It is tempting to bring a list of technologies out as a glorious cookbook. We need a 1/2 cup of group writing tools, 2 tsp. of social network elements, a thick slice of social bookmarking, and some sugar, then put it in the oven for 1 hour for 350 degrees.
We have created a broad features/functions list for Handbook readers to reflect upon and consider. The joy of this list is that you can consider alternatives for the way you communicate and work while you are planning the project, or can add in new elements to solve communications gaps or create new tools.
However, too many tools spoil the broth. In the writing of this Handbook, we found that out firsthand. We spent a lot of marvelous energy exploring different tools to collaborate, curate information, do research, tag resources, and adjudicate among all of our points of view. In looking at groups working with the various MOOCs, as another example, different groups of students often camp in different social media technologies to work.
In large courses, students often have to be pushed into various social media tools to “co-create” with great protest and lots of inertia. And finally, co-learning groups often come from very different backgrounds, ages, and stages of life, with very different tools embedded in their current lives. Do we have time for three more tools in our busy days? Do more tools help – or do they interfere with our work?
In this section, we’ll share with you a few issues:
- What technologies are most useful in peer learning? What do we use them for? What features or functions help our co-learning process?
- How do we decide (a) as a group and (b) for the group on what tools we can use? Do we decide upfront, or grow as we go?
- How do we coach and scaffold each other on use of tools?
- How much do the tool choices impact the actual outcome of our learning project?
- What are the different roles that co-learners can take in co-teaching and co-coaching the technology affordances/assumptions in the project to make others’ lives easier?
Keep in mind – your needs for tools, plus how the way the group uses them, will change as the co-learning project moves along. Technologies themselves tend to change rapidly. Are you willing to change tools during the project as your needs and users change, or do you plan to use a given tool set from the beginning to the end of your project?
Features and Considerations
We will begin below with a discussions of “features” and initial considerations, and then move to a broader “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style matrix of features leading to a wide variety of collaboration-based technology tools online.
Technologies and Features
As we will share in the extensive list below, there are abundant tools now available – both for free and for pay – to bring great features to our co-learning endeavors. It is tempting to grab a group of fancy tools and bring the group into a fairly complex tool environment to find the perfect combination of resources. The challenge: adult learners seek both comfort and context in our lives , . In choosing tool “brands”, we can ignore the features themselves and what we need as parts of the puzzle for learning. We also can have anxiety about our self-beliefs around computers and technology, which in turn can limit our abilities .
Before we get to brands and choices, it helps to ask a few questions about the learning goals and environments:
- What do we need as features, and at what stage of the learning process?
- What are we already comfortable with, individually and as a group?
- Do we want to stay with comfortable existing tools, or do we want to stretch, or both?
- What types of learners do we have in this group? Technologically advanced? Comfortable with basics?
- Do we want to invest the time to bring the whole group up to speed on tools? Do all the group members agree on this? Do we want to risk alienating members by making them invest time in new resources?
- We know that our use will migrate and adapt. Do we want to plan for adaptation? Observe it? Learn from it? Make that change intentional as we go?
Researchers over the years have heavily examined these questions of human, technology, and task fit in many arenas. Human-Computer Interaction researchers have looked at “fit” and “adaptive behavior,” as well as how the tools can affect how the problem is presented by Te’eni . Creativity support tools  have a whole line of design research, as has the field of Computer-Supported Collaborative Work Systems (CSCW). For co-learners and designers interested in the abundance in this space, we’ve added some additional links below. We here will make this a bit easier. For your co-learning environment, you may want to do one or two exercises in your decision planning:
What features do you need? Do you need collaboration? Graphic models? Places to work at the same time (synchronous)? Between meetings (asynchronous)? What are the group members already using as their personal learning platforms? It also makes sense to do an inventory about what the group already has as their learning platforms. I’m doing that with another learning group right now. People are much more comfortable – as we also have found in our co-creation of this Handbook – creating and co-learning in tools with which they already are comfortable. Members can be co-teachers to each other – as we have have – in new platforms. What type of tools, based on the features that we need, shall we start out with? Resnick at al.  looked at tools having:
- Low thresholds (easy to get people started)
- Wide walls (able to bring in lots of different situations and uses) and
- High ceilings (able to do complex tasks as the users and uses adapt and grow).
What are important features needed for co-creation and working together? In other pages above, we talk abundantly about roles and co-learning challenges. These issues also are not new; Dourish & Bellottii  for example, shared long-standing issues in computer-supportive collaborative work online about how we are aware of the information from others, passive vs. active generation of information about collaborators, etc. These challenges used to be “solved” by software designers in individual tools. Now that tools are open, abundant, and diverse, groups embrace these same challenges when choosing between online resources for co-learning.
Useful Uses and fancy Features of Technological Tools
From here, we will help you think about what might be possible, linking to features and solution ideas.
We start with ways to ask the key questions: What do you want to do and why? We will start with features organized around several different axes:
- Stages of Activities and Tasks
- Skill Building/Bloom’s Taxonomy
- Use Cases, and
- Learning Functions.
Each will link to pages that will prompt you with features, functionality, and technology tool ideas.
