Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Collaboration tools and securing engagement

So the latest wheeze for getting students to engage with information technology with a view to networked learning concluded the other day.
The assignment for this module is a group presentation and so I give a talk about online collaboration tools. The audience has 'mixed' ability when it comes to information technology skills or any desire to use computers at all. Re. IT, this works well because the groups usually have at least one person who knows what they're doing and the others are in a good position to learn a lot from their peers.
The NMC requires undergraduate nurses to accumulate 4,600 programme hours (divided into 2,300 hours of practice and 2,300 hours of theory). Students sign a register in lectures and this, at least, gives them a reason to come. However, in an attempt to provide flexibility, I tell students that they need not attend the IT-lab workshop as long as they participate online. More importantly, no register is taken in the workshop, their register hour is logged by dint of their participation online, whether they attend the workshop or not. This usually means that I get to see the people who really want to come, and the rest can 'learn by doing', or merely demonstrate their ability at a time/place of their choosing.
Following my lecture, as the students were working in groups, I asked for one member of the group to reply to a discussion board I had set up, explaining what collaboration tools they had chosen to use and why. I asked them to return at the end of the module to reply individually to their group's original thread. It was this latter post that got them the 'workshop theory hour'. Specifically, I asked them to reflect back on their experiences with their group's chosen tool-set. About half the group did this, some of the comments being slightly perfunctory. But there was a good smattering of important lessons learned...
Some students had tried to use Dropbox for collaborative authoring of a presentation but this had caused problems because you can't really share the same file at the same time and someone needed to take charge with organising the shared space. One or two groups had tried to use Zotero on its own, uploading files to the shared library etc. but, unsurprisingly, they found this clumsy. Another group had shunned the perceived complexity of Dropbox and set up a dedicated Hotmail account, then shared the username and password with the group. They had found this to be rather messy, with multiple copies and versions of the same presentation going around and around. Facebook was popular for communication but was found to have very limited support sharing files.
So the overall message in this for the students was that they needed a range of tools to collaborate effectively. I hope the number of them will have learned how to complement the various component parts of a given activity with an appropriate tool. This is  foundational 'working knowledge' for accomplishing anything with IT and something my colleague Joe Nicholls has been banging on about for some time...
Here's a prezi I'm building to guide students:

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