“The simple truth is that there is a limit to how much we can learn if we keep to ourselves (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2012, p 42)
My vague memories of group assignments at high school and University include a dull sense of unfair workloads and a fear that my workmates could not be relied upon, coupled with a strong desire to belong and to be recognised for my unique gifts offered to the task. As Dron & Anderson (2014 ) surmise, knowledge is both created and validated in social contexts, and I yearned to be accepted and valued.
So it was with equal amounts of curiosity and trepidation that I entered into the Connected Learning group website-creation assignment, and as I come out the other end I feel I have learnt a lot about myself as a learner, as well as the process of collaboration and connected learning that I had so often and ignorantly doled out, carte blanche, to my students.
From the readings for the subject, I had come to understand the theoretical notion of connected learning being about collaboration, as opposed to co-operation. When previously I would have used these words interchangeably, I now recognise that co-operation is an individual approach to knowledge construction done within a group. In other words, we all contribute something that any of us could have contributed if asked. Collaboration, on the other hand, occurs when we approach goals as connected learners, relying on each other’s skills, knowledge, talents, and readiness to share. A critical incident for me during this process was when I began to understand and internalise this distinction in practice.
When we began to divvy out the jobs for each section of the website that we were to create, we could have focused on equality; fair and rounded exposure to the task. We could have succumbed to polite volunteerism or efficient dictatorship, which is particularly tempting when dealing with strangers who are physically so far away. But in keeping with the principles of connected learning being peer-supported and interest-driven, we knew we needed to let down our guards and get to know one another quickly. We took the time to carefully assess our individual areas of expertise which would enable us to contribute to the project something significant and distinctly our own. The group member with web design experience took on the role of co-ordinating the website, whereas the teacher-librarian amongst us focused on which picture book resources would fortify the merit of our site. Being a strong organiser and cheerleader, I took minutes of our meetings and synthesised all of our ideas into actions that would take us on the path towards the resource we wanted to produce. I also helped the team to focus on the positives as we neared the “light at the end of tunnel”, particularly when other groups began to make their resources available and intimidation set in. As e-moderator in the last week of the project, it was particularly important, and increasingly difficult, to keep a growth mindset amongst the team and remind everyone that the website we produced is an organic resource. That it is not “finished” and nor is the learning process we underwent, successfully, together.
Throughout this collaborative process, I got better at opening myself up to constructive criticism which was delivered online without the buffer of a smile or a soft tone of voice. Challenge was indeed constant (Ito, Gutiérrez, Livingstone, Penuel, Rhodes, Salen, Schor, Sefton-Green & Craig Watkins, 2013) and the dissonance that Dron & Anderson (2014) refer to as arising when learners are exposed to divergent ideas forced me to strengthen mine, raising my expectations of what outcome could be achieved. In order to succeed as a connected learner I found myself becoming deeply reflective, dedicated to the ongoing development of expertise by both myself and others, and willing to share the role of learner, creator and leader with my colleagues. As my participation in various web 2.0 platforms increased, so did my satisfaction with doing a job well done. Together as a group, we moved from constructivism to connectivism.
Dron, J. & Anderson, T. (2014) Chapter 1. On the Nature and Value of Social Software for Learning. Teaching crowds: Learning and social media. Pages 1-34. Edmonton: AU Press. http://www.aupress.ca/books/120235/ebook/99Z_Dron_Anderson-Teaching_Crowds.pdf
Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green,J., and Craig Watkins, S. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.
Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Hall, L. (2012) The connected educator.