Guglielmo Trentin, “Networked Collaborative Learning”, Chandos Publishing, 2011
For some time now, the sustainability of technology-enhanced learning
(TEL) has largely been regarded in economic and organisational terms.
However, the achievement of high quality in TEL depends on attention being
focused first and foremost on pedagogical considerations. Whenever these
remain in the background, the result is almost invariably the same: passive,
individual study of educational materials. Such content-driven approaches are
widely held to be cheaper, and are therefore commonly adopted. But they
almost always lead to limited-quality learning since they deprive the process
of its other crucial dimension, namely social interaction.
The social dimension is particularly vital in university teaching, where
there is a strong need for direct teacher-learner contact and the teacher has
ample scope for adopting a variety of strategies, especially interactive ones, to
support learning. However, the same could also be said of any context in
which education is not merely a ‘coaching’ process but rather one designed to
foster the acquisition of high-level knowledge and professional competencies.
Here, learning must encompass both vertical interaction with domain experts
and horizontal interaction with the group of peer learners engaged in the
course. This facilitates professional development based on the exchange of
experiences and good practices.
Fostering the social dimension of learning in TEL means treating the
network not merely as a way of distributing learning materials but more
generally as a resource that facilitates distance interaction between learner
and teacher and among students within online learning groups.
Such approaches rarely result in cost reductions for course organisers, and
in some cases actually demand higher investment. This poses the question as
to why TEL should be adopted in university education: to enhance the social
dimension of learning and thus improve instructional quality or to streamline
organisation logistics and thus reduce costs. Undoubtedly, TEL offers strong
potential in either case, but this book argues that the pedagogical
sustainability of TEL is proportional to the quality of learning it can deliver.
And high quality levels can be reached mainly by enacting active and
collaborative learning processes, especially if these hinge on intense social
interaction between learners, teachers, tutors and domain experts.
Such social interaction is often hampered by logistical and organisational
problems, especially at university level. Consequently there has been a
tendency to see network technology as a possible means for strengthening this
dimension. This potential has fuelled interest in exploring new approaches to
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TEL based on the kind of active and collaborative student-centred learning
that distinguishes networked collaborative learning (NCL).
This book will seek to further our understanding of the factors, motives
and results that can lead a teacher to adopt NCL-based strategies. It will
examine the added value they offer for enhancing learning processes and the
implications they have for course design, management and evaluation.
A number of case studies will be examined that exemplify the
organisational and communicational modes entailed in NCL. These will help
to shed light on the various roles that the teacher assumes when adopting
different teaching strategies for reaching expected learning outcomes.
Through these case studies, we will also take a special look at evaluation,
an issue widely held to be one of the most problematic aspects in applying
NCL effectively. We will see how coordinated design of learning and
assessment activities can ensure that each is in tune with the other. When
appropriate methodologies are applied, technologies offer enormous
opportunities for evaluating the learning of content, the individual’s
contribution to group work and the level of cooperation that each group
applies to the tasks it is set.
While NCL is certainly not the only option open to a teacher looking to
adopt TEL, it nonetheless offers enormous potential for innovating teaching
approaches. One way it does this is by leveraging the technologies and forms
of communication that students are now accustomed to using in their daily
That said, NCL is undeniably a double-edged sword. One the one hand it
can yield high-quality learning and enhanced satisfaction on the part of
learners and teachers alike. On the other, however, it calls for careful
planning and can only be introduced with suitable preparation and training,
especially in the design and management of online learning activities.
This points to the wider issue of professional development for academic
staff – something that plays a critical role in the pedagogical sustainability of
NCL. The role of the e-teacher is not one that can be improvised; it must form
an integral part of the teacher’s overall professional growth. This does not
simply mean acquiring sufficient know-how to introduce technology in
support of habitual teaching practices. Rather, it means totally rethinking and
revising those practices.
So after this lengthy premise, we can now set off on our journey of
exploration. The hope is that it will lead to a clearer understanding of NCL,
whether or not the reader agrees with the arguments presented.