Group work can be intimidating, when you are uncertain about the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and whether all group members are supportive of the stated goals of the group. Fortunately, our group had two members who had already worked together and we quickly developed the habit of meeting via Skype regularly to check in on our progress and support each other. From Scott’s friendly ability to get us moving in a direction we agreed upon, to Philip’s adventures with power outages, our children coming in and out of conversations and the many colds and viruses we suffered through, our collegiality made the working process pleasant and supportive. We asked each other interesting, challenging questions and were always aware that we were all juggling busy lives, as well as course work.
One of the inquiries that became a focal point for our work was how to design professional development materials for secondary teachers. We had to recognize that teachers come to technologies with a wide range of experience and at different stages in their careers. This makes a significant difference in designing interactivities and materials, but upon reading, research and reflection we knew that teachers will use technologies when they see a value for their instructional practice. The caveat is that they must also have enough time and support to be able to work with something new until they are comfortable using the tool in their classroom.
Online collaboration can become a difficult task, especially when you have more than three group members and over three time zones. There are many things to consider from varied schedules or unexpected circumstances to making allowances for the time shift differences. Setting meeting times via Skype and checking in with Google docs allowed an element of synchronous and asynchronous learning. These two elements were critical to effective teamwork and allowed us to gauge where we were individually and as a team.
As a group, we really expanded on one another’s ideas and brought more depth/scope to the final design of the project. The project went from only encompassing an iBook for students to an iBook for teachers and then videos, wikis, and PDF files to fulfill the learning needs of an adult. The group kept an open mind on the advantages and disadvantages of working with the iPad/iBook format. This led to some interesting discussion on the benefits and limitations of Apple products. One particular advantage that stood out was the ease of using the widgets in iAuthor to make some pretty advanced interactivities without a lot of technical skill. Another advantage was the amount of time it took to produce a very professional looking end-product. Some disadvantages are working around the proprietary Apple platforms and allowing everyone to access some of the resources without purchasing both the Apple desktop and the iPad. Working in a large group has its challenges: bringing together the working schedules, strengths and final products of the different individuals. With ingenuity and commitment, the final design project was launched nicely in a WordPress platform with some interesting solutions to the drawbacks of the iBook platform.