Friday, 16 September 2005

"Freedom to leave"

by Stephen Downes and various Blog authors including Derek Morrison and Christopher D. Sessums.

I was not at ALT-C in Manchester and I have not had the fortune to hear Stephen directly. Because of some hicups, the audio was not available too. So I have to make do with Stephen's powerpoint slides and the comments made by other bloggers.

Quoting from Stephen's slide directly:

In my view, the question of collaboration is a question of governance
Are you free to leave?

[next slide]
The Lecture…
May be the form that (counterintuitively) offers maximal freedom to the audience
And hence, may be favoured by learning professionals (at least in their own learning) because it preserves this degree of freedom

Stephen raised a very interesting and important point in our process of understanding what is collaboration (not only collaborative learning).

Are we collaborating if I can join the work/discussion when I like and just walk away even without letting the other members know? (Indeed, is there a definition of the membership?) What will be the consequence on a collaborative activity given the presence of this form of "freedom"?

I question whether it is an issue of governance or an issue of mutual commitment to a mutually agreed objective or an issue of sharing of responsibility and task.

Closely linked to this question is the size of the "membership" participating in the collaborative effort and the scope of the collaborative effort.

On small scale, when the objective is clearly defined (and possibility also with a further constraint of delivering the objective within a fixed time frame), the mutual commitment to the tasks and the delivering of the responsibility will mean the "freedom to leave" is not an desirable option.

On the other hand, consider wikipedia as collaborative effort. One can put in a comment, change a few words of an article, write a paragraph or two, contribute a whole article or actually "runs" the project. Whether you are "free to leave" depends on the amount of responsibility you have committed to. In general, it is easy to leave a project if you have little responsibility or there are duplicated people taking up the task. It would not be socially acceptable if you leave an effort when you are carrying a huge responsibility on which the success of the project depends.

In collaborative learning, it is a collorary to conclude that you have greater learning effectiveness with greater participation.

I suppose a keen learner will not leave an interesting lecture, even when he has the freedom to do so.

Should we instead focus also on making sure the learning process (whether it is collaborative or not) is interesting, engaging and rewarding so that "free to leave", even when given, will not need to be exercised?

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