Fostering a collaborative learning environment

Sharing information across far flung locations has never been easier. The internet has created an environment where information can be easily shared, viewed, and created without consideration of location. So long as the sender and receiver have a connection to the internet, information can be sent. Of course, not every method of sharing is simple to use or intuitive nor do they support the desire of humans to connect with others in a way that puts the discussion into context. Borje Holmberg expanded this concepts by stating “Emotional involvement in the study and feelings of personal relation between the teaching and learning parties are likely to contribute to learning pleasure” (Simonson, Smaldino, Albirght, & Zvacek, 2012). For this reason I wish to present the use of two software platforms that can facilitate a collaborative learning environment: Dropbox and GoToMeeting.

ImageIt’s in the title: “Collaborative learning environment”. The goal is to create an environment and processes that facilitate the collaboration of learners regardless of their location, technology, or the tools they use. Dropbox is an online storage solution that permits the creation of an online storage location where collaborators can share documents, files, and presentations securely and easily. The service automatically synchronizes documents on any device and permits access to shared folders on most mobile devices. Jennifer Carey, Director of Academic Technology at the Ransom Everglades School in Coconut Grove, Florida discusses how she has implemented Dropbox in her classroom:
        “I use Dropbox in a number of ways. Here are several:
         • To store additional copies of hand-outs. Students know to re-download and print on their own here if they missed a hand-out due to an absence or simply lost it (no one ever asks me for another copy).
         • To distribute PowerPoint presentations – most are too large for email.
         • As a way for students to turn in homework assignments. It’s an easy electronic homework drop (compared to email) and will time stamp submissions.” (Carey, 2012)
There are some drawbacks. Tracking revisions to documents can be challenging, especially if there are a large number of students in any one group (although the “review” setting in many software suites can alleviate some of that concern) and participants can delete files, although the folder manager can control this activity somewhat. Overall, Dropbox is a great method of creating a method of collaboration and sharing.

ImageUnfortunately, sharing documents and presentations is not enough for a true collaborative environment. According to equivalency theory, “…learning experiences should be provided to each learner whether local or distant, and the expectation should be that equivalent outcomes, rather than identical, should be expected of each learner” (Simonson et al., 2012). In order to accomplish this, virtual meetings have been established in a variety of formats. I am choosing to explore WebEx which is teleconference software that permits the creation of online meetings and includes a variety of tools which foster collaboration and sharing across multiple platforms. WebEx services can be accessed from many devices and telephone services. Telecommunications are addressed by permitting video broadcasts and recording of sessions which can the be reviewed at a later date. For software training, a screen can be shared among all participants so demonstrations or IT support can be provided. One example of how WebEx is facilitating collaboration within an organization is presented by Sun Microsystems:

     “’WebEx provides an excellent platform to work interactively with our disparate team members. We’ve been able to simulate real-world scenarios across geographies, incorporate pre-recorded demos into live workshops, and troubleshoot problems in real time’, says Ben Edelstein, Process Architect for the PDM Project” (WebEx, 2007).

The ability of WebEx to create very functional online workspaces is useful for organizations whose employees are geographically separated yet need to communicate and interact in real time.

By combining the WebEx virtual workspace with the cross platform functionality of Dropbox, a very effective collaborative workspace can be quickly created.

Resources
Carey, J. (2012). Dropbox: A superb classroom tool. [Online blog]. Retrieved July 19, 2013        from http://plpnetwork.com/2012/08/10/dropbox-a-superb-classroom-tool/

Simonson, M., Smaldino, S., Albright, M., Zvacek, S. (2012). Teaching and learning at a            distance: Foundations of distance education (5th edition). Boston, MA: Person                      Education, Inc.

WebEx (2007). Sun microsystems strengthens collaboration over distance with WebEx.           [Online document]. Retrieved July 19, 2013 from                                                              http://www.webex.com/fileadmin/webex/documents/enterprise/pdf/high_tech/cs_sun_0407.pdf

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