This is a core activity (2.2) for H808 - to reflect on the collaborative discussion of the drivers of eportfolio developments.
For a large proportion of the time working on the drivers table I felt I didn't quite understand the exercise. The examples already completed in the table seemed to suggest that drivers were institutions or organisations, but my gut feeling (before I read any of the papers) was that drivers would relate to needs to support learners, for reflection, for assessment, for career development etc. I was also confused by the activity directions - in one place it was to identify factors propelling developments in PDP, in another place it required making notes on drivers of eportfolio developments. These are certainly not mutually exclusive, but I didn't feel that they were automatically synonymous.
I was rather unsure how to contribute in an asynchronous forum. I didn't want to just launch in, listing the drivers I'd identified - I thought we were aiming for discussion. However, everyone (me included) seemed a little reticent, and a number of other students expressed that they found the exercise hard to get into or identify with, so I was reassured that it wasn't just me!
Although I found it hard to engage with the task, I felt purposeful, and I hope useful, in contributing to the environment for our collaboration. I set up some wiki pages, including the table for us to complete, and I think I initially imagined that we would somehow conduct our discussions (in the forum), reach a consensus, and then someone or a few people would add this to the wiki. The method emerged that everyone made a contribution to the wiki table, which was definitely more collaborative in its construction, but I'm not sure we really did the discussion part. Perhaps we would have done if someone had entered a driver that others didn't agree with, and the lack of debate suggests we all agreed. I think this is actually quite likely as there are just so many potential drivers, and none of us had read all the papers in order to be in a position to disagree. There seemed to be a supportive, respectful atmosphere developed amongst the group, and I felt that contributions of others were valued.
I think we worked well together in developing a method for achieving the task which engaged everyone equally. I felt that the method we arrived at (each person reading a couple of papers) was a good one. It resulted in different people picking out different features from the same source, and was therefore good to have some overlap.
I felt that synchronous communication would have led to an easier discussion as it would have been easier to notice if everyone was involved and engaged to the level they wanted. Obviously it wasn't feasible for this task (and rarely is for a course with learners in different time zones, in different employments etc). This led me to wonder how you might make group work easier in an asynchronous forum. I wonder if you might ask people to explicitly comment, either on the contribution preceding their own, on a selected prior contribution, or similar. You could ask people to related their own thoughts to their own previous work or to the previous posts in the forum. However, I think it would take a long time for everyone to feel sure they'd contributed as they wished, there might need to be some form of turn-taking protocol (which would be more artificial than a 'normal' face-to-face discussion), and there might be a need for a chair to draw together all the contributions into a final product. And would that product then be a real consensus, or would it just be the chair's view of events?
I think getting discussion going in the asynchronous environment might also be easier when a group happens to have one (or more) vocal leaders (whether emergent, self- or group-appointed). If someone is constantly responding to the posts of others, including questions and comments, it may draw the other posters into discussion. However, the reverse may happen, where the less forthright contributors are able to step further into the background, or even (and worse) feel pushed out. Having such obvious, dominant leaders therefore isn't best for the learning and involvement of each individual participant, although it might be to the benefit of creating a group 'product'.
(Unsurprisingly) no easy answer here I'm afraid!