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Analysis and Proposals

Analysis and Proposals

To accomplish effective collaborative learning and to achieve course’s purposes and goals, it is important to pay attention to the working methodology (Barkley 2005, 43). Awareness of the learners’ different skill levels and expertise, advises to put those assets to work, collaboratively, for the benefit of all parties. The instructor must explore closely the extent of these differences, the expectations, needs and wishes of each participant though surveys.

Forming pairs that would match a skilled student with a novice would be the next step. To motivate both parties, technology can be used: first, in monitoring their progress, they could compose a video journal with observations, comments, suggestions and asynchronic communication when in need. The facilitator could brief the students on the availability of technical choices and software that is available for the pairs to use in the project. On one hand to work together and on the other hand to achieve the gal sets by the course: the creation of a project such as a virtual exhibition or an electronic pictorial portfolio. The facilitator can also brainstorm live online with the students on the type of plan they could make and the options that the most advanced students could also propose to the group (www.edistorm.com, www.bubbl.us, www.zoho.com, and the very www.prezi.com). In the example, the expert would be learning in the doing and teaching the novice and the beginner by the association and lessons that derive from working with someone who is already advanced, both towards a common goal. More people would diffuse the effort, promote asymmetric contributions and distract the bonding process of the pairs. Two people are enough to connect and one to one experiences seem the most efficient. This way focus can be kept in the task and not in the team management.  As suggested above, this is a pattern that will allow the experienced to transfer knowledge, and learn in the making (activity theory), feeling important, and independent; the novice will necessarily have to catch up according to the directions of the advanced students. In the meantime the facilitator coaches - this is why the facilitator needs expertise in conflict management too - these interactions and bridges gaps in communication, instructs in technical aspects, and fills in the gaps, motivates the couples and provides with vision: for example: what to do with the outcome of the project, maybe a local contest?

Being a part of collaborative learning, we decided to use reciprocal teaching as a main teaching method.  
It is important to keep in mind that extensive research has determined that technology-based collaborative activities do little to improve academic performance of students per se, especially to those who possess no social interaction competences and lack interest or feel disconnected from learning processes. Engagement seems the most affected by closeness and small teams connected by a goal.

Pairs as a starting point

Creating pairs

Collaborative learning groups can vary according to group’s learning purposes, activity and to the length of time students will work together. In this case, the most suitable way to work is to use a group type called base groups. Base groups’ purpose is to achieve the course’s goals, stay together the entire time and to share support and encourage among group members. (Barkley 2005, 43-44)

So that the group’s learning would be effective collaborative work, groups’ size should be small: working in large groups can deteriorate group’s cohesion when the purpose is to learn collaboratively. Moreover, large groups can be threatening to its members which in turn might lead to member spectatorship. (Knights, 1993) To maximize the group member’s involvement, to share own expertise and to build confidence and trust in one another, working in pairs is the most suitable option in this scenario. (Barkley 2005, 44)   

The thinking of using novice and expert -pairs in this scenario is based on the idea of Lev Vygotsky's ZPD and heterogeneous group work. Heterogeneous group is a one major educational idea of collaborative learning and suits well to adult education: working with diverse students exposes individuals to people with different backgrounds, ideas and experiences. (Barkley 2005, 45) Also, learning by discussing in pairs is an effective teaching tool (Barkley 2005, 101). Like Davis B. G. notes, “A good give-and take discussion can produce unmatched learning experiences as students articulate their ideas, respond to their classmates’ point, and develop skills in evaluating the evidence of their own and others’ positions”(Davis 1993, 63).   

Above-mentioned Vygotsky's learning theory includes the idea of scaffolding: an expert assists a novice to promote deeper learning. In this scenario, for example a pair with students where one is an expert in photoe diting and novice in photography, and one with expertise in photographing and low knowledge of photo editing, the students are both experts and novices in their own areas of expertise and also able to teach each other and learn from each other. In both ways, students' knowledge and learning will increase in to a deeper lever either as in the form of new information (from expert to novice) or as in the form of new perspectives and ideas for problem solution (from novice to expert).   Supportive technology can improve communication such as suggested above as well as the creation of a common web based journal.

Reciprocal teaching

So that the teaching method would be effective and suitable for adult learners, the traditional teaching methods are not always the best option. When teaching students with different experiences in life, learning and teaching, a good way to share and develop own knowledge is to let students be both in a role of student and teacher.

Reciprocal teaching offers adult learners to be active in a learning situation, to give and receive knowledge as they help each other to understand and solve problems. Also when attempting to understand the subject well enough to coach others, students enhance their own learning, which means that students are interdependent with each other so that learning would develop. Since the teaching and learning is reciprocal between the novice and the expert and the students depend upon their performances as peer teachers, such group roles as “easy riders” are also discouraged (Barkley 2005, 133).

As with every other way of teaching, there are some small problems concerning working with pairs. According to Knights (1993), splitting the group into smaller subgroups may leave the members feeling that they are missing on things that are happening elsewhere. The students can also be uncomfortable when the opinions vary significantly, and feel pressure about the possible tension which comes from disagreement (Barkley 2005, 45).

Self-regulated learning (SRL)

During a learning process students construct their learning with their internal and external environments' information. When working in expert-novice pairs, an expert is constantly monitoring, activating, controlling and reflecting his/hers knowledge to make peer-teaching possible, and a novice is using the same cognitive skills to learn, evaluate and criticize the new information he/she is receiving. By discussing, both students are getting and giving feedback to each other which helps them to evaluate their own learning and knowledge (Pintrich 200, 452,472).

Teacher's role

As the working is done mostly in pairs or small groups, this begs the question on the teacher's role in the course. We would suggest a non-teacher-centered teaching method. This means that the role of the teacher differs from the usual scenario where the teacher stands in front of the class and teaches the students basic information about a subject. With the subject of photography, there is not that much tacit knowledge to award this way of teaching.

As said before, most of the teaching is done through activities and reciprocal teaching in which the teachers is the coach or facilitator, and thus responsible for the pairs effective communication while the works success should rest on the participants (in contrast to Knights, 1993). This leads to the conclusion that the teacher’s role is to instruct and guide students and not to teach, for instance, to give advice on how to solve problems, suggests methodologies, technology and improve the formulation of strategies and plans, logistics, etc. The instructor has metaknowledge and holds no strict answers to the challenges that each pair could face to realize their task.

Discuss & brainstorm