Posts Tagged ‘collaboration techniques’

There is a teacher in everyone of us. It is useful to acknowledge that a whole lot of things are learnt without someone actually teaching us, and that perhaps someone is right now learning from us without our even knowing it. On the Internet, this is possible at a very large scale. We learn from other people’s review of the computers we buy or the places we visit. We learn to dress by looking at what others wear and talk as we hear others speak. We learn from reading a blog post or the fact that a guru likes a particular URL or that an expert just followed an innovative startup’s twitter handle.

So when practicing teachers and real experts, who really do all of this teaching and coaching professionally, start making their actions, their learning, their idiosyncrasies public, a whole lot of people will end up learning even if they are not in their class. Perhaps their class will also learn much more if they share the guru’s network, the guru’s learning trails across the World Wide Web.

As teachers, it is really about how we learn and how we share how and what we learn. It is not learning how to use technology (which is an important enabler, but not an end in itself), but how to embrace a culture of open-ness, sharing and a much heightened consciousness that we are professional performers of a learning process; that as teachers we are actually enacting the role of expert learners.

For that, we have to re-envision the way we learn. We are a product of much the same system that we subject our children to. We bind our students by its same constraints. We are steeped in the routines that we have perfected in years we have taught the same curriculum again, again and again. We cannot change ourselves by thinking in the same ways the system has taught us. We must re-envision our own futures, standing outside the systems of today.

Why it is so phenomenally important to re-learn how to learn in today’s networked environments? Its possible because, invariant to scale, the network has opened up hitherto unknown opportunities to teach and learn. Not that you can now learn something that was previously hidden from you, but that you can now learn and teach in ways that may be much more than the classroom we are so used to. In fact the classroom analogy does not even exist in the networked environment (the closest it gets is “clusters” or “swarms”) – the network is not a class.

Since networks are not classes, you cannot apply traditional teaching-learning techniques to it (or atleast not as-is). So an entire paradigm becomes near-obsolete when one thinks of networked learning. Which is not what the xMOOCs would have you to believe, but that is entirely their loss.

If you can think network, you can break away from the traditional mode. It is what we must do. Case in point. If there is no class, who are you teaching? Answer: You are teaching a cluster of nodes (students) bound to you in some manner (through your institution perhaps), but they are really part of many different networks as well. By connecting to those students and promoting transactions between them, helping them add new connections to their network, and leveraging their existing networks, you will build upon a fabric of learning, much like a weaver or an Atelier. You will help them break away from the monotone of traditional systems, help them celebrate chaos and let them build their capability to learn.

When you become that networked teacher, you will contribute to a scale of learning that will be unbelievable. What you will do within your own small networks, may become amplified or contribute to global knowledge about learning and teaching. Just the sheer scale of your teaching and learning, your networks, the types of interactions, will fast transcend the power of any certificate or degree the traditional system may have to offer.

The revolution is here. It is you. Seize the day.

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This is getting to be very interesting. I was just trying to get up to speed with Graph theory and networks, ended up reading a great article by Valdis Krebs and going through other related articles.

One of the things I was able to put a finger on as I read through the mass of statistical measures on networks/graphs, was that nodes in a social network are not the same e.g. boundary spanners may be critical in a network because they connect groups of nodes, however, they may often be the limiting factor in the growth of the network itself.

I am guessing that perhaps no two neurons would ever behave in the absolutely the same way. But this is perhaps a question left for future research.

But, importantly, think of communication and knowledge flow being inhibited by many frictions. These frictions could be at the nodes or “in the pipes” and play an important role in the efficiency of the flow or the ability to make connections.

Makes me remember the game of Chinese Whispers – the entire group of people spread out in a linear chain with the leader whispering a phrase in the ear of the first person in the chain, exhorting him to repeat the same in the ear of the person next to him and so on. By the end of the chain, the message had distorted many times over!

As another example, navigating a Johari window in a group takes serious and sustained effort. It also requires subsuming many frictions and the capability of the group to be guided and facilitated.

Measuring the strength of ties is important but difficult in practice – e.g. how do you measure trust in a network, if trust fosters effective collaboration? Then again, how does one counter/accomodate human and technological sources of friction  among others while measuring strength of ties?

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I have been thinking and researching about how to enhance traditional virtual classroom platforms. The obvious improvements over the years have been in standardized tools such as whiteboarding and application sharing, or in terms of modalities such as quizzes, surveys and breakout rooms, or in being able to accommodate audio, video and chat streams.

Not so obvious are the improvements in terms of providing tools to the instructor to teach a particular subject effectively. From what I have seen so far, at the content level instructors and/or students could benefit immensely from adding generic or subject specific online interaction – sort of bringing  multi-user games/simulations/interactions into the virtual classroom. Of course, traditional web/desktop applications on which teams could collaborate through application sharing and control, are still very useful in many situations.

However, what I am referring to is to bring structured and creative solutions into the virtual classroom platform itself.

An example of this could be in Sales. When it comes to selling a product, you would need to not only understand what the product is (etc) but you would also need to profile your customer needs in order to suggest the best product for her requirements. When we focus on developing this skill in a virtual classroom session using a simulation or game that multiple participants can use to profile the customer and implement sales techniques effectively, facilitated by an instructor/expert, virtual classrooms can come alive.

These augmentations could be built into the platform, but I would rather that the platform allows plug and play integration and service providers continuously build and innovate to come up with new ways of collaboration.

Obviously, this need not only be restricted to a simulation or game built using Flash or Silverlight, but could be one or more Web Services that could be integrated. These applications could leverage the virtual classroom context – users, presenters, groups, participation data etc. For example, imagine adding emoticons (I think elluminate has those) or blogs or tagging services to a virtual classroom session.

As a corollary, since many organizations like to record and store these sessions for future consumption by its learners, the same web services could be used by individual learners or formal/informal groups  to make the recording come alive, perhaps reliving the live session sans the instructor.

I believe that this kind of an augmentation is really important to consider as more and more organizations move towards the virtual delivery platforms. I would love to hear examples of other platforms that have adopted similar approaches and augmented their platforms. Please do let me know if you have come across any.

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