Collaborations

When we focus on Week 3 for the Open Networked Learning course, we get into collaborations. It can often be hard to form meaningful collaborations within groups. In fact, many times, participants mainly cooperate, rather than collaborate together.

Brief Digression
medium-publicationsSadly, there was never discussion on if cooperation is inherently bad. I’d argue that in most cases you’re more productive and therefore lead to more advances if you cooperate rather than collaborate–after all, in academia, we’re judged on the number of publications we have, not on how well the research is conducted…..sadly.

In other words, collaboration may be a means to the end (high quality article), but cooperation can get to that end (potentially) faster (more articles).

Where does real collaborative learning take place?
We were asked to describe “an occasion when real collaborative learning took place, that moved your own thinking forward”. From my experience, this seems to happen when people take more laid back, and therefore more personalized, rolls.

For example, our research team travels once a year to some place where we have organized group activities to help us build as a team. There’s a clear consensus that while it’s nice to get out of the office, these team building activities never build the team. It’s a waste of money.

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What has been helpful in making real collaborations is having real, honest discussions with each other, either about work or your personal life. Getting closer through authentic interactions at the very least has lead to closer friendships and greater respect for colleagues, and at best, has led to working together on various projects.

But let’s change topic to relate things to the literature; per assignments:
Cooperation, rather than collaboration seems to occur for several reasons, but one axiom for students seems to be “least amount of work for highest grade”.  This is rational, and certainly makes sense for social loafers. In fact, rational choice theory from economics would support social loafers given that the point of collaboration is to get a grade. All a social loafer has to do is wait out their peers. They can do this either by taking a backseat and/or not being physically present or they can be more subtle, such as asking pestering questions, claiming they never understand the assignments, or otherwise “playing dumb.” This forces the rest of the students to either “play dumb”, in which case no one will get a good grade, or the other students can choose to pick up the slack of the social loafers to get their higher grade. People will always try to do the least work for the highest grade, and therefore, if there is nothing in place to stop social loafers (e.g. the teacher asks for all students to report on how other students are performing in the group [although this method also is problematic]) then we can still expect social loafing to occur.

This axiom is further pronounced when several teachers design collaborations to be assessed in this way. For example, Brindley, Walti, and Blaschke (2009) state this in their article Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment.  These authors go on to outline how to better create collaborative groups from the built-in design by focusing instead on “alternative methods to encourage learners to experience the value of collaborative learning by creating study group experiences that are motivating and rewarding.”

While Brindley et al. focused on changes in the structure from the teachers’ side, Capdeferro and Romero (2012) focus on what the students want out of a collaborative group. They noted that online students felt there was a lack in group organization, that other students had different goals for the course, and that student had different levels of degrees to which they wanted to take the course and/or learn something from the course. One solution to these types of groups might be to screen students prior to placing them in groups–a teacher may even test if it’s beneficial to have the high motivated people in one group and the low motivated in another group or if it’s best to mix them up….and what outcomes you’d get based on these manipulations. For example, the low motivated group may get even less out of the course if they were only mixed with other low motivated students, but the high motivated group may get even more out of their course experience.

2 thoughts on “Collaborations”

  1. Good argument! And you make a similar point that Kaveh raises in his blog, namely the effect of the groups’ composition on the success of the group carrying out its task. So yes, one wonders if there is an optimal approach: an all or nothing strategy (all the good eggs in one basket … ), or mixing up the different types of personalities. But on the face of it both strategies sound difficult – HOW would you get to know the personalities involved? How to predict the ways in which the group dynamics will pan out? Perhaps it is best to leave if to chance – and let the group settle it’s dynamics internally to reach equilibrium. Perhaps setting targets / tasks for the participants internally can also help to ensure overall participation?

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