attitudes amongst the participants and the coaches.
At TNU we believe that the educational experience should be process and not just product oriented. In order to achieve this we promote active learning. In other words: we expect our participants to ask themselves: 'What do I need to know to solve the problem at hand and how do I gain access to this information?', rather than: 'What is it that you are going to tell me today?'
The collaborative learning experience is structured primarily through assignments. In our online environment students are asked to work together in order to complete the assignments at hand. The focus is on constructing an individual knowledge and skills base within the context of a wider group. Participants are required to actively take on different roles within the group. In fulfilling their different roles they have to take into account their own knowledge level and understanding as well as that of the audience. In order for this to be effective, participants need to take an active approach to learning as well as take responsibility for how someone else understands things.


In this latter aspect the sense of ‘community’ is vital. The shared responsibility is increased by the fact that all contributions are added to a communal knowledge pool (hosted by the organisation but maintained by the group itself). Collaborative learning, we believe, promotes active learning and increasingly thoughtful participation in the learning process, leading to a greater understanding of the issues being tackled.
So what is central in our opinion of e-collaboration is an online community. Although such a community has to be created and maintained, we see it as a surplus with the courses we offer at TNU. Our participants are from all parts of the (mainly southern) world and therefore can enrich each other with different approaches and solutions to certain questions.

And it is especially this part of e-collaboration that is missing in the report. First of all I see a north-south approach in the collaboration, while, as is mentioned in the report, sometimes the southern partners are more equipped (in knowledge on e-tools) than the individuals in the Netherlands. But what in my opinion is missing most is a ‘social plan’ of the use of such tools. The impression is that choosing and experimenting with the tools is the goal, while it should be the collaboration (and the tools a means). In the past I have seen many projects which started under these premises and not only did most of them withered away into oblivion, it also left the partners who were invited to participate in a total confused state. What was their role, what was expected from them, and what was the purpose of the exercise?
To conclude, my advice is to always start by thinking of the goals of the usage of any tool for e-collaboration, and the social process that directs its use.

I am looking forward to your comments!
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1 Comments:

At 7:42 PM, Blogger hoong said...

Hello Vic,

I think the LAST paragraph from the posting of Maaike: FINDINGS, seems to response to much of your reasonings, questionings.

>>You also have to keep in mind that the start is just the beginning and you are still a long way from this once you have implemented and introduced the tools. The facilitation of the process comes next, which can easily be forgotten at the start <<

I agreed with both you and Maaike: the focus from management, generally, is on how much they have spent on the equipment/technology, but not enough thought, attention, focus on man-hours alloted to have someone to facilitate/manage/promote the tool.

 

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