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Posts Tagged ‘cooperative

I have been sitting on some ideas for a cooperative video conferencing tool. The ideas have been stirring in my pot for a while and the stew is still cooking.

What I am talking about? After reading this opinion piece by Jason Feiffer — the brilliant mind behind the Pessimists Archive podcast, I learnt about a prototype video conferencing tool called Around.

Video source

The video above has no sound and illustrates the simplicity and unobtrusiveness of the tool. Unlike most video conferencing tools that dominate the desktop space, participants are represented in circles. I represent this in a wireframe below.

Wireframe for Around.

Designed for laptops, Around uses auto-zoom and noise cancelling to keep each participant’s face and voice in focus [TechCrunch].

But I wondered how a tool meant for small team meetings could be used in a cooperative learning context. Instead of a didactic or teacher-dominated online meeting, how might the tool be modified to be more student-centric? I share more wireframes below for some ideas.

In my vision of the application (which I call Around and About) there are three basic layers: Participants, Shared Space (e.g., web browser), Variable (hidden behind a “hamburger” menu).

When participants enter the online classroom, they appear as circles or bubbles on the left. This is the Participants layer.

Around and About: Participants layer.

All participants and the facilitator can see the shared space (e.g., photo, video, presentation, whiteboard, etc.). Like Around, the students ”float” around the resource that the facilitator places centrally.

Around and About: Shared space.

But the real power is what lies hidden in the hamburger menu. At the moment, I can think of three components: Cooperative mode, Tools, and Settings.

Around and About: Hamburger menu that hides the Variable layer.

The Cooperative mode presents options to toggle four modes (to be illustrated later).

Around and About: Four online classroom modes.

The Tools help the facilitator decide which mode to use. Examples of Tools might be polls (grouping by choice), quizzes (grouping by evidence of learning), and free response or exit tickets. The tools do not have to be part of Around and About. They can be brought in as layers, e.g., Padlet for sharing and voting on ideas).

Around and About: Tools layer.

The Settings layer is a must because every tool has this. They might include access, rostering, tool toggles, etc.

Around and About: Settings layer.

But back to the Modes. The first is A for Automatic. Students are evenly and randomly divided into groups. In the example below, 20 students are divided into 4 groups of 5 students each.

Around and About: Automatic grouping mode.

In Manual mode, a facilitator might use a poll or quiz result to group students manually. In the example below, the facilitator uses quiz results to divide the class into two cooperative halves. One half participants in paired work (e.g., think-pair-share) while the other half cooperates in 2 groups of 5 students each.

Around and About: Manual grouping mode.

I envision that the Manual mode is enabled partly by the results or evidence shown in the Tools. Alternatively, the groups are created manually by the facilitator’s judgement. A facilitator does this by drag-and-dropping students with a computer mouse or via a touchscreen.

If a touchscreen is capable of multitouch, a facilitator can “grab” a few students simultaneously to place them in a group. The application senses the student circles by proximity and groups them. Perhaps the students can be represented by different coloured halos depending on their groups. Alternatively, a dotted line could represent the groups.

Around and About: Manual grouping mode showing how groups might be distinguished.

The Strategic mode could be used to put students “homogenous” groups, e.g., based on gender or performance bands, or it could create “heterogenous” groups to facilitate jigsaw-style learning.

Around and About: Strategic grouping mode, e.g., homogenous groups.

Around and About: Strategic grouping mode, e.g., heterogenous groups.

The facilitator can reset the class to the default state with the fourth mode, Reset.

Around and About: Reset to default whole class mode.

I am not aware of a cooperative learning tool that works the way I imagine it. Around and About takes the visual and audio focus of Around and combines it with a student-centred approach to facilitating learning.

Side note: The wireframes were created in a Google Presentation using the Portfolio template.

The end of every semester gives me time to reflect. Even though I am no longer a full time faculty member, I do this because I am still an educator of future educators.

