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It always takes a while for my body to get into gear when the students come back full time. Although I have never stopped work over the Easter break, the speed and intensiveness of the work is less and I think, due to having more breaks, I do eat more! Everything is back to almost full speed now and I’m back to my usual cucumber thin throughout the day – if I remember. As I eat it, I often spend my lunch five minutes, checking my feedly and tweeting out articles or collecting stories ready for my live show. It was while looking through my RSS feeds that I came across an article saying how group work actually helps us learn. But how does technology support group work? Well that is the topic of this waffle…

What kind of person were you at school? I’m only asking, because I was one of those children who was always left to last to join groups. I was probably asked to be part of things, but at my age these have been forgotten about, with only the times I was left to last being remembered. A colleague and I were talking about it just the other day when we were told to find our own partners to work with. Memories of that awful ‘Can I work with you?” question came flooding back. I even joke about it with students when I ask them to get into groups and I still see people communicating across the room, gesturing with their fingers, forming that initial – “me and you…together” group bonding.

Once groups have been established there can be some disadvantages about working as a group, although overall I agree with the article. But I started to think about the benefits that technology brings to group work, as well as some of its downfalls and I thought it would be worth just spending a moment to engage with these.

  • The more the merrier – Anything more than two people and probably less than seven is recognised as a group. Essentially, the group allows more minds, comments and questions to be involved within the learning promoting both interaction and reflection. Of course, the more people involved within discussions, the more diverse the range of comments and views being shared. Whenever I am having a think about a topic, it is often worth talking to someone else about it, not for all the answers, but just to hear their point of view. Technology allows the initial group to be extended to involve more and more people. Online discussion forums should encourage more people to become involved within the discussion point and to share their views and opinions, as well as allowing your own views and ideas to be challenged. I like that feeling when I read a response and have to openly say – I’ve never thought of it like that – humbling, but interesting. Although many people associate discussion forums as the epicentre of group work within technology, with social media this is just one starting point. Twitter forms an essential starting point now, with initial thoughts being tweeted and comments/responses asked for. In a similar way, Facebook, both personal and group pages, (gasp, shock, horror – I mentioned Facebook on a professional blog!) can allow for initial thoughts and or views to be posted with people adding their own comments and links, or just using the ‘Like’ button to show their agreement. Of course, both these platforms also provide the networks to share these ideas allowing people both nationally and internationally to become part of the ‘group’. Three to six people is a manageable group size for working in a room, when working across the internet, the manageable group size is probably unlimited.

  • Think before you post – When I have something to say, I have this annoying habit of just saying what I think. My mum always used to tell me to think and then speak, but sometimes my brain is just not quick enough and it just comes out. I’m that sort of person who just says probably what everyone else is thinking but dare not say it – or have decided it would be wise not to say it…I sometimes hate my brain. When working in a group it requires you to participate and engage with the discussion and learning. This can be very difficult depending on the group composition. I know, for example, that when I am in a group with a bunch of professors (What is the collective noun for professors? – surely not bunch) – I feel that I should keep quiet and that my views might not be as valid as theirs. I also find, that I do benefit from not actually contributing there and then. I like to go away, think about it and then present my response. Group work using technology supports both of these points. Titles, qualifications and published materials are rarely visible from the persons avatar which means that everyone appears to be equal in that sense. Within any discussion challenging someone at our own level of learning is often more desirable. Providing responses on forums, Facebook posts or twitter, also allows you time to formulate your response, as well as checking your information before posting. It allows for a more in depth and often informed response, something which is not always possible within the initial discussion. The location of the discussion also impacts on the likelihood of responses. People are more likely, I think, to ask questions and present answers on Facebook and Twitter, rather than contributing to forum on a formal/professional page. I often consider this with my own forums on this page – within the gaming arenas students are more than willing to present their views, however, within ‘educational’ arenas this seems to be less likely to happen. Any idea why?

  • Record and Connect – Time management and tasks are something which I like to indulge in. I like routines and task lists and, after reading Getting Things Done by David Allen I am always capturing things and asking for actions in meetings. When you consider meetings, minutes are recorded and shared after with these actions identified and allocated to people. When working within a group, we often ask the learners to produce meeting logs. Although some of these, I hope, are actually created at the time of the meeting, I’m sure that others are done the night before to meet the requirement. Minutes are merely a record of the event, not being able to realistically capture the enough or sometimes the vigour of the discussion. Technology can support this with all the points of views which are shared and voiced being recorded. These can be returned to at a later date to be discussed further or engaged with. With replies, micro discussions can actually be recorded as well, with small points being discussed as well as the main point. When participating with the @LTHEchat, sorry been busy lately on a Wednesday night so have not been able to contribute, often sub discussions are created away from the main point using the reply functionality of twitter. With technology capturing and storing all the discussion meeting logs, and indeed minutes, become unnecessary.

  • Apparently, I have this reputation within the mathematics module that I don’t like worksheets. This is actually incorrect. What I don’t like is when there is no other form of resources used apart from worksheets, or when worksheets are used ineffectively. Group work should take many forms, both in ‘real life’ and ‘virtually’. With the increased pressures on everyone’s time, sometimes it is not possible to engage with every discussion we would like to. This is when the timelessness of technology can be supportive, with the discussion being engaged with when people have the time. As ever, a balanced approach is recommended but, and this is something I hope does materialise, remember that technology is non-judgemental so be confident to engage with those online discussions in all learning environments. And, if a comment of reply is posted that is – shall we say – less than supportive, then do what I do with comments. Read, reflect and then move on there are, remember, just one person’s opinion and not the definitive answer.

    I look forward to hearing your comments and ideas, please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.

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