Collaboration in learning by Julian Stodd


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Collaboration is a key skill for the Social Age. In this collection of three articles from the Blog, i explore 'Social Collaborative Technology', looking at how technology facilitates collaboration, we explore how to create an environment for collaborative learning, and the importance of generosity and sharing.

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Collaboration in learning by Julian Stodd

  1. 1. 29 APRIL 2014 © JULIAN STODD Social Collaborative Technology It’s everywhere: on our networks, in our pockets, plugged into our ears and our TVs. We can’t escape the proliferation of socially collaborative technologies, wherever we try to hide. It draws us into communities around our favourite reality TV show, it permeates our choices of which books to buy and what device to read or listen to them on, it lets us run projects worldwide and, if we are very lucky, it helps us to make sense of the world around us. We need the right mindset around the technology: it’s about experience, !1 Collaboration facilitated by technology is driving change COLLABORATION TO LEARN FORMAL AND SOCIAL SHARING AND GENEROSITY FOR LEADERSHIP EFFORTLESSLY SOCIAL CONNECTED Social Collaborative Technology is powering change in the Social Age. It connect us and facilitates the building of communities COLLABORATION
  2. 2. 29 APRIL 2014 © JULIAN STODD curation, sharing and the co-creation of meaning. The Social Age is founded upon social technology for collaboration and we are just at the start of recognising the potential that it will bring. When i wrote about Mobile Learning last year, i called the book ‘Mindset for Mobile Learning‘, because it’s not about the technology per se, it’s about what we do with it, how we craft more effective and dynamic learning experiences through that technology. Which chipset it contains may facilitate that capability, but it’s not the direct cause. It’s the same with social collaboration, as many organisations know to their cost: you can invest all you like in systems that have ‘social‘ in the title, but if they’re not truly collaborative technologies, they won’t build a community and they won’t help us to create meaning. Truly social collaboration technology makes it effortless for us to engage, to curate and to share. Like Facebook. It’s virtually synchronous, which makes our encounters more conversational, more about storytelling than about publication. True social tech is agile and links easily: it doesn’t tie you in with licence agreements, platform specific functionality and endless login and registration pages. Truly social technology is about experience, not IT skills. The dinosaurs are dead: i believe that the time of those large, legacy systems that cost a fortune to install and never really did what you expected are gone. The future is about smaller, more interconnected technology that fits the social model: it talks to other systems, generates meaningful analytics and lets you act upon them easily. It adapts to context and location. We were out walking yesterday, a group of friends from University, and the subject came onto books: but instead of which books we were reading, we were talking about the ways we consume the content. Kindles, Kobos and iPads, even audiobooks. There was a constant theme: none of us had the answer. We are all experimenting, finding our way.There is no one system that is going to deliver all the functionality and features that you need to support social learning and social leadership. There may well be one mindset though: a mindset for curation, sharing and collaboration. Mindsets persist whilst technology goes through an endless cycle of development and updates. Get your mindset right and the rest will fall into place: it’s all about collaboration and finding technology that facilitates it. Originally published 11th November 2013 on !2 Collaboration powers communities Collaboration is about more than just getting in a room together: it's about shared values and shared vision. It may be facilitated by technology, but it's driven by behaviours. Collaboration is based on trust and integrity, forged within communities, hence it sits at the heart of social leadership for the Social Age
  3. 3. 29 APRIL 2014 © JULIAN STODD Creating an environment for learning: collaboration and community As i sat writing this morning, an elderly gentleman came to the table and asked me if he could lay out the International papers without disturbing me. I’m in the Icebreaker cafe, by the Amstel, one of my favourite writing spots, and the routine is the same each morning. Many Dutch cafes have a reading table: a large table, maybe seating twenty people, with magazines and papers laid out, as well as the usual small tables surrounding it. I like to sit at the reading table, surrounded by architecture magazines, French and German newspapers, American economics journals and glossy fashion mags. We live and work in spaces: formal, curated ones, social and informal ones. Understanding how we collaborate and communicate through these areas is important to understand learning and working in the Social Age Around me sit other solitary readers and writers, many hunched over MacBooks, whilst around us at the smaller tables, clusters of conversation, some social, some work related. Often, couples are sharing a laptop, using information there to support or enhance their conversation. Often they are connected to other, external, participants through email or messaging tools. The content on the tables is curated: the magazines chosen carefully and each covered with an official sticker, showing that they belong to the cafe. The conversations on the tables though are random, owned by the people. Then, of course, there are the conversations that go beyond our physical space here, the online conversations, such as me chatting on LinkedIn to Elizabeth in Australia, Robin in Birmingham and Sam in Bournemouth. Sometimes we use social technology to connect us to the external communities: Facebook maybe to check in, whilst other technologies are formal, such as Yammer or Lync. many of the conversations spill over from this fully social space into external formal ones. Here at the table though, it’s more about reflection: there are very few conversations here and few