Most times I take notes — literally in macOS Notes — of what to do differently the next semester. This semester a conversation with one future faculty member reminded me to stay the course.

A graduate student I had just evaluated on student-centred pedagogy stayed back and asked me why I insisted that higher order thinking be challenged to and attempted by groups of learners.

The simple answer was the same as what that student recalled from workshop sessions — getting students to work with one another was more engaging. I did not give that answer because I know that empowerment is more effective than engagement.

I provided a broader answer. I replied that getting students to think deeply was important individually, particularly in a university context. However, we also have a civic responsibility to prepare students for the work place.

These are the same work places that have to deal with ill-structured problems. Often workers operate in teams or groups to find or devise solutions.

Universities have to play catch-up with the work place. Faculty who claim to prepare students for the work place need to operate accordingly. That is why higher order thinking, like peer teaching and cooperative learning, are critical.

To teach is the learn twice.

I helped that learner connect dots that he did not realise went that broad and that deep. I realise that I do not do this often enough. This reflection is a reminder for me to not just take these teachable moments, but also to make them.

This semester I had to resort to something I might have done as a classroom teacher 21 years ago. I had to manage expectations with a warning prior to a cooperative learning activity.

Some context: I model and teach assorted pedagogical strategies to future faculty. One of these strategies is a variant of the jigsaw method. This is a cooperative learning activity that replaces a long and boring lecture on even more pedagogical strategies and theories.

I have done this for many semesters, but I something changed last year. During the jigsaw, a few individuals would resort to selfish behaviours. I vividly recall three individuals at separate sessions: One shopped online, another used social media to chat with people outside class, and another played a mobile game.

An outsider might baulk at the actions of these three. They are Ph.D. students who are privileged to attend a well-respected university. Most students at this level are also sponsored for their studies, so this raises the privilege ante further.

I confronted these individuals to let them know they had responsibilities to their group — in a jigsaw cooperation, they were individually accountable and yet dependent on one another.

I realised I was reacting to this instead of preventing it. So this semester I set expectations like I used to as a classroom teacher. I told my learners that I would give them a verbal warning if they engaged in selfish behaviour, and if they persisted, I would ask them to leave the class.

No one crossed that line this semester even though a few were tempted. But I do not think that it was the threat of being confronted that led to positive behaviours. I also emphasised the rationales managing one’s self for the good of a group. The social pressure to conform and cooperate did the rest.

I am evaluating the lesson plans of future facilitators. Normally I wait till the end of the semester to reflect on the common misconceptions that arise. However, critical patterns have already emerged.

One mistake is not articulating how they form student groups using pedagogical principles. Novice instructors often assume that students will form groups, know how to form different types of groups, and/or know what to do in those groups. This is not true even with learners who have worked in loose cooperative groups before. This is because context and content change the strategy for the type of cooperative work.

What might work with heterogeneous grouping in one context might not work with another class learning the same content. The second class might need different-sized groups, more homogeneous groups, or different group strategies.

I model these strategies in my workshops. Here is one example.

As my learners come from different schools in a university, I make them find peers of similar backgrounds so that they are in more homogenous groups. I get them to play an academic dating game by asking each person to write their school and teaching topic on a piece of paper. Then I ask them to use that paper sign to find birds of similar feather and to flock together. The rest of the session then looks something like this.

My design rationale is simple: My learners uncover generic cooperative and learner-centric strategies during my workshops. However, they need to apply them in specific teaching contexts. What works in one context might not work in another. So the more similar their backgrounds and shared histories, the less cognitive burden my learners have to shoulder when they unpack and repack the strategies.

There is value in using more diverse groups, of course. The cross-fertilisation of ideas when an language historian shares strategies with a theoretical physicist can be wonderful, but this is more likely to work for a group of more advanced participants.

Depending on the group of learners I have that day, I facilitate a rise above of the experience so that we analyse the design of grouping for cooperative learning. Perhaps I should not assume some groups get it and others do not. I should set aside time and space for all groups to rise to this lofty ideal.


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