Instructor: Things to keep in mind

The Reflect! platform, in its current form, can be used for

  • College classes in which teams of about four students work on a wicked problem in problem-based learning (PBL) without using facilitators
  • Debate teams that prepare a debate
  • Negotiation training (e.g. Model United Nations)
  • Preparation of negotiations or mediations with real stakeholders in teams of about 4 professionals

Learning goals for projects on a wicked problem

    1. Ethics: Becoming aware that “taking into account” is a crucial challenge for ethical behavior
    2. Wicked problems: Understanding
      • what wicked problems are
      • why wicked problems often cannot be resolved
      • how wicked problems should be approached, particularly, how to develop a
        • problem formulation
        • stakeholder analysis
        • consensus position
        • justification of the consensus position
    1. Reflection and self-correcting reasoning
      • The ability and willingness to reflect critically on representations of one’s own reasoning
      • The ability and willingness to engage in substantial revisions of one’s own reasoning based on
        • serious engagement with positions one does not share, or is not familiar with, and understanding their legitimacy
        • identification of weaknesses in one’s own reasoning
        • objections by others
    1. Consensus building: The ability to collaborate in the development of proposals that can satisfy the interests, values, and goals of all those involved instead of persuading others of the superiority of one’s own position or deciding controversies by voting.
    1. Self-regulated learning in teams: Being able to
      • develop sub-goals to achieve project goals, corresponding strategies, and rules for responsible behavior
      • monitor progress and the consequences of decisions
    1. Learning by collaborating:
      • Team skills
      • Integration of different types of knowledge
      • Effective communication
      • The ability to criticize others
      • The ability to learn from criticism by improving things
      • Perseverance and resilience
    1. Philosophical precision:
      • How to define concepts
      • How to construct strong and convincing arguments
      • How to assess the quality of arguments

With regard to the learning environment

    • This first version of the Reflect! platform is designed for a one-semester (about 14 weeks) class with about 30 students which meets twice a week for 75 minutes each. One day in each week is regular lecture, the other is reserved for work in teams of about 4 students.
    • The Reflect! user guidance for a project on reflective consensus building is designed for roughly 11 team meetings. Three of them cover team presentations and class discussions of project results: a short one in the middle of the semester and then final project presentations at the end (so that 7-8 teams present over two class periods).
    • All collaboration in teams should be either face-to-face in the classroom or via an online video-conferencing platform. The main purpose of the Reflect! platform is to guide and structure team activities and to store and make accessible all materials the students create. The platform provides a shared workspace for teams. However, the expectation is that learning and other cognitive activities happens mainly in talking to other people. This means that seeing each other is important. Reflect! is not designed–at least not in the first development phase–as an online deliberation platform for larger communities or for asynchronous collaboration.
    • Student teams need space. They should be able to sit in a circle and talk. Having too many teams in a small classroom might be stressful due to the noise. In case teams are distributed in a building, they need to make sure that you can find them at any time, as well as team members who are late.
    • It is important that teams work at their own pace. Depending on many factors, they might need more or less time for particular steps. However, wherever they are in the process, they have to present results twice at days at dates that you have to determine in the system.
    • Since the timelines of all teams need to be coordinated (especially for the presentations in class), students need to know that they are responsible for meeting all deadlines. If necessary, teams need to meet outside of class to move things forward.
    • In each meeting, a team needs at least one laptop or computer for reading the instructions and for entering data. More laptops are better so that entries can be made simultaneously.
    • Consider to invite experts for the final team presentations. Knowing that guests will come to the presentation boosts commitment.

With regard to learning

The Reflect! platform is designed to support problem-based learning (PBL) and student-centered learning (SCL). Both forms of learning pose specific challenges for students and for instructors that are not known in traditional instruction. Students need to realize that they themselves are much more responsible for their learning than in traditional instruction; that they need to

    • Determine sub-goals to achieve the goals set by the user guidance of the Reflect! system, which includes setting their own deadlines for deliverables
    • develop strategies to achieve their goals
    • develop rules of responsible behavior that are necessary to achieve their goals in a team (autonomy)
    • develop the necessary motivation and engagement
    • monitor group dynamics and problems, and work on them
    • create a product for a purpose

As Lee and Hannafin (2016) put it with regard to student-centered learning:

SCL … requires a paradigm shift for both students and instructors’ roles during learning. Students’ roles transform from recipient of information to owners of learning goals, decisions, and actions. Consequently, instructors need to learn how to relinquish control and support students to become the owner of their learning. Both students and instructors must be supported to realize this transformation (p. 711).

