#iCollab, communities and networks

Nurturing global collaboration and networked learning in higher education, an article based on our iCollab experiences, has been published in Research in Learning Technology today. The article was authored by Thom Cochrane, Averill Gordon and myself, three members of the iCollab community of practice – it is based on a presentation which Thom and I gave at the 2014 EdTech conference ‘Nurturing global collaboration’.


In the article, we reflect on our experiences in iCollab, creating a global community of practice of educators and students which intentionally operates within and across networks.

The iCollab lecturers who initiated and facilitate the iCollab CoP share a common understanding of higher education students, in all their diversity. We recognise that students, as networked individuals, enter higher education with existing identities, networks and practices – both digital and embodied. We do not ask students to leave these at the door (or the virtual door, in the case of VLEs). Instead, we invite students to join a community of practice that is itself networked, to reflect on and develop their identities, networks and practices within the iCollab CoP and to the extent that they wish, in wider networks to which the iCollab CoP provides visibility and access.

Thanks to our #icollab colleagues Helen Keegan, Ilona Buchem, Mar Camacho, Bernie Goldbach and Sarah Howard – and to all of the students with whom we have worked – for ongoing inspiration and learning.

9 thoughts on “#iCollab, communities and networks

  1. Thanks for this article Catherine et al. I read it this morning after receiving a RiLT notification email. It’s very thought-provoking and informative for some of my own current work. I particularly like the way you explore the complementarity between doing networking and doing community. For me, it’s helped by the clear positioning of communities of practice for students and educators and their freedom to go beyond this.
    It also brought to mind something that I think about often – the delicate balance between structure and agency -and that’s observable from Vygotsky, through Bandura, Giddens structuration theory, Science & Technology Studies and many other schools of thought.
    I am also fascinated by how posthumanism goes beyond human subjectivities and agency. It opens up ideas and extends the possibilities for we humans as your article demonstrates.
    What I love about your article is that it retains the humanity of the enterprise whilst acknowledging the future possibilities available through weak ties in technology-enabled social networks.

    1. Many thanks for your thoughtful comment, Frances, and for considering our iCollab project in a broader context. Structure and agency is getting right to the heart of things! It’s interesting… from this vantage point I’d say my earliest ventures in teaching with technology (including social media) favoured structure over agency. Perhaps that’s true for most of us, I don’t know. (And this was despite my work in STS, gender & tech, feminist theory.) Thanks to reflection, and ongoing/deep collaboration with iCollab colleagues and others (I count you among these), I’ve questioned many of my assumptions. In iCollab we challenged ourselves to find new ways to balance pedagogical structure and student agency. It was thrilling (sometimes in the tightrope sense 😉 ) to work closely & openly with other networked educators – often on a weekly basis, in parallel with our teaching – and to encourage our students to share their voices and ideas, not just with us but with one another. Small steps, yes, but significant learning for us all.

      In any given context, each learner will choose their own way to engage (or not) in open networks. If the learning *community* is a “node in a broad network of distributed creativity” (ref. Joi Ito), then open networked learning can be modelled, experienced, discussed and considered by everyone in that community – regardless of how visible each individual chooses to be in those networks. That’s what we tried to do in iCollab anyway – maximise the benefits of collaboration & cooperation, communities & networks.

      Thanks again, Frances. I hope that Thom and/or Averill, or other iCollab colleagues, will feel free to comment here also 🙂

      1. I agree Catherine – in my experience being an open educator/scholar is a process of ‘becoming’ – very similar to the process our students go through as they learn to become a professional in the context they are studying towards – hence ‘ontological pedagogies’ are powerful paradigms to enable these reconceptions. The power of networked COPs is in providing a supporting framework/network for educators to feel part of as they push the boundaries of their current conceptions of teaching and learning. It’s interesting for example to see the impact of social media on the dissemination of this article for instance – networking through Twitter curated through Altmetrics shows how quickly social media can enhance the impact of open scholarship through networks of COPs.


