All together now… Collaborative Learning

Coming together is a beginning.DSC00991
Keeping together is progress.
Working together is success. (Henry Ford)

Collaborative learning, Communities of practice, Networking are all used as a way of specifying a group activity where the main outcome is to learn from each other. It is all very nice and the idea is quite fantastic with a lot of good research to back it up, which you can read in the references below. But there are certain factors that need to be addressed before we all go and implement this idea in the classrooms.

Collaborative learning takes many forms it could be when you are brainstorming an idea with your group, sharing your work to the group, writing together, taking part in social media discussions and group projects.

For it to be effective, there should be both “group goals” and “individual accountability” (Slavin, 1989). In a classroom situation the collaborative learning task must ensure that every group member has learnt something.
According to Vygotsky (1978) students can perform at higher intellectual levels in collaborative situations than when working individually and that group diversity can contribute positively to the learning process.

The benefits of collaborative learning

  • It deepens your understanding of a topic
  • Makes you proactive and a confident learner
  • Importantly, by engaging in discussion and taking responsibility for their learning, students are encouraged to become critical thinkers (Totten, Sills, Digby & Russ, 1989).
  • It has been consistently found that students who learn most are those who give and receive elaborated explanations about what they are learning and how they are learning it (Webb, 1985).
  • Research demonstrates that network-based collaboration may provide opportunities for more equality in group work than actual face-to-face group work (Cohen, 1994; Johnson,Johnson and Holubec, 1993; Kessler, 1992)
  • ICT tools – eg: Online discussions with various tools – students who might be shy at voicing their opinion face-to-face now have the opportunity to express themselves
  • Analysts of the future job market already speak of the need for future workers to be able to adapt to this type of work environments. By putting emphasis on teamwork through ICT tools, the students will learn to think creatively, to solve problems, and to make decisions as a team. Furthermore, they will be in control of technology and not slaves to it.

The College Preparatory School is making collaboration the driving force in their learning. This is a great example of how collaborative learning is already being used for deeper learning.


Students speak out on the negative side of Collaborative Learning
Here is an overview of what the students think about collaborative learning you can read more in depth on the site link but the major qualms were:

  • People need to go at different speeds
  • Someone may try to take over the group
  • Quiet people may not feel comfortable
  • Sometimes people just don’t get along
  • People may not pull their weight
  • It is not fair!
  • A concept may not be understood as well if a person doesn’t have to figure it out
  • The time spent talking about irrelevant topics is unbelievable

Personal responsibility

As part of the ONL course we are to work together in groups and collaborate on each topic. As it states above there are pros and cons to this form of learning and we are all going through them one by one. We decided from our online meeting to collaborate in a Google document by commenting on each other’s summaries of the articles we had divided up between us. We are to present our findings according to the PBL model to the other groups and give feedback to theirs. I have worked in both face-to-face groups and with purely online groups and still the same problems arise (see above on the negative side of Collaboration). So how are we to improve this form of learning? I believe, as Wenger, E. (2010) states in his very interesting Community of practice article, there is a personal responsibility that comes with social participation, given our limited resources of time, attention, and memory, we have to make decisions about how we participate in landscapes of practice. And this I believe is the crux of the matter.

Articles we collaborated on as group:

  • 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). Available here.
  • Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice(pp. 179-198). Springer London. Available here.
  • Capdeferro, N., & Romero, M. (2012). Are online learners frustrated with collaborative learning experiences?. The International review of research in open and distance learning, 13(2), 26-44. Available here.


  • *Constructing Knowledge Together (21-45). Extract from Telecollaborative Language Learning. A guidebook to moderating intercultural collaboration online. M. Dooly (ed.). (2008) Bern: Peter Lang
  • Gillies, R. (2014). Cooperative learning: Developments in research.International Journal of Educational Psychology, 3(2), 125–140.
  • Roseth, C. J., Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2008). Promoting early adolescents’ achievement and peer relationships: The effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goal structures.Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 223–269.
  • Slavin, R. E. (1995).Cooperative learning: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Slavin, R. E. (2013). Classroom applications of cooperative learning. In S. Graham (Ed.),APA handbook of educational psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
  • Webb, N. M. (2008). Learning in small groups. In T. L. Good (Ed.),21st century education: A reference handbook (pp. 203–211). Los Angeles: Sage

Digital Literacy and the digital me

As part of our #ONL161 course course we have been told to blog a post about our digital presence on Social Media, Here is my overview with the Xmind mindmap tool

Digital Me

Before I started working at KTH, I had been working with social media strategies for private companies for 8 years. I organised social media events and worked with the company’s online presence mainly for sales & marketing reasons increasing their online presence and online sales. When I started at KTH I was quite eager to use what I had learned from the private sector and put it to use for learning but soon realised that most of the teachers had little or no digital presence for their professional purposes.

