Working in a collaborative online environment If one poses the question “Why is this important” there are a number of answers: some obvious, others, less so. Financial. It’s becoming more problematic to bring people together, given the pressures on departmental and institutional budgets. Time. How much is productive; how much spent travelling to a meeting? Participants. Where are they from? How select is the group? How inclusive – or exclusive? Participation. How open is the meeting? Does everyone have the opportunity to contribute? Control. In whose hands is the ultimate edit and published version? Access. Is it open – inclusive – or closed – exclusive? Dissemination. Are the conclusions freely available? Progression. Are the proceedings an ongoing conversation?
Using technologies The theory and practice underlying MirandaMods are described as ‘Supercharging Streamed Media’ (Cych, 2009).
Streamed during the session and archived
The Twitter stream
The Chat stream (See Flashmeeting & Google Hangouts
Links contributed to the maps, Twitter streams and Chat streams
The term ‘unconference’ is a generic term for an informal conference among peer professionals, who come together to set their agenda and determine the format and content of their conference, rather than having to accept the more formal agenda of traditional conference committees and organisers. Participants are seen as equals, regardless of status, culture and nationality. The unconference mode of informal learning has recently been modified by professional educators from MirandaNet in a version called a MirandaMod. In these events a wide range of education professionals choose a theme for a face-to-face meeting. Others join in across national boundaries, using a range of such digital communications as video conferencing, microblogging and collaborative concept maps. The technologies used – whether laptops, smartphones, desktop computers or Netbooks – enable people to participate from a range of locations. Some lead participants set the tone in five-minute talks, usually without presentation software, and further contributions can be selected by the chairperson to achieve a balance in participation between teachers, researchers and teacher educators. Many of the educators in MirandaNet are interested in exploring the theories and the pedagogies underpinning their teaching practice, which means that those pursuing postgraduate studies find the debate merging with their formal learning. These MirandaMods, therefore, provide an innovative extension to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) where professionals collaborate to manage their own learning agenda. This online and virtual social interaction was first recorded face-to-face in the process of building ‘communities of practice’ as a means of informal learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Braided Learning theory (Haythornthwaite, 2007; Preston 2008; Preston and Cuthell 2011) tracks the informal dynamic knowledge creation in the collaborative contexts of MirandaNet and MirandaMods, as participants move from textual debate in a conventional mailing list to video conferencing, micro blogging contributions and collaborative concept maps. This collaborative technology creates a liminal space – a term drawn from anthropology that describes a rite of passage, in which a person moves from one state of being to another. In the MirandaMod communities participants are observed to be transformed in this liminal space by acquiring new knowledge, a new status and a new identity in the community. If learning is to be successful, this change is of critical importance. Whilst remote and informal learning is largely is what has been understood about mobile learning, the concept can now be extended to include these informal spaces in which learning takes place – the liminal spaces that those who push the boundaries of digital possibilities now inhabit intellectually (Cuthell, Preston, Kuechel and Cych, 2009).
ICT provides a framework and tools for users not only to construct their own knowledge (constructivism) as a result of interacting with their environment (social constructivism), but also to actively engage in the process of constructing knowledge for their learning community (communal constructivism). Holmes, B., Tangney, B., FitzGibbon, A., Savage, T. (2001) Communal Constructivism: Students constructing learning for as well as with others. In: Proceedings of the 12th International Conference of the Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE 2001), pp 3114-3119. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. Charlottesville, VA, USA, March 2001.