We can further break down tools into whether they create or distribute, or whether we can work simultaneously (synchronous) or at our own times (ascynchronous). To make elements of time and place more visual, Baecker  created a CSCW Matrix, bringing together time and place functions and needs. Some tools are synchronous, such as Google+ Hangouts, Blackboard Collaborate, and Adobe Connect, while others let us work asynchronously, such as wikis and forums. Google Docs can work be used both ways. We seem to be considering here mostly tools good for group work, but not for solo, while many others are much easier solo or in smaller groups.
Some tools are synchronous, such as Google+ Hangouts, Blackboard Collaborate, and Adobe Connect, while others let us work asynchronously, such as wikis, forums, and Google Docs. We seem to be considering here mostly tools good for group work, but not for solo, while many others are much easier solo or in smaller groups.
Stages of Activities and Tasks
Ben Shneiderman  has simplified the abundant models in this area (e.g., Couger and Cave) with a clear model of 4 general activities and 8 tasks in creation for individuals, which we can lean on as another framework for co-creation in co-learning.
Tools and functions won’t be clear cut between areas. For example, some tools are more focused on being generative, or for creating content. Wikis, Etherpad, Google docs, and others usually have a commenting/talk page element, yet generating content is the primary goal and discursive/consultative functions are in service of that. Some tools are discursive, or focused on working together for the creative element of “relating” above – Blackboard Collaborate, the social media class room forums, etc.
Skill Building (Cognitive, a la Bloom’s Taxonomy, see below)
Given that we are exploring learning, we can look to Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised, see ) for guidance as to how we can look at knowledge support. Starting at the bottom, we have:
- Remembering, as a base;
- Evaluating, and then, at the top,
We could put “search” in the Remembering category above. Others contest that Search, done well, embraces most of the Bloom’s elements above. Samantha Penney has created a Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Pyramid infographic, describing tools for learning, which you may want to check out.
Use Cases (I want to….)
Technologies can be outlined according to the need they serve or use case they fulfill. Examples: If we need to ‘curate’, Pearl Trees is an option. To ‘publish’ or ‘create’, we can look to a wiki or wordpress. Other choices might be great in order to ‘collaborate’, etc.
One challenge is that tools are not that simple. As we look more closely at the technologies today, we need to reach more broadly to add multiple tags to them. For example Twitter can be used for “Convening a group,” for “micro-blogging,” for “research,” etc.
- Collaborate with a Group
- Create Community
- Curate Information
- Publish Information
- Create Learning Activities
- Make Something
These plans get more complex, as you are making a group of decisions about tool functionality in order to choose what combination works for use cases. It may be most useful to use a concept map (a tech tool) to think about the needs and combinations that you would bring together to achieve each Use Case or Learning Module.
We have not made this easy! There are lots of moving elements and options here, none of them right for everything, and some of them fabulous for specific functions and needs. Some have the low thresholds but may not be broad in scope. Some are broad for many uses; others are specific task-oriented tools. That is some of the charm and frustration.
Weaving all of the above together, we have brought together a shared taxonomy for us to discuss and think about co-learning technology features and functions, which we present as an appendix below. This connects various technology features within an expanded version of Ben Shneiderman’s creativity support tools framework. We’ve created this linked toolset with multiple tags, hopefully making it easier for you to evaluate which tool suits best the necessities of the group. Please consider this a starting point for your own connected exploration.
Appendix: Features and Functions
Weaving all of these frameworks together, we have brought together a shared taxonomy for us to discuss and think about co-learning technology features and functions. We have connected various technology features with an expanded version of Ben Shneiderman’s creativity support tools framework for the linked resource guide. For convenience and to help keep it up to date, we’re publishing this resource on Google Docs. We present an overview below.
- Schein, E. H. (1997). Organizational learning as cognitive re-definition: Coercive persuasion revisited. Cambridge, MA: Society for Organizational Learning.
- Schein, E. H. (2004). Organizational culture and leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
- Compeau, D.R., & Higgins, C.A. (1995, June). Computer Self-Efficacy: Development of a Measure and Initial Test. MIS Quarterly, 19, (2), 189-211.
- Te’eni, D. (2006). Designs that fit: An overview of fit conceptualizations in HCI. In Human-Computer Interaction and Management Information Systems: Foundations, edited by P. Zhang and D. Galletta, pp. 205-221, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.
- Shneiderman, B. (2002). Creativity support tools. Commun. ACM 45, 10 (October 2002), 116-120.
- Resnick, M, Myers, B, Nakakoji, K, Shneiderman, B, Pausch, R, Selker, T. & Eisenberg, M (2005). Design principles for tools to support creative thinking. Institute for Software Research. Paper 816.
- Dourish, P. & Bellotti, V. (1992). Awareness and coordination in shared workspaces. In Proceedings of the 1992 ACM conference on Computer-supported cooperative work(CSCW ’92). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 107-114.
- Baecker, R., Grudin, J., Buxton, W., & Greenberg, & (eds.) (1995): Readings in Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000. New York, NY: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers
- Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. R. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: A revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational objectives: Complete edition. New York, NY: Longman.