Extending collaborative learning using digital technologies 3/5

What is collaboration?

Collaborative learning has been defined in many ways in the literature but it usually simplifies to a description of a learning situation in which students exchange ideas and learn together as active participants in the acquisition of knowledge (Siemens 2002, Brindley et al 2009). But this doesn’t seem to go far enough to differentiate “collaborative learning” from the more general “social interaction” which we might expect from a group of likeminded individuals.  Instead, I’m inclined to think more in terms of working together for a common objective (Jarche 2012) which requires the social interactions described above but extend that to a situation whereby students are able to create something – tangible or theoretical – as a result of working together. I see collaboration as product-oriented because that creates the kind of behaviour many of our students will encounter in the work place.

“Media Production is an activity that is collaborative by its very nature, and degree programmes need to develop an effective group work strategy.” (Ireland, A. 2004; p2)

So in my subject area of journalism, collaborative learning is not simply a pedagogical choice but intrinsic to the subject and therefore essential if we are to incorporate UKPSF K1, K2, K3, K4 and V4. In fact, the University of Bournemouth co-ordinated a project  – Group Work & Assessment in Media Production (GWAMP) – in 2000-2004 as a means of sharing common problems and solutions.The project then went on to develop an online system called CASPAR which enabled students to peer assess each other’s performance in group work.

However, the Masters course in International Journalism has a less practical element and I am always keen to find ways of using digital technologies to encourage and support collaborative learning. The discussion board on Blackboard has not been popular whereas when I set collaborative, beyond-the-classroom tasks which require the students to produce something at the end of the process, the results have been far more encouraging.

I am using this approach for a unit on mobile reporting – using smart phones to create and share news (Bradshaw and Rohumaa 2011). Content is made available on Blackboard and discussed fairly briefly in class. But students are then required to work in small groups away from class and use their smart phones to create content – video, stills, audio and text. They will then use the Creative Hive platform to collate that into a news feature (the subject I’ve chosen is the Manchester Christmas Markets!) They can complete this final part of the collaborative task in class with my support. They will also use digital technologies to communicate with each other between classes. So the activity is designed to promote collaboration, use digital technologies in a creative way but all within an authentic task appropriate to the core subject in accordance with UKPSF A1-4, K4.

When designing this task, I find Siemens (2002) four-stage continuum of collaborative learning informative because of its defined order of occurrences.

  1. Communication (people talking, discussing)

  2. Collaboration (sharing ideas and working together, occasionally sharing resources, in a loose environment)

  3. Cooperation (doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose)

  4. Community (striving for a common purpose) (Siemens 2002)

No collaboration can take place without communication between students but by having a common purpose – the finished article – they are, I hope, motivated to collaborate.

There is opportunity to extend the collaboration still further since the Creative Hive platform itself is a web space designed to encourage collaboration across courses and disciplines at the University so it will be interesting to see how far the students take this.

Strategies for encouraging collaborative learning


Barkley, E., Cross, K. & Howell Major, C. (2005) Collaborative Learning Techniques.  A Handbook for College Faculty.  San Francisco: John WIley & Sons

Bradshaw, P. & Rohumaa, L. (2011). The Online Journalism Handbook: Skills to survive and thrive in the digital age. Harlow: Routledge.

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Ireland, A. (2004). Group Work and Assessment in Media Production-Resource Pack. Accessed on 20.10.13. http://www.cemp.ac.uk/themes/groupwork.php

Jarche, H. (2012). Principles for Collaborative Work. In Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT), 2012 IEEE 12th International Conference (pp. 1-2). IEEE.

Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, D. W. (1986). Action Research: Cooperative Learning in the Science Classroom. Science and Children, 24(2), 31-32.

Lord, T. R. (2001). 101 reasons for using cooperative learning in biology teaching. The American Biology Teacher, 63(1), 30-38.

Siemens, G. (2002).  Interaction. E-Learning Course. Accessed 15 November 2013 http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/Interaction.htm

The Higher Education Academy (2011) UK Professional Standards Framework. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ukpsf.


2 thoughts on “Extending collaborative learning using digital technologies 3/5

  1. Hi liz, thanks again for an interesting post and insight. I am interested in your discussion of Jarche (2012) and definition of collaborative learning as ‘product orientated’ would learning not count as a common goal; Students collaborating each for their own individual learning or would they need to create something together? In sociology research appears cautious of the pitfalls of collaborative working such as ‘free riders’ or controlling individuals but also recognises the value for individual learning (Rau, 1990) however, this does not mean that students necessary produce anything together other than discussions. I understand that in your experience online discussions have not worked but it may be that a discussion environment online requires more constant input (MacDonald, 2001) than we might imagine in order to motivate students to collaboratively learn through digital technologies?
    I think that your use of an authentic task fits very well with your subject and I would be interested to hear about levels of student motivation in this type of task, and indeed how much they collaborate on the task using the technologies you have put forward. Further, I would be interested to hear whether or not you feel that stage 4 of Siemens’ (2002) continuum can be achieved within the confines of a university module.
    Jarche, H. (2012). Principles for Collaborative Work. In Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT), 2012 IEEE 12th International Conference (pp. 1-2). IEEE.
    MacDonald, J. (2011). Blended Learning and Online Tutoring: Planning Learner Support and Activity Design. London: Gower.
    Rau, W. & Heyl, B. S. (1990). Humanizing the college classroom: Collaborative learning and social organization among students. Teaching Sociology, 18, 141-155.
    Siemens, G. (2002). Interaction. E-Learning Course. Accessed 15 November 2013http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/Interaction.htm

  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Juliette. Always appreciated!
    Yes, I think learning does count as a common objective. I was thinking very specifically in terms of my own subject area. For example, the UGs next week will be required to work in teams to produce live news programmes. They will be assessed on their ability to collaborate productively to a specified deadline rather than purely the quality of the final product on air. So “collaboration” in the context of my subject area does require them to produce an actual product (maybe not a great choice of word on my part, I admit!).
    I often get them to collaborate less formally during class to discuss the reading or whatever I’ve asked them to do in preparation for class. They share and synthesise their findings and feed back to the rest of the class. So in that case it is more “learning” rather than creating a product. But one of the reasons I do that so much is because they need to get to know each other and get used to negotiating with each other and trusting each other in order to do the assessed collaborative work at the end of the module (ie next week!!)
    It always surprises me how motivated the students are for this activity with very, very few exceptions. They also surprise each other! They really throw themselves into it and support each other amazingly well – lots of PaMS!! They are often genuinely surprised by how much more they can achieve together than on their own. Ahead of next week’s class, a few students have already told me they are amazed at the motivation and capability of their fellow students as they start their preparations.
    I think these authentic Newsdays (as we call them, even though they don’t last all day, confusingly) do fulfil the final stage of Siemen’s continuum.

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