Monday, September 29, 2008

Collaboration and Discussion

Recently I had an assignment at university that I thought I would share with you. We had to reflect on a number of things but in particular on the use of the medium.

In this instance we found ourselves collaborating digitally. This was part of our task and one that ensured in order to participate we knew how to use the appropriate interface. Digital collaboration is the use of technology to enhance and extend the abilities of individuals and organizations to collaborate, independent of their vertical area. In our case we were not dependant on time, space, location or system.

I found that this form of discussion is very good for contemplation and critical thinking. It allows you to perceive the content in a manner that it is meant to do. This is because we all have some familiarity with each other and we trust, to some degree the responses and work that has been attended to by the individual sharing their thoughts and knowledge with us.

In this case I think it is critical to distinguish collaboration from communication. Digital collaboration is an interaction between two or more people, mediated by a computer. The number of participants is crucial to distinguish collaboration from communication. Communication is mostly one-to-one or one-to-many. The number of recipients of the communication is virtually unlimited. It is a one-way, unstructured distribution of information. Collaboration is usually many-to-many, but fewer than 10. It is goal oriented, and can be asynchronous or synchronous (real-time). In her book Common Knowledge: How Companies Thrive by Sharing What They Know, author Nancy Dixon writes, "If we want people in our organizations to share what they have learned, we would be wise to create the conditions in which sharing results is of personal benefit." Collaboration is closely intertwined with knowledge management and suffers from many of the same stumbling blocks.

In our case, we certainly stood to gain personal benefit and I found myself ruminating on this point. Is it because I will gain personal benefit at the expense of a fellow student? I could answer this question with a resounding no! Then this meant my purpose was to share knowledge so as to promote learning and ensure there was enough debate and submission in answering the questions as to make the experience reflective as well as shared. I believe this was achieved.

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