Collaborative Learning

Martin Terre Blanche

This is a diary of my involvement in a project on collaborative learning in the psychology department at the University of South Africa. Most recent posts below and links to previous posts on the left.

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When people don't participate...

Participation seems to come in two varieties only: too little or too much. Too much has killed off more than one overly-popular collaboration environment (e.g. the Usenet discussion groups), but has also resulted in much innovation as people devise ways of distributing tasks and responsibilities more widely and creatively through the group. David Wiley has, for example, drawn up a very useful chornological table of how slashdot responded creatively to repeated crises related to group size (slashdot now has 2.9 million users).

Too little participation can be equally lethal, but also (I think) an equally strong spur to creativity. I'm seeing a case of low participation again now in a "teaching, learning and technology" group that I'm a part of. The purpose of the group is to foster innovative uses of e-learning through sharing practical experiences and ideas. A colleague set up a blog for the group as we all agreed that it would be a good idea to have a space for sharing news and ideas over and above what gets said at the group's face-to-face meetings. Problem is, he and I are (virtually) the only ones who ever contribute to or (I think) read the blog. Among other reasons, this is probably strongly related to the fact that most people in the group are not very active on the web and that only two of us have experience of blogging.

The temptation is to go into blaming mode ("members of a teaching technology group really ought to be more familiar with and committed to web-based learning practices; how can they expect others to take up new technologies if they won't even try?" etc. etc.), but more constructive would be to try and understand the lack of participation in terms of what is important to people. I have a strong intuitive sense of the value of contributing to and learning from distributed communities of practice via the web and I would like to entice more people into this world. But not everybody wants to be recruited into my agenda. Some probably have a strong intuitive sense that hanging around blogs is a big waste of time.

What is very rarely if ever useful is to use extrinsic rewards or punishments to get people to participate. Once people get a taste for the intrinsic value of something like blogging they will do it with enthusiasm. And if it is not to their taste, they won't.

posted by Martin on Thursday, August 28, 2003
More commercial collaboration

Stumbled on another example of how the collaboration and networking thing is hitting the big time in corporations. AskMe "is the leading provider of software solutions that enable global 2000 companies to create and manage Employee Knowledge Networks (EKNs)". What are EKNs, you ask? They are "software systems that deliver employee expertise, directly to other employees, blocked on critical tasks, exactly when they need it most"...

posted by Martin on Tuesday, August 26, 2003