Web Tools + Face Time: Recent Collaboration via Blended Learning

It’s been an interesting last few days as I and my group have been whipping up a collaborative presentation within a single week.  My group has been evaluating and summarizing the third chapter of Dr. Curtis Bonk’s book, The World is Open, in preparation for presenting it to the rest of our class. It’s been a steep curve to something that feels like proficiency. It’s been especially interesting to evaluate our group process and my own learning as it relates to the different technologies I am learning about.

First, we each had to read Chapter Three on E-Learning and Blended Learning. I found this a task in itself because I’m reading the electronic version on a Kindle app, and my preferred text and line width size renders one page of the book into at least two different pages. 49 pages x 2 = more pages. (Oh no, math already!)  I am much more of a paper-page person, so being glued to the screen for long periods of time – even if skimming – became a little wearing. I bought the electronic version of this book on purpose so I could try it out, and sure enough, I still prefer books on paper. I am, however, becoming more comfortable with navigating books on the Kindle app.

My group first started a conversation about our chapter on our class wiki page during the weekend while we were all busy with our own schedules. This classic “asynchronous” technology worked fairly well to help us start a conversation about what we felt were some of the key ideas of the chapter and ideas on how to present them. The wiki felt a little clunky as we had not set up a design protocol, but it worked well from a utilitarian standpoint. My biggest concerns were keeping up with whatever changes or comments showed up on the wiki (it did not allow us track changes, so I had to go into each section of the wiki to check), and keeping all of our group members informed. I sent a couple emails to our whole group to inform them when I had started a wiki or changed it, or to encourage those who we had not heard from yet. We started to rough out some ideas for how to divvy up the tasks, but we hadn’t really decided what we wanted to do yet.

When we met in person for our work session tonight, we had only a basic idea of what each of us thought. We spent some time face to face to hash out both the information, and how we felt about it. It felt like a good opportunity to air our ideas and qualms about the chapter, and sift through our ideas. I don’t think we could have done that as effectively online, partly because some issues may have felt too trivial to write about formally, but yet they nagged at us, and needed to be shared. Another advantage of  our face to face discussion was that I was able to feel closer and even more sympathetic to and appreciative of each group member and their perspectives. It was also fairly easy to propose different strategies and have the rest of the group give a quick response.

Once we had gone around the circle a few times proposing different structures or frameworks, inspirations, or concerns, we turned our attention to the format of our presentation. I felt we (okay, I) was having a hard time focusing on our different options. We quickly considered a number of presentation ideas, but many of them would involve either more time than we had or rely heavily on a single person. Then someone suggested a collaborative presentation program named Prezi. Within seconds they had it upon their laptop and had confirmed that we could all edit the document at the same time. Within a few more seconds, I had found the program on my laptop and had signed up while someone chose a template for us. A few moments later, I received an invite someone sent me to the document, and signed in. It was fun to see each of our icons pop up on the common document and float around as we figured out the navigation. This was simultaneous collaboration made possible by this particular web tool. Before too long, we were testing out entering text and arranging our slides. We confirmed each of our topics for the slides we’d be responsible for creating. This portion relied heavily on our face to face interaction as various people proposed different ideas in rapid succession and were confirmed or altered on the spot until we reached a consensus. Yet at the same time, we were able to set up placeholders for our content as we talked and made decisions.

We attempted to set up a time to check in via a hangout or web talk, but were stymied by our options. Skype was possible, but one needed to pay for multiple users in the same room. Google hangouts seemed ideal, until we were reminded that our college accounts did not allow us to use certain programs. None of us had set up for “Enlightenment” yet, and the old wiki would be too clunky for the quick call and response we’d need to finalize our project. We spent what felt like a long time trying to bring everyone into one Google doc using non-college accounts. I could not remember which of my passwords related to which google account (none of which played well together), and other people were having a challenging time getting in as well. This was where technology was not helping us collaborate as much as we would have liked. The frustration outweighed any benefits. I proposed that we drop our attempts as Google, and try something else. Someone else proposed that we decide some things right then, and again, within seconds, we came to agreement on that and commenced coaxing the slides into a credible arrangement.

To me, this was blended learning at its best: using face to face interactions to discuss, sort opinions, and make decisions, while using the technology to help us collaborate and collect. Creating our presentation either way by itself would have been less efficient and more frustrating to implement, especially with our time constraints due to the accelerated Summer work schedule. I’m finding it very interesting and satisfying to find the ways which work best for different tasks and scenarios.

I didn’t realize how important it was to me to connect with people in person until I started reflecting on our process. When I remarked on this, another group member told how a long-running planning group she belonged had managed to keep in touch over time and distance.  They  met a couple of times a year in person, mostly for team-building activities, and then used social media to keep in touch and work on their projects the rest of their time apart. It seems we benefit from a balance of both face to face interactions and asynchronous communication. It’s something to think about for our students.

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One thought on “Web Tools + Face Time: Recent Collaboration via Blended Learning

  1. Reflecting on your post and the discussion in class yesterday I feel like a lot of the same issues come up with group work whether you are doing it in person or online. People tend to play the same role in the group dynamic and expect the same things from the group no matter how you’re working. I really enjoy face to face time too. I am actually willing to go out of my way to make time to meet face to face. I don’t think that will change even as I learn new collaborative technologies. It’s easier to tell how someone really feels about something in person.

    It is so important to have collaborative tools that allow people to work and share at the same time. There are some technologies that are great, but they don’t lend themselves to group work.

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