I am here in Anguilla reflecting on a number of ‘Social Media and Academic practice’ sessions that I co-presented with Andy Coverdale from the University of Nottingham. As PhD researchers at the School of Education, we felt comfortable enough to extend our knowledge and experience in what we saw as a gap in the doctoral training programme. What we found was that most participants use social media tools like Facebook, but did not see the need or connection of using these social media tools1 as part of their academic researcher identity. These sessions afforded us the opportunity to address transferable skills that could provide the context for academic researchers to develop and maintain their digital academic identity within the online digital landscape. We held these sessions at the Jubilee Graduate Centre, the Arts and Engineering graduate centre and recently presented an overview of what we have been doing at the e-learning conference at the University of Greenwich. This blogging activity is therefore the offspring of this session at the University of Greenwich e-learning conference.

In three separate blogging entries, I will focus on ‘making sense of collaboration in social networks’ while Andy will focus on ‘blogging as a collaborative process’. It is our hope that a joint publication will result from our separate blogging activities. Interestingly, I will seek to maintain an approach that is semi-academic while not losing my naturalistic blogging voice. This blog entry will focus on the notion of collaboration & collaborative learning and in subsequent blog entries I will go on to show how collaborative learning is seen in social networking setting and how this is related to the process of making sense for academic researchers. It is my hope that making these inferences explicit will help in describing how as academic researchers we can make sense of collaboration in the social networking setting.

Simply put, collaboration is described a process of working with others with a similar goal in mind. Working together however, implies that there are other processes at play which deserve some attention. Roschelle & Teasley (1995) for example, defines collaboration as “…a coordinated, synchronous activity that is the result of a continued attempt to construct and maintain a shared conception of a problem” (Roschelle & Teasley 1995, p.70). Although this definition limits collaboration to synchronous activity, it recognizes collaboration as a process of organised effort that requires negotiation of joint activity. I will like to think that this joint activity can be referred to as the participation that is required to make collaboration possible. But how does participation evolve into collaborative activity within the online setting? This is an important question to address since there might be the inclination to accept social networking as collaboration. Perhaps this is where social networking tools play a role.

Social networking tools & collaboration
The tools of collaboration in social networking are endless and while many tools promote collaboration, using them do not mean collaboration is taking place. It follows therefore that although these technological tools allow individuals to participate easily and it would take more than a comment, rate or tweet to collaborate in social networks. Likewise spending endless hours of commenting, posting, tweeting may not necessarily lead to collaboration. In his book, The Culture of Collaboration, Evan Rosen set out to showcase collaboration as a way of creating value within specified spaces (Rosen 2007), and introduces the Ten Cultural Elements of Collaboration: Trust, Sharing, Goals, Innovation, Environment, Collaborative Chaos, Constructive Confrontation, Communication, Community and Value. He purports that value creation is an integral part for collaboration. While I do not elaborate on these cultural elements, it is important to note how these elements resonate what we identified during our social media presentations as the core elements or values of social media. These are seen in figure 1 below:

Figure 1

It is these values that seem to drive the proliferation of social media and social networking tools and this goes on to upset the traditional approach to learning. But how do researchers make sense of the process that is necessary to make the leap into understanding what it means to work collaboratively when working in current academic setting do not promote these core values. Putting this aside, I now give attention to collaborative learning.

Collaborative learning
Dillenbourg (1999) defines collaborative learning as:

a situation in which particular forms of interaction among people are expected to occur, which would trigger learning mechanisms, but there is no guarantee that the expected interactions will actually occur. Hence, a general concern is to develop ways to increase the probability that some types of interaction occur (Dillenbourg 1999, p.5).

Thus a focus on the ways to increase the probability for interaction assumes that collaborative learning as a social activity that is participative, open and accessible. But within such environments, dialogic exchanges form the basis in which meaning is negotiated. Garrison (1997) for example, explains that within collaborative learning environments critical discourse is valued and encouraged (Garrison 1997) and such emphasis on reflective dialogic exchanges finds support in the works of Freire (2000) & Wells (1999). Therefore taking into account the need for dialogic exchanges within collaborative learning environments, I will like to put forward the following:

Participation + negotiation + critical dialogue +critical reflection = collaborative learning

Dialogic exchanges, comments and postings form the basis of how individuals collaborate within the social networking setting and a number of social media tools mediate the collaborative learning activity. A brief look at a sample of social media tools reveal the sort of social media activities that support the dialogic view.


Primary Activity

Secondary Activities

Blogs (WordPress, Blogger)


Following, Like, commenting, subscribing

Flickr (Images), Youtube (videos), Slideshare (Presentations),  Scribd & GoogleDocs (documents)

Photo, video, presentation and document sharing.

Commenting, rating, liking, sharing, embedding.



Retweeting to followers, replying, following, direct message.


Group publishing

Collaborative editing, commenting

Table 1 Sample of tools that were highlighted as part of social media sessions.

While I have just touched the surface on collaborative learning, I have provided the basis for taking the discussion further in subsequent blog entries. I have attempted to make some head way into understanding the processes of collaborative learning that remain largely tacit. The way I see it is that when individuals engage in collaborative learning, they are in fact engaging in a set of critical and reflective dialogic activities in such a way that enables them to negotiate meaning in their context. The negotiation process however remains somewhat of a mystery and needs further exploration to fully understand. This is something that perhaps will unfold in the next blog entry. However, I end with more questions than answers. How do we go about negotiating meaning in social networks? What sort of tools mediate this negotiation process? Questions, do you have any to add to this list?

Footnote: I use tools in a rather lose sense to include technological tools and the social networking behaviours (commenting, tweeting, following, posting, liking, rating etc) they afford


Dillenbourg, P., 1999. What do you mean by collaborative learning. In Collaborative learning: Cognitive and computational approaches. Oxford, UK: Elsvier, pp. 1-19.

Freire, P., 2000. Pedagogy of the oppressed, New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Garrison, D.R., 1997. Computer Conferencing: The Post-Industrial Age of Distance Education. Open learning, 12(2), 3-11.

Roschelle, J. & Teasley, S.D., 1995. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. In C. O’Malley, ed. C. O’Malley (Ed.). Berlin, pp. 67-97.

Rosen, E., 2007. The Culture of Collaboration 1st ed., Red Ape Publishing.

Wells, C.G., 1999. Dialogic inquiry, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

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