Flying cars, hover boards, self-tying shoe laces, Tablets, video conferencing. Back to The Future! It was one of my favourite movies as a teenager! Little did the writers of this move know just how much some of their predictions would materialise in this day and age! The one scene that stood out the most for me was Marty McFly’s business video conference with the character Needles (Douglas Needles) in Back to the Future II. I remember being so enamoured by the possibility that these two characters could engage in a face to face conversation in real time with each, whilst they were in different places. They could collaborate, discuss, resolve, roll out ideas without physically being in the same room. The manifestation of this amazing platform through Skype, Lync, video chat options on What’s AP, Adobe Connect, Blackboard Collaborate and so many other similar platforms, which is intricately woven throughout the Open Networked Learning 171 course is quite surreal.
(Dare I say this as an adult woman of 42) Living in an era where a few of that movie’s predictions have materialised, almost feels like I’m living out a teenage fantasy. Face to Face collaboration in real time, without being in the same physical space? Now that’s going Back to the Future!
I have found that the scaffolded pedagogical approach of each topic on this ONL 171 course has been an observation of our very own experiences on the course to date, as well as those who have completed other iterations. Topic 3 in particular was one that enabled me to reflect upon this social construct of a collaborative learning community and the importance of not just being a part of ‘interconnectedness’ but maintaining it for the benefit of the group as a whole.
The same maintenance would be required in social relationships and communities in real life. In the legal context, law firms are communities within themselves, where each person is required to make a meaningful contribution towards its success. Candidate attorneys and associates learn from each other and partners, and are accountable to each other for their successes and failures. The same can be translated into legal education. Drawing groups of students together from different backgrounds (race, culture and creed) into learning communities enable them to :
- Construct knowledge together.
- Be accountable to each other in the learning process.
- Mutually depend on each other in ensuring the groups success.
- Enrich each other’s understanding and knowledge.
These are also much needed skills required in the workforce. The team within such a social construct is only as strong as its weakest link. Hence all team members need to work as a cohesive, collaborate unit, drawing on the strengths of each individual in seeing the project through to fruition.
Ultimately, the sustainability of learning in communities, pivots on team members shared vision values, interest and willingness to explore learning togther. The responsibility towards the success of the community should be collectively shared, as should individual commitment. These elements should contribute towards the success of the intended collaboration and learning community as a whole.
It is irrefutable that the internet has shown great potential in enabling and enhancing cross border collaboration and learning. Collaborative learning in learning communities presents a novel approach to enhancing the quality of student learning , engagement and interaction across different cultures, races , professions, genders through an integration of academic and social support. This is extremely beneficial in augmenting peer to peer learning, more so reflective peer to peer learning.
I don’t see my shoelaces auto lacing any time soon but I am quite enthused by the fact that I can connect with colleagues in Sweden and Finland, all the way from South Africa, and work towards a common goal. I am certainly not oblivious to the fact that collaboration in learning communities is not without its flaws, however just as traditional learning has evolved into blended learning and traditional stand and deliver face to face teaching and learning is quickly evolving into collaborative learning, so too would collaborative learning evolve into a larger construct yet to be developed.
Evolution is an inherent characteristic of human development which we need to embrace in order to keep up with the changing landscape of education. If not, then, in the words of Dr Emmet Brown, ‘You are not thinking fourth dimensionally!’
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