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.

Designing courses to facilitate meaningful learning

Education is about conceptual change, not just the acquisition of information, the acquisition of information in itself does not bring about such a change, but the way we structure that information and think with it does.

(Biggs what the student does 1999).

It has been a while since I taught so I chose the 2 activities that I used with my students previously. After reading John Biggs “What the Student Does teaching for enhanced learning” It’s not what teachers do, it’s what students do that is the important thing. I can see now when I taught that a lot of the time the students didn’t always have a clear picture of what was expected of them. If I was to design the activities differently now in the role play activities I used in classes:

  • I would have considered them to re-act the role-play in their own language.
  • Have them maybe modify the role play activity themselves instead of me feeding them with the content and situations


Teaching and learning activities – 2 of the activities I used a lot see picture below 

What the teacher does

The activity

What the student does

  • Decide which reaching materials are to be used
  • Select a situation
  • Dialogue initiation
  • Evaluate effectiveness

Role plays

  • Interact
  • Decide on the roles
  • Improvise a dialogue
  • Listening to each other
  • Create a situation

What I wanted

  • Enable the quieter students to be heard
  • Listening, and understanding
  • Practice applying their new knowledge before they have to face the real world.


  • Set the writing task
  • Walking around
  • Observing
  • Encourage
  • Relate the students ideas to topics learnt

Group activity

”Think, Pair Share”

  • Make notes
  • Share ideas with each other and eventually to all the groups
  • Give feedback to each other


What kind of TLAs (Teaching & learning activities) is required for students to learn the desired outcomes effectively?


Various routes can be taken to reach a particular goal and students do not start from the same points of departure (P 190 in Academic Teaching) is a good start in defining the activities, learning activities are chosen both according to the outcomes and according to the students personalities.

“We have first to be clear about what we want students to learn, and then teach and assess accordingly in an aligned system of instruction” (Biggs, 1996), 

He then goes on in his article to talk about assessment is needed to address the objectives to see if they have learned what they are supposed to have learned. The assessment in a blended learning environment could come already within the lecture. Something that is close to my heart is blended learning. By using technology enhanced learning tools like clickers we can assess the situation on the fly, ask the student if he/she has understood by getting them to click yes or no during the lecture. The teacher will then know to move ahead with the lecture or go back on some points. Biggs call this network constructive alignment.

“There have been many valuable applications of constructivism, particularly to science and math teaching (e.g. Cobb 1994, Driver & Oldham 1986, Driver, Asoko, Leach, Mortimer & Scott 1994, Scardamalia, Bereiter & Lamon 1994, West & Pines 1985), but there have been few attempts to provide a framework that would generalise beyond the contexts or topics for which they were designed”.

If I were to design a course now I would try to use the technology available alongside face-to-face learning with the Intended Learning Outcomes.

Defining this course we would have to think about:

  • What are the intended learning outcomes?
  • Which would be better to do online and which are better doing F2F
  • What Learning activities should we use for online versus F2F
  • Online discussions as part of the learning activity? What challenges are there? We need to know how to facilitate and assess online discussions.
  • How will we structure the courseware what will be integrated and connected?
  • How will we decide the % of F2F and online?
  • Some students can have problems with the new technologies how will we address this problem, how can we support them?
  • How will we assess and evaluate in a blended environment?
  • We have to discuss with the students why their course is being taught blended and prepare them for their role in it


Active learning

TLA’s some ideas taken from Academic Teaching books chapter 7 on Teaching & Learning activities which I have connected to technology enhanced learning ideas to make the students more active in their learning.


Learning outcomes


Activities – How

Technology to use

Getting Information,

Digital literacy

Finding resources & techniques,

 Referencing & managing information load

Connecting with outside experts

 Sharing and reviewing online resources

Google scholar
BlogsOnline articles
You Tube

Taking own responsibility of learning

Reflection (p205)
Learning together

Giving and receiving feedback
(p214 & 257)


Reflection on learning

As a group exercise to improve group problem solving

Problem/case based learning (p253)

LMS groups
Concept mapping

Online Quiz
Video with recorded lectures

Online resources
Mobile learning bringing tablets & smartphones to class

Giving and receiving feedback

Working in teams


Critical thinking

Performance feedback

Collaborative writing
Group negotiations

Assessment of team work


Discussion forums in LMS
Group web

Peer review in LMS


Let students teach & present assignments (p209)

Oral communication

Presentation skills


Sharing audio/video material

Presenting Audio/video
Discussions and feedback

Adobe connect

Slideshare/You Tube
Video tool



The role of the teacher

Howard Gardner’s blog “Disciplined mind” Gardner eloquently argues that the purpose of education should be to enhance students’ deep understanding of truth (and falsity), beauty (and ugliness), and goodness (and evil) as defined by their various cultures.