The Reflect! Platform provides such support by “orchestrating” (Dillenbourg 2015) student, team, and instructor activities through a large project. However, it is important that students understand in advance what is expected from them, as described on this page and in the particular instructions provided on the platform. They cannot simply wait for weeks until somebody tells them what to do. Since the platform provides less detailed guidance in the second project half, you should support teams with what is described on the page “Guidance for work on the symphysis proposal.”

As Lee and Hannafin (2016) formulated in the first design guideline of their “Own it, Learn it, and Share it (OLSit) framework,”

Students can work autonomously toward external goals when they endorse the value of the activity. To facilitate endorsement, instructors need to communicate the rationale—why the activity is important for their learning and how the activity is designed to facilitate the achievement of the broader learning goal. When an explanation of the purpose and value is provided, students are more likely to become personally engaged (p. 722).

For this preparation, it should be a good idea to explain in some detail the value of the learning goals that are outlined above.

A few more ideas …

    • Join each team on a regular basis for some time to observe and to provide feedback and direction, especially with regard to the Workplan. Depending on problems that teams encounter with their wicked problem, help them to adapt. It might be necessary to tell a team to focus on just one aspect of their problem (especially a few meetings before team presentations). Each team needs to find its pathway through the project, and you should support this process.
    • Familiarize yourself with problem-based learning (PBL) and its challenges (e.g. learning to learn; group dynamics; conflicts and its causes, etc.). Here are two useful and short texts:
    • Since the role of the facilitator that is usually required in PBL for each team is only partly replaced by the Reflect! platform—with regard to user guidance—it is necessary that you monitor carefully the dynamics in student teams. Students have the right of a safe learning environment. Well-known risks such as escalating conflicts, free-riding, dominating behavior, disrespect, aggression, emotional and cognitive withdrawal, etc. need to be identified early on. Since it is impossible for you to see what is going on in each team, it might be a good idea to require that students submit entries to a learning journal a few days after each team meeting. Here are three possible questions to answer in the journals:
      • How was your learning experience?
      • List problems with other team members if there are any.
      • List possible solutions to these problems if there are any.
    • There are also peer-evaluation tools such as CATME whose results can be monitored: http://info.catme.org
    • The Reflect! workplan includes three modules that are designed for supporting teams to monitor and improve their group dynamics: “Working on trust” and formulating “Commitments” in the first team meeting, and the “Reflection on team dynamics: Honest conversation” right after the first team presentation.
      • In case students ask what kind of “rules” they might write down on their Project Home Page based on the discussion of “Commitments” at the first team meeting, here are a few suggestions. Rules can refer to:
        • keeping agreements
        • preparing material in a timely manner
        • reading the Workplan before each team meeting
        • submitting things before the deadlines
        • reacting to emails within a certain time, and
        • whatever they think might be important for smooth and efficient collaboration.
      • It would be good to encourage the teams to update these commitments. Further rules can be added at any time.
    • The Reflect! platform does not provide any suggestions or mechanisms for grading. Whether artifacts created in PBL projects should be graded is a controversial question. However, since respecting deadlines for submissions is important to keep all teams on the same time line, it is recommended to take submissions into account for grading.
    • Students should be prepared for
      • doing research on their own (you might support them by putting required readings into the knowledge base)
      • constructing arguments with AGORA (http://agora.gatech.edu) or a similar tool (e.g., MindMup: http://argument.mindmup.com). This is supported by the system; see here.
      • assessing  the quality of arguments and improving them (train the critical assessment of argument maps). This is also supported by the system; see here.

Downloads

References:

Dillenbourg, P. (2015). Orchestration graphs. Modeling scalable education (1st ed.). Lausanne, Switzerland: EPFL Press.

Lee, E., & Hannafin, M. J. (2016). A design framework for enhancing engagement in student-centered learning: own it, learn it, and share it. Educational Technology Research and Development, 64(4), 707-734. doi: 10.1007/s11423-015-9422-5

Walsh, A. (2005). The Tutor in Problem-Based Learning:  A Novice’s Guide. Retrieved from http://fhs.mcmaster.ca/facdev/documents/tutorPBL.pdf