As part of our group work we are working on Digital Literacy, I found it very interesting so decided to post on this area as well.
Several universities have started projects in Digital Literacy for both students and teachers. Coming from the private sector and in the role of employing new staff, I know how important it is for our social media natives to have a professional presence online.

All universities are confronting the same difficulties with digital literacy, so I believe we really need to start learning from each other.

So what does Digital Literacy mean?
Digital literacy is “The capability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it.” (Rubble, M. and Bailey, G.  (2007). Digital Citizenship in Schools. Eugene, OR: ISTE, p. 21)

The main issues that we need to cover are:

  • How do we inspire our teachers to do it?
  • How could we make digital literacy support sustainable
  • How can we make digital literacy a desire instead of just a couple of teachers being passionate about it?

Cornell University in Ithaca New York has created a great website with information about Digital Literacy this is an excerpt from their page:

“Digital literacy is an important topic because technology is changing faster than society is. The rules of appropriate behaviour in these digital contexts may be unknown or unknowable. Well-established concepts such as copyright, academic integrity, and privacy are now difficult to define, as their meanings are in flux”.

They have a FAQ page on using the Internet to research topics which I found a brilliant source for information.

A guide to help teachers in mapping out digital literacy with students
This video created by David White, researcher, University of Oxford uses the mapping process which is an output of  Jisc funded by ‘Digital Visitors and Residents’ project in collaboration between Jisc, Oxford, OCLC and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
“We need to understand learners personal digital literacies before ploughing into ‘supporting’ them” David White
Here is a great overview on how you can map it out with your students from David White


Developing digital literacies for working in a digital world
I love to listen to podcasts whilst on my journeys to and from places here is a radio program that was recorded for the Jisc project

“Universities and colleges have a responsibility to develop students into individuals who can thrive in an era of digital information and communication – those who are digitally literate are more likely to be economically secure. But it’s not just about employability – increasingly digital literacy is vital for learning itself”. From the radio program page.

Learning in the South East Quadrant

Well now I am completely involved….participating, collaborating and in the “learner managed learning environment” of the #ONL161 course  (a pedagogical course based on Problem-Based Learning adapted for online courses).
As I stated in my last blog post it was all a bit new and unstructured from what I am used to as a learner but I am not alone in this feeling as the review (see summary below) points out. So now (mainly for my own state of mind) I have re-structured my bookmarks, downloaded specific apps so I can collaborate on the fly and ready to determine the goals and outcomes of the course with my group of colleagues.

After reading the review on: Online learning: it is all about dialogue, involvement, support and control – research by Marion Coomey , John Stephenson, Ryerson Polytechnic University and Middlesex University, UK it gave me an overview of what it is that we are doing on this course. Here is just a short summary of the article as I thought it was very interesting.

One hundred research reports and journal articles were included in the review. Most were published in the period 1998-2000 and it’s focus was on benefits for learners. They based it on the 4 common features

  1. Dialogue
  2. Involvement
  3. Support
  4. Control

They then included these common features (they call it DISC) into a paradigm grid for online learning:

These are the four paradigms:

  • Teacher-controlled, specified learning activities;
  • Teacher-controlled, open-ended or strategic learning;
  • Learner-managed specified learning activities;
  • Learner-managed, open-ended or strategic learning.


You can read more in the full article but I think you get the picture.

So now straight to the South East Quadrant (Learner managed)

As a learner on the course I am in control of the overall direction of the learning along side my colleagues in our PBL3 group, including learning outcomes and longer terms goals what a eureka moment that was! We discuss the topic, read articles and are in the process of structuring up our time together. When it comes to the DISC features we

Dialogue – Have Individual work & collaborative work and find external sources to help us on the way.
Involvement – We are totally involved in the learning activity and we relate our learning to our own personal, vocational and academic needs.
Support – We have a facilitator who is in the background, offering advice on procedures and resources.
Control – We determine the goals and outcomes and monitor our own progress.

