Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Improve collaborative writing in a team of online learners

Online collaboration can be a pain. As a team you miss the non-verbal language on which communication is built upon for era’s, so you need to provide different instruments that make up for this lack of the usual face-2-face strong holds of communication. Once you need to write collaboratively, the power to express yourself is also limited in the digital realm.

SCoPE just finished a seminar on the topic: online collaboration. A wealth of knowledge was shared with all participants. The fact that SCOPE is an open, online environment enabling eLearning workers from all around to engage in the topics and discussions puts it right into the new direction education is taking: share knowledge in an open environment.

Janet Salmons
from vision2lead was enabling and moderating the discussion and she guided a couple of Elluminate sessions on online collaboration, you can find the links to the elluminate sessions in this wiki . All participants put in a lot of great points of discussion and gave a lot of ideas and solutions. The participant that blew my mind with the most impressive input was Marsha West of Concord.

Quick and brief overview
What can we do to improve collaborative writing in a team of learners?

Key to all collaborative work is TRUST. To enable online trust it is good practice to start with a ‘get to know one another’ moment before starting any online collaboration.
Provide clear guidelines: if anyone joins a collaborative effort, it is crucial that they know what is expected of them and how they should proceed to build a common document.

Nice ways to cope with the ‘feel’ of being part of a group by using simple language tricks:

• Address the whole group in every remark: avoid one-to-one conversations in online discussions. To do this use third person address. Don't say, "Mary, I agree with you . . . " Instead, say "I agree with what Mary has to say about . . . " (And of course build on those ideas as you respond.)
• Gather ideas together from two or three different colleagues within the team, and hold them up for comparison and consideration . . . weaving them together to extend the ideas with your own remarks, suggestions or questions. Thus more people feel involved.
• Ask inquiry level open-ended questions that encourage further exploration of a topic. Avoid making summarizing statements - they tend to be showstoppers (the same with blog posts);
• Always use bits and pieces from the post to which you are responding, so that context is provided for pushing the discussion forward and to make it easier for quick diagonal readers to follow the point you want to make.
• Use EXPRESSIVE writing or colors to emphasize your point or main focus.
• use images that support the thing you want to say (emoticons or stickmen might also enhance comprehension).

We need to make online conversations "feel" and "sound" like face-to-face ones and that feels as if we need to get to know our senses again and start exploring the way we can use them within the digital world.
I have just finished reading the autobiography of Helen Keller because I wanted to know how she coped without having ears or eyes to depend upon in conversation. She switched to tactile reading of her environment. So I am wondering how we can learn to use different senses to get to grips with the ever increasing digital world and the shift in communication?

What about the different language skills that needs to be overcome by an international group of learners or workers? Going through a non-native language like English is great, but it disadvantages a lot of people. Christian Kreutz wrote a nice post on language and the web. I hope the tower of Babel will come to effect real soon enabling all of us to talk in our native tongue.

I wonder, will we ever learn the skills needed to overcome the non-verbal communication set-back within digital communication?
Will the gap towards easier use of non-verbal language be bridged by future techniques that will allow us a f2f feel whenever, wherever?