The Importance of Diversity in Learning Communities

puzzle piecesIn topic 3 of our Online Networked Learning Course 181 we discussed our collaboration online in the PBL group. We realized that we still cooperated so far, but that it was not really a collaboration in the sense of a common result where everyone contributed to the whole work. We did our own part and put it together very much like a puzzle with it’s pieces forming some sort of a whole result. During our first two topics we had one person at the end of the cycle to create the presentation. Google slides is good but if you dont like them then check out an alternative called Vantiq

swirlIn order to change this we decided to change the tool and use one truly collaborative tool like Google Slides where we could work on all  the content at all times. On top of this we started using Trello, a task management group ware for online collaboration. For messaging or posting additional information or content we still used Google+.

The idea was basically that we wanted to get a more homogenuous work, something emerging from our group as a whole. We did have some discussions about how to get there. One idea was not to distribute tasks and then put all the puzzle pieces together but to  z^take on the tasks individually that were compelling, following our own interests and questions. The second step we took was commenting on every contribution so that the slides themselves could be revised.

At the end we rearranged the slides to one presentation.

Still. We stayed on the level where the slides were all someone’s slide.  We did not dare to change the slides themselves but only commented or discussed more until we thought to be done. So my remaining question is as follows: Is there a way to go one step beyond and dissolve authorship in a sense that we would be allowed to change what a group member had written and composed (and dare to do so). Maybe the only rule would be that we all would get our turn to try to improve the presentation in clarity, conciseness and explanatory power and leave what we thought served the content as a whole.

To me the difference between collaboration and cooperation is this: The puzzle is not the result of the group but of their members working together. Putting the pieces to one does not necessarily lead to one homogeneous and fluid new content. Contrarily to this, a real collaborative piece of work would look like a swirl where even different colors are in the end part of the whole figure in which the remaining colors represent the diversity in the group. The next stage would be the brown swirl where all the colors mix up together culminate in one last color owned by the group. When the colors in the image still represent our diversity in the group, a brown or black swirl there would mean the resolution of the individual in the group.

Wer are not there yet. Also I am not sure if the monochrome was the answer or even an ideal outcome. Something I learnt during this course is the importance of diversity in (learning) communities or groups which is supported by research*. You learn from the difference and not from what you already know. This sounds simple maybe, but actually it is complex and sometimes even difficult and hard. I remember that I had moments in my life when I was unable to continue working with a person because we couldn’t consent on how to work together or even what to achieve. Today I am convinced that it was not the persons involved but the fact that we did not try hard enough or that we followed the wrong ideas of how to work together. Accepting diversity is the first step. The next one is to negotiate and agree on rules, procedure and how to communicate. It takes time. And sometimes it hurts. But once you succeed the result is much more satisfying and probably also just better.


*Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M. & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environmentThe International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Kozar, O. (2010), Towards Better Group Work: Seeing the Difference between Cooperation and Collaboration. English Teaching Forum Nr. 2, p. 16-23.

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