Even though we are at the beginning of the course I am already totally bought into this way of learning, however here is some advice from the professionals:

Advice for the South-East quadrant learning environment

  • The role of the tutor, and the amount and level of tutor participation, should be clearly defined (Lewis and Vizcarro, 1998).
  • Embed prompts and other ways for students to interact with the content in order to make the thinking process clear (Henderson et al, 1998).
  • Provide synchronous events (along with asynchronous events) to maintain student enthusiasm and a ‘real time’ sense of participation (Mason, 1998).
  • Develop criteria for students to assess each others’ work (McConnell,1995).
  • Remember that ‘free for all’ open discussions do not usually work (Mason, 1998).
  • Provide guidelines and carefully designed questions (Beaudin, 1999).
  • Create a structure to make teams collaborate (solve problems through a 48 Teaching and Learning Online voting system; write collaborative assignments by dividing tasks into sections) (Marjanovic, 1999).
  • Beware that learners could become so involved in browsing that they might not be thinking about the learning related to specific subject matter (Ewing et al,1999).


  • Beaudin, B (1999) Keeping online asynchronous discussions on topic, Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 3 (2),
  • Ewing, J M (1999) Enhancement of student learning online and offline,
  • Henderson, L, Putt, I, Ainge, D and Combes, G (1998) Comparison of students’ thinking processes when studying with WWW, IMM and text based materials, in The Virtual Campus: Trends for higher education and training, eds F Verdejo and G Davies, Chapman & Hall, New York.
  • Lewis, R and Vizcarro, C (1998) Collaboration between universities and enterprises in the Knowledge Age, in The Virtual Campus: Trends for higher education and training, eds F Verdejo and G Davies, Chapman & Hall, New York.
  • Marjanovic, O (1999) Learning and teaching in a synchronous collaborative environment, journal of Computer Assisted Learning,15, pp 129-38.
  • Mason, R (1998) Models of online courses, ALN Magazine, 2 (2),
  • McConnell, D (1995) Learning in Groups: Some experiences of online work,       Springer- Verlag, Berlin


Open Networked Learning


I have just started the course called ONL161 lots of activities in setting up the different tools to use during the course and trying to keep up with the mass of sudden gmail emails that I get ( have to remember to turn the notifications off) has given me all a bit of a headache and I am used to technology! They have given us 3 weeks to get it all together, join our groups decide when to meet online and write a reflection on our blog, phew….. which is highly appreciated.

My first reflection is that we are using Google for our collaboration/documents (with all our names, contact details and links to our blogs) which seems to me to be a bit dodgy as in Sweden The Personal Data Act (PUL for all you Swedes out there) is quite strict when using Google in the classroom and with Student data, in fact most IT departments in universities that I have been working for nearly have an epileptic fit when you mention the word that the teachers want to use Google in the classroom.

I have also worked on Social Media strategies/google SEO, Adwords in the private sector and know what Google is capable of with our data, thus my concern even more.

But after a bit of research online (obviously just media articles) one that I found today is about the new contracts that the Personal data act is being developed in collaboration with Google: (Only in Swedish I’m afraid) Datainspektion prövar nytt Google Apps-avtal

So times are moving on and even Swedish Education will be on the American bandwagon, hey maybe even Trump will be president and where will that leave us????

But without being too cynical, comes with several years of knowledge I’m afraid, and it is kind of my job as I am working with business solutions/Learning technologist at KTH) I can carry on with the learning 🙂

Now to be more positive….What is really interesting for me with this course is how quick we can all get started and network without having to procure a system (which can take up to 18 months) and that the learning is immediate. Really looking forward to new ideas on how we can create the perfect learning environment for our  Social Media Natives

See you all on the other side



History of Blended Learning

When I was trying to rebuild my qualifications after my son was born, not one for sitting around in the sand pits talking about nappies, I took a course in Digital Pedagogy. The course was created in collaboration with a Finnish University and was a vocational degree (which was a form of post-secondary education designed to meet current competence needs in working life) and was organised in close collaboration with companies.

I had 2 industry placements during the course in Elearning companies and was sure that this would be my next career move, alas, the dot com crash arrived just as I graduated and the Elearning companies that I had worked for could offer me no work.

When I saw this article from elearning Industry newsletter: I realised that not a lot has happened in the university I am working in and all the other universities in Sweden for the past 15 years.

