Following overwhelming interest from members of the JISC community, we recently ran a second iteration of Designing for Collaborative Learning with 42 active participants. In line with previous feedback, a number of minor alterations were made before the start of this trial – namely with regards to the clarity of theoretical background, reduced group sizes, and the addition of optional additional tasks designed to encourage participants to practice their moderation skills.
Overall, the feedback from this second iteration has been very positive, with the main complaint (still from only two participants) being that the course is targetted more towards beginners than those who already have some experience in designing these types of online collaborative activities. It was interesting to see that, despite the type of audience that we had for this trial (e-learning professionals, senior lecturers etc.) it was still a struggle to pace the e-tivities in the most beneficial way – i.e. by ensuring that all members of the group were contributing to the e-tivity at the same time rather than posting their contributions all at once and considering their work to be complete. In attempt to combat this in this case, we decided to release each e-tivity only once the previous one had come to a close, so that participants could not rush ahead and leave their peers behind with no opportunity for discussion. While this was effective in this endeavour, feedback suggests that a number of participants (2/17) would have preferred to have been able to access all of the e-tivities earlier as they found themselves in a position where they could not contribute to one or more of the e-tivities at the appropriate time. As we have found, it has been difficult to strike the right balance, but I would still advocate the forced pacing of the e-tivities as this means that participants can feel confident that their peers are available during the same allotted time to engage in discussion. Drawing on my own experiences of online courses, seeing that a peer has made their contribution some time before I have (i.e. before it was expected) is off-putting and leaves the impression that they do not intend to look back at the posts of others; this goes against the discursive nature of these types of activities and their benefits are not achieved.
The only other comments that could perhaps be taken on board in future iterations are: 1) a request for the use of blogs as part of the course, and 2) two requests for an activity which requires participants to work collaboratively towards achieving – e-tivity 4 was in fact designed in this way, as participants were required to contribute to a collection of example ‘difficult’ discussion board posts and work together to write and agree on suitable responses. Upon reflection, this aim could have been made more transparent in the structuring of the e-tivity.
In light of this feedback, a number of minor changes were made and the course packaged as an open resource available for download from the project homepage: