In this chapter I will discuss some of the main issues arising from online collaboration, through the presentation of a methodological model of a post-graduate course based on online collaboration. The model was developed over the last ten years, and implemented at the Laboratory of Educational Technology (LTE) of the University of Florence, with the aim of promoting effective online collaborative learning groups.
Critical Issues Faced By Online Group Work
The theme of networked collaborative learning has received a lot of attention in these last years (Calvani, 2005; Calvani & Rotta, 1999; Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye, & O’Malley, 1996; Koschmann, 1996; Roschelle & Teasley, 1995; Scardamalia & Bereiter 1992; Strijbos & Martens, 2001; Trentin, 1998). However, as noted earlier, collaboration is not an easy activity. Studies on face-to-face group work emphasize that there are some widespread preconceived ideas related to the theory and practice of group work (Quaglino, Casagrande, & Castellano, 1992). One of the most common is the belief that it is enough for a group of people sharing a common interest to receive work assignments and to make them necessarily work together. Instead, a group should be considered as a complex entity and a converging point for a variety of needs which can be either individual (security, identity, esteem, self-esteem), or collective (maintenance and reaching an objective, shared memories, sense of belonging), or institutional (obtaining economic and/or moral results, developing innovations and human resources). Good management, therefore represents an adequate response to the complex whole of needs at play.
Emotive dynamics too, play an important role. Group activity may be deviated by particular mental activity with strong emotional connotations. Conflict, for example, in the relational life of groups experience is a clashing between opposite forces which are expressed through antagonism, and cause long or short-term paralysis which take a great deal of energy and time to resolve.
Several dimensions can be distinguished in the life of a group, namely, an “inner” dimension (individual’s myths and emotions), a “real” dimension which refers to what the group effectively does and produces such as interactions and documents; a “representational” dimension as related to cultural and cognitive models which give life (cultural life of the group, models, stereotypes); and finally, a “social” dimension, related to the sense of institutional belonging.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Virtual Communities: For Howard Rheingold (1993), «Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace. » They have been extensively investigated (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002) because of the many possible roles of the participants, the sophisticated technological platforms they may adopt and the variety of shapes they take (Trentin, 2004)
Identity: An elusive concept, best explained in the cited PRIME dictionary: «Identity can be explained as an exclusive perception of life, integration into a social group, and continuity, which is bound to a body and shaped by society. This concept of identity distinguishes between “I” and “Me” […]: “I” is the instance that is accessible only by the individual self, perceived as an instance of liberty and initiative. “Me” is supposed to stand for the social attributes, defining a human identity that is accessible by communications and that is an inner instance of control and consistency. » (Pfizmann et al., 2006, p. 22)
Metaverse: A term out of the book “Snow Crash” by Neal Stevenson, it has been widely adopted to describe virtual online words. These new spaces have been existing mainly as gaming places, but a new generation is expected based on new technologies, such as the ones embedded in Croquet (http://www.opencroquet.org/). Open Croquet is a recent, revolutionary open source platform conceived to support 3D immersive, highly visual collaboration spaces. It is a joint software development between the University of Minnesota at Madison and VPRI (ViewPoints Research Institute) in California. The people working at this project are an exceptional group of inventors belonging to the ICT world, among which there is Alan Kay, inventor of the Smalltalk language, ancestor of all windowing OS’s, leading at VPRI
Federated Identity Management: An approach by which a set of service providers, explicitly linked by a reciprocal trust relation (a circle of trust), agree to support a scheme where the user does not have to establish his/her identity at every attempt to access a different service, but does so just once (also known as SSO, Single Sign-On). In the “circle”, providers have two profiles, the service provider and the identity provider. The service provider will accept as valid identifiers those of a user, which has been previously authenticated by an identity provider, so that the user will transparently access the service without having to do an authentication step