Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. It suggests a form of group learning in which learners achieve a deeper level of knowledge generation, while moving from independence to interdependence (Pallof & Pratt, 2005). Discussion forms an integral part of the learning process, and I find the description by Johnson and Johnson (2005) of the foundation of collaboration being:”When I succeed, we succeed”, particularly apt for the process of community that is built through this learning method.
The process of learning together as online students removes the element of loneliness, and rather offers the opportunity of trying out new ideas, and receiving constructive feedback from other members of the group. This may be viewed as social learning and provides the chance for reflection and importantly, the development of critical thinking skills.
It is the benefit of developing critical reasoning skills as part of collaborative learning that has piqued my interest, as this is an essential outcome for law graduates as identified by the Law Society of South Africa. Going forward I would support the introduction of more collaborative learning opportunities for our law students, in the preparation of their assignments and other group projects. The pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning including the accommodation of diverse learning styles and cultures, developing an innate ability to interact with various sources of knowledge and being able to transfer the shared and networked learning experience to a team-based environment (Chapman, Ramondt and Smiley, 2005) will be advantageous to law students, particularly when they go out into industry.
Various strategies (as suggested by Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. 2009) can be incorporated into any courses where I act as an online facilitator, to improve the quality of group collaboration and increase the prospect of student participation. These include:
- the provision of scaffolding in the instructional design, to build skills
- setting clear guidelines to ensure optimal performance by all team members
- creating a sense of community within the collaborative group
- ensuring my availability for feedback and guidance, at all stages
- utilising topics of mutual interest and relevance to everyday life
- allowing sufficient time to complete projects successfully
Law students need to realise the value of peer to peer learning in their conceptualisation of legal terms and solving of complex legal scenarios. The “takeaway” for me from this topic is that I need to pose questions in an online environment which will stimulate deep exploration of a topic and the development of the students’ critical reasoning skills. Students need to expect constructive feedback from their peers so that points of connection can be created, and interdependence established. Ultimately this will assist them in developing their oral and communication skills, essential for their chosen profession. The potential for collaborative learning leading to the students’ ability to engage in a tranformative learning process, I see as a critical step towards student engagement in lifelong learning.
Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).
Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an online learning context. In The theory and practice of online learning (pp. 343-395). Athabasca university press
Palloff , R. and Pratt, K.(2005) Building online learning communities.