Monday, 3 December 2007

Online Educa Berlin 2007: Day 2, Closing Parallel session

This last session focused on Linking Web 2.0 to Education 2.0.

Julia Jaeger (a learning consultant from a company called Common Sense) spoke about collaboration and learning between international tutors who were using open source tools. This was a blended course for a distributed group of teachers and has been delivered for over three years. They use Skype for communication, wiki for progress check, and other tools such has moodle to consolidate all the tools and resources. She outlined a number of challenges that they experienced in this programme: large number of learners and workload; complexity of course (toolbox and tasks); virtual teamwork (coordination of feedback) and a range of media and tools (global campus 21 and moodle) used. She highlighted a range of demands on tutors, including technical skills and skills of giving feedback and virtual work. Key messages (somewhat simplistic in my view) - importance of matching teams, importance of all information being in one place (moodle), clear course manual and task descriptions.

Natalie van der Wiele from ePrep Community of Practice, supported by EU FP6 funded PALETTE project. This is an association that is contributing to preparatory classes for teacher training - “Pedagogically sustainable adaptive learning through the exploitation of tacit and explicit knowledge” (an Integrated project funded under FP6 – EUR 6Mln – 14 partner CoPs). Participants are teachers in various subjects and representatives of universities. In their approach, CoP members and Palette researchers are designing tools and resources together, using a semantic wiki and a web-editor.

Bart Rienties from Maastricht University delivered a great presentation on social networks and virtual team working in Web 2.0. This talk was based on a longitudinal study of a cohort of international students in a preparatory course that Maastricht provided for students (both Dutch and international) who were going to start a study at Maastricht Uni. In this course, students work on problem-based tasks in virtual teams. Bart's presentation focused on findings from a study exploring dynamics of virtual team work.

This could be a useful approach to enhancing the rates of progression and retention of students.
When I spoke with Bart after his presentation, he was saying that they too had an issue with drop out rates of students at Maastricht. They have evaluated the effectiveness of this onboarding course in terms of impact on progression in retention – results were that only 2% dropped out later. I am looking forward to having the opportunity to invite Bart to give a seminar on his work at GCU.

Anja Johanning (MMB, Institute for Media and Competence Research in Germany) discussed how CoPs can support competence development and management, using an example of a CoP called (30,000+ membership group of mainly secretaries and office managers). She started off by talking about the definitions of CoPs (never an easy task!). My impression was that she used the term communities of practice interchangeably with the term networks. She carried out a survey of web-based CoPs, which had the following characteristics: work communities; cross-organisation boundaries; built up top down; offering professionally edited material (?); asynchronous communication (text based mainly).

Then she discussed definitions of competences (not an easy task either!) focusing on competences as skills of social systems to solve problems on their own, in a self-organised way (Erpenbeck, 2004). She outlined three groups of competences- personal, professional and social-communicative.

Her study investigated the following key questions:
  • What situations in daily life have an effect ion the usage of online CoPs?
  • Does the participation in communities enable the development of online CoPs?
  • What are the success factors of competence development within online CoPs?

She carreid out qualitative interviews with 13 members of the community – 98% females aged between 20-50 yo. No difference in usage of internet (daily), but differ in community participation (2 core members, and quite a lot in the peripheral members group).


  • A large number of users share personal information about private problems outside work and within work (e.g. conflicts with colleagues, or problems with husbands) and ask other community members for advise. I wondered if it was specific to this professional group perhaps to want to share a lot of personal information?
  • Participation in the community had an impact on competence development, in the following ways:
  • Optimisation of all three groups of competences
  • Big impact on personal competence
  • Less impact on socio-communicative competence
  • Management of competences also rather strongly impacted - building up a social network and reviewing own competences and keeping competences up-to-date
  • Strengthening of will to solve problems
  • Solving or reducing uncertainty
  • Professional competences also quite strongly impacted but not as strong as personal competences (time saving, strengthening the ability to judge situations and assess solutions)

She outlined the following success factors:

  • Time-saving
  • Trustworthiness and reliability
  • Heterogeneous competence
  • Core members
  • Guaranty of anonymity
  • Observation of netiquette
  • Maintenance of data archive
  • Overwork and under utilisation at work encourages participation

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