  • 1840’s: First Distance Course.
    Sir Isaac Pitman launches the first distance education course.
    Pitman sent shorthand texts to his students via mailed postcards and they were required to send them back to be graded and corrected. Even though computers and mobile devices weren’t involved, and wouldn’t even be invented for roughly a century, effective feedback and assessments were still an integral part of the process.
  • 1960’s & 1970’s: Mainframe Computer-Based Training.
    It was the first time that training could be deployed to countless workers within an organisation without having to rely on printed materials and face-to-face instruction.
  • 1970’s to 1980’s: TV-Based Technology to Support Live Training.
    At this stage in the blended learning timeline, companies began using video networks to train their employees. Learners were able to communicate with their peers, watch the instructor on TV, and even address any questions or concerns sending them by mail.
  • 1980’s & 1990’s: CD-ROM Training and Rise of LMS.
    As technology evolved, so did blended training strategies and applications. Schools and organizations began using CD-ROMs to deliver more interactive learning experiences, This is also when the first learning management systems (LMS) were introduced, though they didn’t offer the same functionality as the solutions available today.
  • 1998: First Generation of Web-Based Instruction.
    Computers were no longer just for organisations and the wealthy few, but for the masses. More and more households began purchasing personal computers for their families to enjoy, other than having to distribute CD-ROMs to learners, organisations could simply upload material, eLearning assessments, and assignments via the web, and learners could access them with a click of a mouse button.
  • 2000 until today: Blended Learning Integration.
    Technology is rapidly changing and an increasing number oKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAf organisations and private learning institutions are beginning to see the benefits of a blended learning approach. Gradually, the union between face-to-face instruction and technology-based learning is producing new and creative ways to enrich the
    educational experience and make learning fun, exciting, and even more beneficial.


The revolution had started 15 years ago; blended learning or “Hybrid Learning” is what they call it today, will I believe be the defining education philosophy for the next 20 years as well, because blended learning helps student to achieve deep learning and to be better learners.
[Gar04] D.R. Garrrison, and H. Kanuka, “Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education”, The Internet and Higher Education, 7(2), 2004, pp 95—105.

A vision of students today

This video made me reflect……  we have a lot of work to do.

The students of today and the future are already learning online via youtube, Wikipedia, google etc… Top world rank universities have started adapting to the trend by integrating online education into their system and even MIT announced in October 2015 to take a big step to combine free online classes MOOCS (Massive Open Online Courses) with its traditional on campus instruction.

Pedagogical and professional development

I have been to a few great conferences on pedagogical development, which has given me ideas in my role as business manager for online learning. We have talked within our unit here on several occasions, different ways of improving pedagogical development and to enhance student learning.


Why do we teach?

Hybrid pedagogy and an interesting newsletter I read frequently has a good article written by Chris Friend (@chris_friend) on just this “The purpose of education”

Overall, students must have a say in the decisions that affect their learning. For, as Freire says, “to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.” Academia must hold as its objects its studies, not its students. To do otherwise diminishes the value of education because the student is being asked to buy into someone else’s idea of what is worth studying.

With this in mind that the student should have a say in their learning one of the most interesting conferences I went to this year was about Active Student Participation developed at Uppsala University and also in the process of development here at The Teaching and Learning Unit at ECE school..

Alison Cook-Sather from Byrn Mawr College in the USA was the conference’s keynote speaker in October 2015 and shared her experiences on how students and teachers can work in partnership.


“A collaborative reciprocal process through which all participants have the opportunity to contribute equally, although not necessarily in the same ways, to curricular or pedagogical conceptualization, decision making, implementation, investigation, or analysis.” – Cook Sather, Bovill, & Felten, 2014, pp.6-7

Faculty and students can’t be equal but they can contribute in ways that are equitable. Give and take with equal amounts of respect and responsibilities in teaching and learning.

She goes on to tell us a few of the outcomes of Facultly partnerships.

  1. Engagement – enhancing motivation and learning
  2. Awareness – developing meta-cognitive awareness and a stronger sense of identity
  3. Enhancement – improving teaching and the classroom experience

So if I were to create a personal educational development project plan I would try to implement this way of thinking in my courses.

Prioritizing time

Trying to prioritize time in all the other daily activities is very hard and very difficult with pressure to get those grant applications in and be a great teacher.

I would try and create some sort of project plan with my course and get a good Gannt chart going with activities and tasks by using my favourite tool Projectplace to keep track and be transparent with my colleagues.


  • Brief definitions of student engagements:
    • The opposite of alienation (Mann 2008) (engagement rather than alienation)
    • Layered and meaningful participation in and commitment to learning (kuh et al.2010) (it is not a simple process)
    • Involvement, excitement and persistence (Ahlfeldt et al. 2005; Schelecty, 2011; Nygård et al, 2013) (You need to be able to carry out engagement over time)
    • Critical participation as opposed to compliance and questioning as opposed to answering (Nixon, 2012) (about not just excepting things at face value)
    • Emotional as well as intellectual investment (Cook-Sather, 2014) (Not just about the brain but the feeling as well.)