Saturday, May 19, 2007

Online collaboration and the impact of technology

I use technology every day of my life. My profession as a teacher, particular a business teacher, means I am constantly teaching students how to use various aspects of technology available at school as well as expecting them to use a range of technologies and needing to use a range of technologies myself in the preparation of units and lessons. I am also a writer so I am always researching and writing and involved in various online communities. I also operate a couple of blogs and a wiki (writing collaboratively with a friend).

Yet, with all this experience, including teaching an introductory course on how to create websites and having my own website, I found I didn’t know enough to feel confident in volunteering to set up the infrastructure of the website. I learned a lot with this process although I still don’t know how to use Dreamweaver and my own website is still a one-pager showing an ‘under construction’ sign.

Operating within the confines of the free web publishing site the group used was different in that the navigation structure wasn’t transparent. I had difficulty understanding how the pages were interconnecting because I couldn’t (or didn’t know how to) access a pictorial overview of the hierarchical structure. Having said that, I found web publishing site easy to operate within. I had no difficulty importing data, creating paragraphs or pages, inserting pictures and tables or hyperlinks. I did have difficulty trying to create ‘hot spots’. A hot spot is basically a hyperlink over a picture. I could get it to create a hyperlink to take me to a page with the pictures and from there a click on the picture took me to the correct page but I decided not to leave it that way as it was too cumbersome. The addition of an additional step just to get to another page of the web was unnecessary and irritating.

Communicating through the various methods was an interesting experience although the only advantage of the discussion forum for me was that each topic was identifiable by the subject heading and all posts regarding that topic were kept together. The discussion forum always meant more time for me as I had to go online to access it.

I find email to be my preferred method of asynchronous communication. I have several email accounts and forward all of them to one account with each message going directly to specified folders to make identification and reading easier. As I have this program open all the time, I don’t waste time waiting for connections and get and respond to messages very quickly.

The online chat provided a comfortable mode of real-time communication. I’ve used chat before and am comfortable with the fractured conversation threads although I am aware that many others aren’t. Because I can follow the conversations fairly easily I found I was often remiss in nominating who I was responding to, particularly in the early chats. As we progressed through the project, I remembered to do this more often. It helped others to recognise who was responding to which comment.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Online collaboration

I've recently completed an assignment for uni that was conducted solely online. This was my first experience working solely online with a group of people I didn’t know. There was a period of displacement as I came to terms with the fact that I would never see these people face to face and that all communication, particularly that for solving of problems had to be conducted electronically. While my own personal preference with regard to electronic communication is email, the other methods, particularly the online chat provided an opportunity to sort things out synchronously. This was a huge benefit, particularly during the initial planning and the final organisational stages. In many ways the chat replaced face to face communication. It gave a perfect opportunity to chat in real-time and to get to know other members more fully than asynchronous communication allows. This helped with the operation of the team.

Over the next few weeks I'll share other experiences of working with this team.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Team Terrors Mark III

Well, the assignment was submitted, marked, commented on and returned. I was really surprised to find it had earned full marks. My first. I'm used to marks in the high 90s (%) but have never received 100% before. So the effort was worth it.

I even had a bit of a chuckle by the end. I had told my team member to submit a personal reflection of the assignment process as part of the assessment and she did, without questioning it. It was obvious she'd never read the assignment requirements or she would have known it wasn't required!

I'm glad it's done, even though it was a week late and I spent the next week with one of the worst tension headaches I've ever had. Now I'm another week behind on my study and preparation for other assignments. Ah well, nothing I can do about that now.

Now all that's left to do with this team is the final part of the assignment - the research and final report. I've asked for preferences on what sections she wants to do and received the quickest response to any query from me to date - inside 24 hours. She said she'll be happy with whatever I tell her to do. I get the distinct impression she wants me to do the work and she'll play 'dumb assistant' - and hope to reap the rewards of my effort. Of course she might just realise that I know what I'm talking about - at least I've read the assignment requirements.

This time, however, I'll be preparing a detailed time log and keeping track of exactly what sections we each do and how much editing I have to do to her sections. At the end of it I'll consider applying for marks to be allocated on contribution. It irks me that she'll benefit from my efforts but I'm not prepared to drop my standards just because she's not stretching to them.

Who knows - perhaps by now she knows what the assignment is about and writes something that doesn't need major editing or referencing, or anything like that.

And now you see me glancing at the sky to see if the pigs are flying by.

Just to set the record straight - she's actually quite a nice girl and I feel mean saying all these things. I just have low tolerance for professional incompetence at this level of study. We're doing a masters course - formal academic writing and correct referencing should be given. As should keeping on topic.