groups, just solitary people reading, writing and thinking. So there is differentiation by physical location (groups co-creating meaning at the tables, individuals reflecting at the centre, surrounded by magazines, external communities linked only through social or formal technology) and there is differentiation by activity (solitary reflection, writing, reading, group conversations in person, group conversations facilitated by social or formal technology). There is an unmistakable air of productivity, despite the informal surroundings and aroma of warm coffee. This is a collaborative and reflective space, impacting on both formal and informal elements of our collective lives. But it’s not accidental: just as the papers on this table are curated every morning by the elderly gentleman, so too is the decor of the cafe, the menu, the free WiFi. It’s an artificially constructed environment intended to put me at my ease and to facilitate all of these activities. !3
  4. 4. 29 APRIL 2014 © JULIAN STODD Environment is important, as is culture: we need infrastructure (tables, chairs, power sockets and WiFi) as well as social conventions or rules (it’s ok to sit alone here, to type, to read, but it’s frowned on to use your phone: some external connections are just too blatant and spoil the illusion). As organisations adopt more social ways of working, environment and infrastructure become more important, often in small ways. It’s not about buying new chairs and a coffee machine, but it may be about ensuring people can hook their devices up to the WiFi and ensuring that they have access to a range of collaborative tools and software. One size does not fit all. Curated or accidental: this cafe is a perfect example of a Social Age working environment, and i have worked with many global organisations that have failed to get it this right. Within our working lives, we should have spaces for reflection, spaces for collaboration, spaces for community (both formal and social) and clear access to spaces where we can narrate our learning. The entire experience needs to be supported: it’s more than giving people a laptop and a desk. In the Social Age, we work in social ways: have you thought about what these are and how your organisation can best support them? Here are some ideas: 1. What semi formal spaces surround your offices? Have you used these for community events e.g. running team events in the cafe, or arranging a discount for groups who want to use that space for collaboration? 2. Have you thought about doing a deal with the cafe to ensure everyone has great WiFi? Why not, it’s the lifeblood of social working! 3. What infrastructure do you have to support social working? Are you prescriptive or open? Why not ask people where they collaborate and see if it matches the organisational view Originally published 12th July 2013 on There's no point in knowledge if you don't share it: collaboration and generosity in the Social Age What’s the point in knowledge if you don’t share it? Collaboration and generosity are what drive innovation and engagement and yet organisations are often obsessed with hiding things away, with tucking their stories out of sight behind paywalls and firewalls, behind layers of impersonal websites and corporate comms that lack content and impact. We sit courses on ‘data protection‘ and ‘data security‘, but never on ‘generosity‘ and ‘collaboration‘. This is kind of odd because, unlike gold or silver, we can create more knowledge easily: we can literally print money, but only by using the knowledge that is out there already. !4
  5. 5. 29 APRIL 2014 © JULIAN STODD In the social age, knowledge itself is no longer power: your ability to synthesise meaning out of multiple sources, your ability to add value, to reinvent yourself and effect change, your generosity of time and expertise, these are the things that add value. These are the things that make you influential, that give you authority around a subject. It’s not about what you know and hide away, it’s about the conversations that you get into and how generous you are (and how willing you are to learn). There’s movement within the scientific community, from public funded research, to share results widely and freely. The general feeling is that we’ve already paid for the work first time around by funding it from the tax coffers, so why should we have to pay again? It’s likely that, as the US follows the UK lead on this, there may be a delay of up to a year (allowing publishers to make some money from people who want the data early) before the data is fully released, but it’s a significant step in the right direction. We are indoctrinated into the belief that we should hide things away, that we should only broadcast certain, carefully crafted and moderated, messages. We believe that information should be eked out, that it’s better if it’s rationed. But that’s not always true. I came across a jar of ground ginger in my cupboard the other day which had a sell by date of 2006. Probably past it’s best, so i binned it. Knowledge doesn’t have a sell by date, but it may become less relevant as it ages. It’s certainly best served fresh, although it can mature nicely and be worth revisiting as it ferments. Some knowledge gains character and value as the years pass by. Whether trivial or thoughtful, significant to us now, or only significant in retrospect, knowledge should be shared. Social learning, social tools, the social way of working, this is valuable as it encourages us to share, to create shared meaning. Sure, it can be challenging: it requires us to be brave and to be willing to be proved wrong, but value emerges from the discussion, from the conversation. It’s all about the sharing. And the more generous you are with your time, your knowledge, your expertise, the more it’s reciprocated. Value is created simply through generosity, through sharing. I tell you, it’s like printing money! As we engage further, connections emerge from the woodwork: connections that can be made in social learning spaces that would simply be lost in the ‘real’ world. With no barriers of geography, our potential to connect, to share on a global stage, is limitless! Originally published 4th March 2013 on This is one of a series of short collections of articles around key subjects in learning. You can find out more on my Learning Blog: !5