Friday Thinker on collaborative learning

by Catriona Havard

Last Friday I was invited to do the Friday thinker on the Open Universities’ Social Sciences Facebook page. I really enjoy doing the Friday Thinker spot, as it gives me the opportunity to talk directly to students, hear they views and comments, and also answers any questions they have. Usually, when I take on the Friday Thinker, I pick a topic from my own research such as eyewitness memory, or face recognition, but this time I decided to do a something a little different. I thought I would use this opportunity to see if I could talk to students about their learning experiences that could then be used directly in the creation of our new module DD310. One of the issues we have been thinking about is online activities and forums, so I decided to ask about students experiences of collaborative learning and group work with the modules they have studied already, or at work. I was specifically interested in situations where they felt the group work was beneficial, so that we could incorporate something similar, or alternatively when perhaps it didn’t work do well, but there could have been a way to make things run more effectively.

When I posted up my question, I did not expect the wealth of comments and feedback I received. There was a real mixture of experiences, although there were several students that had experienced very similar situations and could offer great advice on how they thought collaborative learning could be more effective. Many student felt frustrated that the forums were too quiet and that other students did not participate, or only participated to the bare minimum. This then started a discussion about whether there should be compulsory participation as that could be effective in making more students participate. However, other students felt that they would be put off by compulsory participation, with one student even suggesting that this would be torture! Some students also felt that it wasn’t fair in collaborative forums that their TMAs marks could be effected by other students they were working with, especially for level 3 modules where the module score can influence the overall degree classification.

There was also a big discussion about giving feedback to others students, and how some students didn’t feel they were best placed to do this, whilst others were worried that it could introduce bias and prejudice. This seemed to suggest that students might need guidance on how to give appropriate feedback to one another. Maybe teaching the feedback sandwich approach might be useful for students to learn, where positive comments come initially followed by constructive criticism and then fishing on a positive note. There was also an issue about timings, and that the OU flexibility means that people can work at different speeds, and some can be ahead of others and waiting for forums to open of students to start participating , whilst others students might leave everything to the last minute and post in a forum at the last opportunity. This seems to suggest that any forum activities linked to TMAs need to be time limited, and open for a specific period before the TMA, but closing to ‘read only’ on a date that it gives everyone enough time to incorporate discussions or ideas into the assessment.

There were some positive comments, where students had felt that they benefited from forums, for instance learning how people see specific issues in a certain way, or interpret things differently one other. After all, much of what we study in Psychology is how people see, remember or experience the world in a different (or similar) way to one other, suggesting we should all be able to benefit from collaborative learning. Many of the encouraging comments about collaborative learning, described tasks that involved either some role play (client /therapist, police/witness), a debating element with students taking ‘for’ or ‘against’ stances, or creating some shared resource such as a webpage/presentation. I think that these comments have certainly given me some great ideas to take back to our module team to think about how we can develop an online collaborative learning task that is hopefully engaging, and beneficial to students. I would just like to thank again all the students who took part in the Friday Thinker as I really enjoyed all the discussions.

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