I realize on the surface these two appear to have absolutely nothing to do with one another. However, in the process of reflecting on one’s learning experience they both offer “perspective”. Much like one’s perspective may change with the turning of the kaleidoscope, perspectives change from person to person. As for road trips, they have always helped me gain perspective. While some may possess nothing but distain for the seemingly endless hours of driving, it has always been an exercise I have used to think through circumstances and ultimately gain perspective of challenging situations.
Thus, it was at the end of this week that I capitalized on the opportunity of a road trip to gain some perspective on a recent collaborative experience. Ultimately, the task was completed. However, there were some challenges to overcome and I used the occasion to challenge myself as to what I could have done differently to improve the outcome; not only of the final product but the collaborative process, as well. As I reflected on the experience, it occurred to me that I needed to glean the benefit of conflict and not just focus on the negative aspect of conflict. When I read Team Merlot’s presentation, in particular the section on the instructor’s presence, it seemed to address the idea of potential conflict as it relates to the connective construction of knowledge. This brought even clearer “perspective” on the experience.
Anderson (2001) comments in his article, Assessing Teaching Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context, “ . . . Cognitive development requires that individuals encounter others who contradict their own intuitively derived ideas and notions and thereby create cognitive conflicts. It is the resolution of these conflicts that results in higher forms of reasoning. Teachers may be required to help students find congruent linkages when two seemingly contrary opinions are being expressed. Similarly, helping students articulate consensus and shared understanding, when these are already implicit in the discussion, is also useful.” Much like turning a kaleidoscope would bring a different focus, reflecting on this experience and incorporating Anderson’s ideas helped me gain a clearer and more positive perspective of these recent experiences. Hindsight is 20/20, however, I hope to remember this the next time I am in the “thick of it”.
As for the teacher’s presence in the online collaborative experience, a few ideas come to mind which could help steer students as they navigate conflict when collaborating. They are as follows.
1) Communication ground rules should be set. Respecting ones’ colleagues and learning to disagree without offending one another is essential. Conflict offers great opportunities for learning how to say, “I don’t get what you’re saying” without completely alienating your colleagues.
2) Emphasizing the learning process, as well as the end product can help students navigate the difficulties in coming to a consensus. When the end product is deemed the end all, be all, learning in groups can be compromised.
3) Assist the group in narrowing their focus so assignments may be accomplished in the assigned timeframes. Conflict adds stress to any assignment and trying to accomplish too much in too short a period of time will only complicate the situation.
4) Debriefing will aid in making meaning and bringing individual cognitive growth to individuals who have encountered conflict. The teacher’s ability to moderate debate and discussion will maximize learning and help turn the experience into something positive for all.
I do think we have a strong teacher presence in this online course. Ultimately, I think all these points will be achieved. Thanks, Team Merlot for aiding in my attempt to put all this into “perspective”!