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The third rule of asynchronous and distributed group work

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I cannot express how much better I feel having had a web conference with 5 our of 6 of our team at the weekend. Making decisions is easy when someone suggests something eminently sensible and everyone just agrees! In a forum setting people seem a little more tentative in making suggestions for fear of being forceful (I assume) but some decisions simply need to be made.

As we are inventing our context as well as our platform, pedagogy and learning design we are in an unusual situation.Most learning design is created by people for a context which they have been presented with - not one they've invented. Most pedagogy and platform debates are framed by the platform that is available and the pedagogical values in place rather than inventing it all from nothing.

This openness can be exciting but also daunting. It's oddly easier to create a meal from a set of ingredients than to scour reciple books, go shopping and then cook, Too many options slow the process.

Because of that it's such a relief when someone says 'so... medics or teachers?' and someone else says 'I'd prefer teachers' and everyone goes 'fine' because most of us have no preference but don't want to step on the toes of those who do. And then, when that is decided, we get a bit of homework so that we can have a further discussion in a few days.

And in the meantime I am doing stuff. Nothing massive but peripheral and potentially useful things. Reading papers, extracting relevant quotes and writing a brief precis followed by my own take on it. I have added some stuff to the website - nothing  expect to make the final cut necessarily but scaffolding on which more can be done. It's hard to work on things which I know to be peripheral but a well rounded project needs the periphery. And foundational efforts make the rest of the work stronger and more secure.

RULE 3: Just do something

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The first rule of asynchronous and distributed group work

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Group work is often tricky - getting everyone to agree to something is never easy and getting a majority which is palatable to those being overruled can be even harder!

In Block 3 were are collaborating on a group project which is, by design, both distributed and asynchronous. I feel much better prepared now we have a group WhatsApp and a Slack account (is account even the right word?). It feels like communication is underway and I can already see how some of the tools will be really useful.

One of our first activities is to identify potential problems and potential solutions and I have gone all badass! I have proposed that any idea or suggestion get a shelf life. If - after a defined amount of time - no one has objected or offered and alternative then consent is presumed. I realise this sounds pretty hardcore but the only way to make good progress on this project and get to all of our milestones en route to the final assignment is to keep moving. Waiting for someone to log in and make a comment is polite but it wastes the time of those waiting.It's true that someone may be ill, have a family crisis or even a weekend away - the reason people fail to participate may be entirely valid - but with six team members we may easily lose a couple of weeks if we wait for all of these events to resolve.

So

RULE 1: Assent is presumed if no indicative (an objection or an alternative) comment is made within 24 (or 36?) hours of a suggestion being made

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Asynchronous Collaboration

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Edited by Anna Greathead, Wednesday, 15 Jan 2020, 13:11

Not going to lie - I am finding this hard. 

I see no reason to assume that the other four people in my group are slacking off - after all I disappeared for a week to go on holiday, there are days I don't do any OU work at all due to other commitments and sometimes my dipping into H817 is unfocused and little more than a passing glance. (Although one of them has been AWOL all week!)

That said - I am frustrated that we haven't really completed what we were supposed to. There was a flurry of urgency in the week - an online poll, a WhatsApp conversation, a Padlet was set up, emails were sent and then not much has happened collaboratively since then. I have done some things, including a Wiki document which could morph into the final project; but I am painfully aware that I can't do this alone and that I might be getting it all wrong! I'm even paranoid enough to have wondered if the others have set up a separate group from which I am excluded due to my evident ineptitude! 

Collaboration is clearly a good thing. I don't think there is any real argument about that. But collaboration between people who are complete strangers, living in different times zones to one another, all collaborating in their spare time and with a ague brief as to what they're aiming to achieve is, let me assure you, hard work! 

So here's my check list of what would make this task easier!

1. Everyone participating from the beginning. At first there was a lot of waiting around for all of the group to join in. In hindsight this wasted the first half of the week. Whilst it's very democratic to want input from everyone before getting started it's impractical when you are unsure that everyone will give any input. 

2. Clearly designed brief with examples. We are all new to H817 and (I guess) many people are also new to the Open University, Post Graduate Studies and MAODE too. The brief we had was hard to pin down. It would have been better if it had been more 'essay' structured - 'outline the strengths and weaknesses of a chosen technology and evaluate how said technology has encouraged innovation or represented innovation in e-learning. Use examples from your own and / or other contexts'. Having to create a scenario and agree on it took ages. If a scenario is what is needed for later than give us one! 

3. Accept that contribution will be uneven and sporadic. Different people will be able to contribute to any project differently. One of our group set up a Padlet - great idea in theory but it was not immediately editable. I set up what I thought was a Wiki page which everyone could edit but it turns out to have been as secure as a bankers vault and I had to copy and paste it in an email to someone else to publish properly! I am most free on Tuesdays and at weekends. I usually cannot manage any study on Fridays. I imagine my group mates have similarly complicated schedules. 

4. Use WhatsApp, Messenger or some other proprietary platform to communicate. Exchange email addresses. If I were to make one recommendation to the OU it would be to make the forums a lot more like a Facebook comments thread. I am literally on Facebook for my entire waking life. My phone is rarely more than a foot away from me and any and all Facebook notifications are seen within minutes. Ditto WhatsApp, Messenger, email. I open my OU page maybe once or twice a day. It's rare that an OU forum post needs my immediate attention but  I could answer a query more immediately or ask a question and get a quicker response if it were more like Facebook. Our group WhatsApp group has been the place where most of our informal discussion has happened and from which we have directed one another to the work we've begun.

5. Try and replicate the situated group experience by exchanging the odd joke! A shared love of Red Dwarf (and red wine) led to a short but fun exchange. As a consequence I feel more connected to one of my group mates and therefore more able to effectively work with them. 

6. Don't expect the situated group experience to be very similar to the distributed group experience I have concluded that asynchronicity is the key issue. We are working on the same thing but not at the same time. We cannot, therefore, be certain that we are sharing fully the aims, objectives, vocabulary and understanding necessary to produce effective work. There will be misunderstandings and there will have to be compromise. 

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