Collaborative technology creates a liminal space – a term drawn from anthropology that describes a rite of passage, in which a person moves from one state of being to another. Participants are observed to be transformed in this liminal space by acquiring new knowledge, a new status and a new identity in the community. This change is of critical importance if learning is to be successful. Whilst remote and informal learning is largely is what has been understood about mobile learning, the concept can now be extended to include these informal spaces in which learning takes place – the liminal spaces that those who push the boundaries of digital possibilities now inhabit intellectually (Cuthell, Preston, Kuechel and Cych, 2009). The liminal spaces bring together processes that can be described as Bricolage (Levi Strauss, 1962), in which people build new knowledge from what is at hand. The liminal spaces – embedding rites of passage, with people moving from one state of being to another – were three-layered multiverses incorporating a physical space, the virtual space of trance and dream and a visual space of representation: paintings left behind on cave wall; artefacts. Shamans and creatures from Myth entered these spaces, left behind their constraining present and found their identities shifting and changing. They brought back to those unable to cross with them (their communities) messages to guide them in their daily life. The shamanistic ability to shift time, shift place and shift shape linked the grounded earth world with fluid visions to guide their future. So, with the tools of collaborative technologies and knowledge building, participants are observed to be transformed by acquiring new knowledge, a new status and a new identity in their community. Liminality brings with it a sense of power and possibility that is in part a release from prior constraints (temporal; spatial; personal; professional) and in part a reflection of the autonomy engendered by the de-stratification of existing professional power relationships of learning. The conventional ecosystem of learning is based on the separation of home, the institution (school, college, university), neighbourhood, work: all of these are bound into a system. This system operates the constraints of age, class, money and expectations, all of which act as gatekeepers for the system. In contrast, the liminal spaces that we inhabit and within which we work are everywhere, and nowhere. Reference Cuthell J. P.; C. Preston, L.Cych, T. Keuchel (2009) iGatherings: from professional theory and practice to praxis in work based teaching and learning. WLE Centre, Institute of Education, University of London http://www.wlecentre.ac.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=343&Itemid=85
In the Physical Space There is (usually) a Chairperson, who orchestrates contributions from people in the space, as well as those operating in the Online Space, supported by the FlashMeeting supervisor. The social greeter will have coordinated all those present. The technical crew could consist of the film crew (one camera operator and possibly one sound person); a people director (someone who orchestrates people’s movements and utterances and reminds people about the technical kit that is being used); a video and sound mixer; a technician and a remote stream observer providing feedback. These will also be participants in the process. In fact, the majority of participants are involved in the technicalities, as well as contributing and learning. In the Online Space Those participants in the online space will include connectivity management: this may fall to one person or, better, be distributed, with Tweets being sent out at appropriate opportunities in the discussion. Another participant will be the Mind Map Manager; another, a remote stream observer providing feedback to the technical crew in the physical space. Then there will be participants in a FlashMeeting (or Elluminate, or whatever other platforms may be used). Many of these participants will also be on Twitter or on other social media. An important aspect of the online space is the provision for asynchronous participants, who can access the website that contains links to the wiki, the video streams, the mind map, the chat documents and the replay and transcript of the FlashMeeting session. In the Representational Space This space is inhabited by participants who may be either synchronous (these may also be operating in both the physical and online spaces) or asynchronous participants: the Mind Map Manager, the map makers and a wider audience (again, both synchronous and asynchronous) that can also include people on Twitter and other social media. Binding all of these spaces together will be a post-production video and web manager – who may be a single, or collaborative, entity. In this way the event, its processes and the learning will exist in yet another temporal and virtual space for asynchronous use.
The toolkit In a perfect world the team producing a MirandaMod would have a complete range of equipment. Our world is less than perfect, and operates with far less than this: 1 or 2 good digital cameras with proper light and sound plus proper batteries A camera to save to SD card A sound mixing desk and radio mikes for everyone, plus PA system An always-on good broadband connection An on-site control booth
Operating in a multilayered liminal space requires a complex skill set that changes depending on the participants, the venue, the time available and the equipment.
A step-by-step guide to working in a collaborative online environment.
A visual environment, Mindmeister, Twitterfall, Storify
A Virtual Space, Flashmeeting, Google Hangouts, Twitter
A Physical Space
A chairperson or meeting manager
An Archive, Storify, Flashmeeting, Google Hangout
A Video Stream, Ustream, Google Hangouts, Flashmeeting
A Chat Stream, Twitter, Flashmeeting, Google Hangouts
A Transcript, Storify, Flashmeeting, Google Hangouts
The future of learning series (1) Schools and Schooling in the Digital Age
The future of learning series (2) Integrating 21st century skills into the classroom
The future of learning series (3) Assessing the value of physical and virtual spaces in enriching learning.