The Titanic, Volkswagens and collaborative group work: Remaking old favourites with new learning technologies

Colin Baskin


Unsinkable ships, Volkswagens and collaborative group work have much in common. They have each undergone a recent revival of sorts; in each case the new version bears a strong Wittgensteinian resemblance to its more classic predecessor; and in each case the end user is able to enjoy the nostalgic experience of having once again rediscovered the wheel. This is a powerful experiential principle, one so powerful in fact that it drives us to part with the cost of a movie ticket even though we know how the movie ends! The ship still sinks on April 14th; the 'bug' still looks like a beetle-plus and group work is still largely a 'lottery' experience for students at university.

This paper is about finding a way (or ways) to disrupt this cycle of repetition, not by raising the Titanic (for this has been tried), nor by terminating the Volkswagen (Woody Allen pointed out in the filmĀ Sleepers that they were clearly unstoppable). Rather, this paper will concentrate on how to re-engineer collaborative group work practices using online learning technologies, thereby enhancing their role as an effective, flexible and efficient learning exchange. In comparing the performance outcomes of 'online' learning groups to a study of 'real time' learning groups (Hogan 1999), the paper sets about building a case for the former. The paper deals specifically with how collaborative online learning groups can be used to:

  • Establish an authentic learning context
  • Accommodate learner needs
  • Enrich learner experiences; and
  • Inform instructor perspectives.

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