No man is an island, as John Donne so famously stated. Humans are social creatures and collaboration is at the very core of our existence. Naturally, collaboration in the learning process is something that will give added values not only to the subject studied but also give indirect benefits -things like improved communication, reflexion and other social skills. Thus, the importance and impact of collaboration in learning is crystal clear. However, humans are also individuals and it is important to visualise and relate to your own personal development. Hence, factors like feedback and transparency to emphasise the impact of your individual contribution are crucial elements for a successful group collaboration. Simply stated, we need to be seen both as individuals and as a group. As coordinator of the second semester of the medical program at Lund University, I am faced with different tasks of collaborative learning every day – both from the 130 students perspective as well as from around 70 teachers and colleagues.
In my own teaching I have over fifteen years experience of working with problem based learning, mainly on the preclinical parts of the medical program. PBL can be a great facilitator of learning and motivation, but relies on the classic ‘issues’ with collaborative learning – mainly group/role dynamics, commitment, contribution, and the importance of clear outcomes and having fun in the process. If these factors all come together, which they most often do, the collaboration becomes fruitful and the students learn better and reaches deeper understanding together.
As for technology, the digital arena opens up endless possibilities for collaborative learning and as our students are “digital natives” we could use this to allure them into studying and collaborating digitally in parallel to traditional teaching channels. In this way we reach out and meet the students in their own arena, thus further assisting them to reach the course objectives as well as push them towards a higher level of understanding of the curriculum.
As course director, I have tried different ways to activate and involve the students, and in particular increase the accessibility of the course material. To reach increased learning, we must make the students live and breath with the curriculum. For example, I have used digital tools to flip the classroom and make students more active and take responsibility for their own learning. PeerWise is an online tool that turns students into teachers – writing multiple-choice questions with explanations, thus generating their own assessments (Granmo, 2011). This great example of collaborative learning and crowdsourcing is a powerful tool for facilitating the students’ learning (Jones, 2010). Activating students and making them creators or co-producers of parts of their own education is an intriguing trend for the future (”NMC Horizon Report 2014 – Higher education edition,” 2014; ”Three trends that will influence learning and teaching in 2015,” 2014). PeerWise is being used at over 1000 institutions world wide and has been proven to facilitate deep learning (Bates, Galloway, Riise, & Homer, 2014; Bottomley & Denny, 2011).
In a series of projects we have developed and implemented different digital tools to help the students in their learning. Using digital material as complement to traditional teaching methods broadens the range of learning tools and provides a constant source for repetition and rehearsal during the course as well as between semesters during the whole medical program. Our first target for this digitization has been the descriptive parts of the anatomy curriculum. To learn and understand approximately 1500 structures in correct Latin is a hard task for any fresh student and to fire-hose the students at teacher-led demonstrations risks creating a cognitive overload. By producing an online kit of multimedia material we can make the students prepare in advance for the teacher-led demonstrations. These demonstrations can then focus on problem solving, explanation and discussions, thus optimizing the use of the teacher-student interaction. In a cross-faculty project (Granmo, 2014; Granmo & Bengtsson, 2015) we involved journalism students to film the anatomy briefings ran by amanuensis from higher semesters on the medical program. The material give medical students free access to rehearse and repeat over time. The journalism students on their part practiced camera technique, directing and editing: Students helping students.
We have also developed a simple in-house mobile application to further increase the accessibility of the course material and communication with the students. This project was also made in collaboration with the medical students, some of which work part time developing mobile applications. One of the key aspects when designing the app was to create a flexible module that easily could be expanded with additional digital course material. Hence, as soon as the anatomy movie clips were up and running we started the work to embed them also in the mobile app. Since 2014 the movie clips are fully accessible in the app and the students can now study anatomy whenever and wherever they choose – perhaps on the bus between Malmö and Lund?
To summarize, I believe that pushing the students to actively collaborate and taking a producer role in the course development is a great way for the future of teaching. One must however overcome a number of small obstacles along the way, maybe most notably the scepticism of some of the colleagues and teaching staff. Even from a teacher, course director or educational director perspective, increased collaboration is needed more than ever. Regardless if it is within the faculty, University, or on a national or international scale – we are all part of the same learning environment.
So, what are your thoughts and ideas about collaborative learning?
Bates, S. P., Galloway, R. K., Riise, J., & Homer, D. (2014). Assessing the quality of a student-generated question repository. Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education Research, 10(020105).
Bottomley, S., & Denny, P. (2011). A participatory learning approach to biochemistry using student authored and evaluated multiple-choice questions. Biochem Mol Biol Educ, 39(5), 352-361. doi: 10.1002/bmb.20526
Granmo, M. (2011). Införande och utvärdering av studentgenererad frågebank på termin 2, Läkarprogrammet. Lunds Universitets Utvecklingskonferens 2011 – motivation, kreativitet och lärande. http://www.ced.lu.se/documents/userfiles/system/ProceedingsUtvecklingskonferens11.pdf
Granmo, M. (2014). Filmade anatomigenomgångar på läkarprogrammet – ett interaktivt verktyg för instudering och examination. Next Generation Learning 2014, Falun, Sweden. http://www.du.se/Global/dokument/NGL/NGL2014/book%20of%20abstract%2014-03-17.pdf
Granmo, M., & Bengtsson, F. (2015). Teaching anatomy in the multimedia world – using digital tools for progressive learning over time. Creative Education 2015, Vol.6, No.11. In press
Jones, J. B. (2010). Exam Questions: Outsourcing vs. Crowdsourcing. The Chronicle of Higher Education(November 29).
NMC Horizon Report 2014 – Higher education edition. (2014) NMC Horizon Report. http://www.nmc.org/publication/nmc-horizon-report-2014-higher-education-edition/
Three trends that will influence learning and teaching in 2015. (2014). Retrieved from Online Learning Insights website: https://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/three-trends-that-will-influence-learning-and-teaching-in-2015/