I would like this to be my pedagogical philosophy as well. Thank You Howard……

Education most of the time concentrates on how we are going to deliver learning when we should be concentrating on the process of learning. Learning is a change in something, a new skill, new facts that we didn’t have before. People learn differently, some visually, some listen better than others, some need to read and write it down all this needs to be taken into consideration as an educator.

learning style

It would be good to map out what sort of teaching objectives I have and this would have to be “a work in progress” I’m afraid as I no longer teach but my previous objectives were for the students to have fun whilst learning, to feel confident, that they do their own critical thinking and come away with problem solving strategies. The main principles would have to include active learning activities.

How would I do this?

I would certainly take into consideration the different learning styles that my students have and develop the course using different techniques both online and face to face, exercises both individual and in groups/workshops and peer to peer, (having students interact with other students). I would try to form connections between the students and myself by using my previous knowledge and personal experiences and listening to their own personal and classroom experiences.

Measure effectiveness

I would want to measure the students outcomes, say if problem solving skills is one area that I think is important for them to learn then I would test their skills in this area.

Why a teacher?

Sometimes when the course planning nights were long and wallet short of the green stuff what kept me going was the odd student or even parent that thanked me for the lessons learned or the fun homework that I devised which involved the whole family, this gave me back the energy and passion to carry on.


The social media natives have arrived

The students that spent all their teen years using Facebook have just graduated this year so the first true “social media natives” have arrived at our higher education faculties and they are very different from previous generations. 

socail media natives

Photo source: The Atlantic

Motivation is the key in keeping the learning process alive.

The key skills I learned myself as a teacher in keeping a student motivated in the classroom were giving them a good structure, a process view of what was expected from them with goals at the end. Even today this is still an important basis and also as Turner & Paris (1995) present in their six Cs we need to think of other ways to keep them motivated.

The 6 c’s by Turner & Paris (1995)

  • Choice – Students being able to choose assignments based on their own interest
  • Challenge – Setting the right challenging targets, not too easy and not too hard
  • Control – Handing over control to the students own learning
  • Collaboration – Learning from others peer to peer as well as peer to teacher
  • Constructing meaning – so the students regard knowledge as valuable
  • Consequences – positive effects from positive feedback

“If a student can’t learn the way we teach then maybe we should teach the way they learn” (Ignacio Estrada) I believe that teachers have the duty of preparing young minds to learn and grow into successful adults. Not all students learn the same way and we have to meet the needs of each student. Finding different ways for them to learn to meet all these needs could include

  • Working in Groups in the classroom – makes them interact with each other, think independently as well as working as a team.
  • Presentation skills – Enables them to work with their oral skills first in smaller groups and then in front of bigger classes, giving them confidence in themselves and also receiving feedback from their peers.

Activities that we should have in the classroom should include:

  • Interaction
  • Discussion
  • Reflection
  • Games
  • Peer review
  • Project form

Students arrive in our classes with prior knowledge, beliefs and attitudes from their lives so far. They will automatically connect their ideals to the learning. Wenger (1998) highlights the significance of students’ active commitment when reflecting on learning, identity and development. (Academic teaching). This idea is taken one step further where the student acts as co-creators of higher education. It is being developed today at our department (Teaching and learning in Higher Education) and already in Uppsala University they call it “Active Student Participation”.

Reference articles:

Learning and learning environments

You Tube video from Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Paradigms 

It struck me whilst sitting in a class meeting that most of us taking a course have different cultural backgrounds and each one of us have different experiences of how we learned. In my case streaming the students was used to pick out the “good” ones from the “bad” ones, which meant that the students that didn’t get the recommended grades at the yearly exams were automatically put into a lower grade class. Obviously this didn’t do too much for the student’s confidence let alone the teacher’s expectation on the student’s performance and this prehistoric method is still a big part of the education system in UK schools today.

School streaming helps brightest pupils and nobody else

So my concept on learning was disillusioned at a very early age of 13 when I didn’t pass those exams I was expected to (I must add like many of my peers, not from my lack of intelligence but mainly because of personal reasons at home), I got separated from my group of friends and made to feel like a dunce by being put in a class that was known to be full of trouble makers, so I did as most teenagers would do and gave up on academia and chose Immediate personal experience as my concept of learning.

Kolb’s theory ” Experiential learning” is a process by which knowledge results from different combinations of grasping and transforming experiences, was what I chose to pursue by active experimentation. I worked at the age of 15, became an actress for a short while then I was off to Australia at the age of 18 and basically didn’t stop travelling and learning. In all these ventures I progressed through the four stages over and over again.

  1. Having a concrete experience followed by
  2. Observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to
  3. The formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then
  4. Used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.