‘Back to the Future’ with learning in communities…..

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 [1]:

  • 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[2]  and interaction across different cultures, races , professions, genders through an integration of academic and social support[3].  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!’

[1] Tinto, V. Learning better together: The impact of learning communities on student success in higher education. Journal of Institutional Research 9, 1 (2000), 48–53.

[1] Smith, Calvin, and Debra Bath. “The role of the learning community in the development of discipline knowledge and generic graduate outcomes.” Higher Education 51.2 (2006): 259-286.

 [3] Price, D. (2005). Learning communities and student success in postsecondary education: A background paper. New York: MDRC. Retrieved April 11, 2017 from http://www.mdrc.org/publications/418/full.pdfGoogle Scholar


Author: frombabies2lecturehalls with Neetu Chetty

I am the Program Manager of Law at the IIE Varsity College Westville campus, running the School of Law. My research explores augmenting legal education through alternate pedagogies, make it more relevant, bridge building between academia and practice. My blogs draw on my real life experiences, associations and relationships in expressing my reflections. I don't see the world through rose coloured glasses but, I do step back and see the larger picture and consequences of it. I am a mom of 3, and so you will see how I gravitate from the personal to the reflective in my writing. I like being unconventional. Unconventional makes for exciting reading, experiences, strategies and innovations. Enjoy reading my blog!

6 thoughts on “‘Back to the Future’ with learning in communities…..”

  1. Neetu, I love your storytelling! In particular now after Topic 4 I have also come to see the value of online communication – and this comes from a person who even hates speaking on the phone (I use email or WhatsApp even within the family if I cannot communicate F-2-F)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Andreas. I tend to find an analogy that people can relate to in order to explain the relevance of principles and purposes. It’s something that I do in my lectures to deconstruct complex legal principles that students struggle with. I gave to admit that this course has really stretched and challenged what J thought I knew about blended learning. It’s experimental based pedagogy has been very enlightening.


  3. You have a wonderful way of sharing your reflections. It is so interesting the concept of collaborative learning in the way in which we are doing it in this course. It certainly has made me think alot more about what learning means in a world that no longer requires four classroom walls, desks and chairs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you. I share your sentiments. It has been interesting to observe how own reactions to each new step in this course. I think that at IIE VC we have already gotten ghela recipe of ‘collaborative learning’ right. It’s time to evolve it further I to these virtual platforms, which has been happening , but perhaps one step further?


  5. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog on this topic. It highlights so many things that are so important. Shared values, ownership for input, not letting group members down. Education and a shared passion for this really brings people together, from different backgrounds and disciplines. Loved reading your post and Back To The Future…LEGENDARY!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another wonderful post from you! Thank you. You came with fun parallels on technological development and Return to the Future. You rightly point out the importance of peer support, peer critique and taking responsibility and being accountable to your peer. When these factors are in place, collaboration can flourish for the greater good of the group and community.


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