        “thomcochrane: @catherinecronin @AverillG paper already in the top 10% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric. https://t.co/QrV8V4S1MH

        Price, L., & Kirkwood, A. (2013). Using technology for teaching and learning in higher education: a critical review of the role of evidence in informing practice. Higher Education Research & Development, 1-16.
        Danvers, J. (2003). Towards a radical pedagogy: Provisional notes on learning and teaching in art & design. International Journal of Art & Design Education, 22(1), 47-57.
        Chi, M., & Hausmann, R. (2003). Do radical discoveries require ontological shifts? In L. Shavinina & R. Sternberg (Eds.), International Handbook on Innovation (Vol. 3, pp. 430 – 444). New York: Elsevier Science Ltd.

  2. @catherine – thanks for the Ito reference – I’ll look it up. It’s interesting to think of community as a node – that suggests some sort of coherence and sense of what they are about. My experience is that communities can be experienced in that way eg Communities of Practice or Communities of Inquiry but also I see community used as what Kogan called a “warm glow word” in a way that submerges difference and valuable exchanges that don’t require agreement.
    That’s why I admire the explicit way in which community is framed in your paper – perhaps that was an important part of your achievements along with commitment from educators and students, and your skills in supporting networking and ‘becoming’.
    Kogan, M., 2000. Higher Education Communities and Academic Identity. Higher Education Quarterly, 54, pp.207–216.

    @thomas I am off to follow up “ontological pedagogies” and suspecting this something I have aspired to without knowing it was called that 🙂 I am very interested in the part that social media can play in the dissemination and impact of open scholarly outputs – I blogged my reflections here https://francesbell.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/open-access-and-social-media-networking-around-a-scholarly-article-shadymooc/ . I do have my reservations about the meaning of many metrics though. For example the one you cited above relates to publications of the same age and it’s only just been published 🙂 A tweet is a short thing, a click takes a second and an article is a much longer read. Metrics around open articles include hits, downloads and citations in articles and other publications such as blogs. I sometimes look up where I have been cited, and sometimes doubt whether the author actually read the article that they are citing. I now take my citation metrics with a large grain of salt.
    I am sure that your article will have impact on research and practice and that social media can play a part in this but maybe we are at the dawn of how this can happen better for all our becomings and, dare I say it?, the common good.

    1. Thanks Francis – love your blog post. I’m also interested in how social media can enhance traditional research impact metrics, not replace them. I think it’s interesting to view research impact from a perspective of the scholarly conversation that it generates – metrics such as citations and clicks don’t represent this well, however social media can draw a broad base of readers to engage with research outputs and provide a ‘trail’ of conversations that hopefully result in ‘impact’ – form my perspective impact = change in practice or thinking. What Altmetrics adds are the dimensions of being able to see what audience you are potentially reaching through social media demographics https://www.altmetric.com/details/6026555#twitter-demographics. Social media generates much more immediate awareness of research, and hopefully leads to conversations like these, eventually resulting in more scholarly reflections that take much longer to become visible. E.g. within 2 days “So far, Altmetric has seen 26 tweets from 21 users, with an upper bound of 46,541 followers.” Potentially reaching over 46000 people in 2 days is an example of social media enabling impact through networked COPs. Alt metrics appear to have a short ‘life-span’ but hopefully help generate longer term impact.

      1. Thanks for your reply Thomas! and thanks for your great work on iCollab. I am very positive towards your view that we should “view research impact from a perspective of the scholarly conversation that it generates”. I think we are doing that here but the challenge for me is how we can include a wider audience. Metrics can inform us but I think we have a real and exciting challenge to think about how we can realise, in some way, the potential of the reach that social media offers to us. And also I think we need to consider the pros and cons of achieving this reach.

  3. @frances @thom – Many thanks for ongoing discussion and great links to follow up. In case you don’t have it already, Frances, the Joi Ito quote is here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/catherinecronin/9615402451/in/album-72157629438281845/

    I’d love to continue the conversation re: opening/widening scholarly conversations. Indeed, this was part of the rationale for our work in iCollab. In terms of the role of social media, a new paper by George Veletsianos & Royce Kimmons, based on large-scale Twitter data, presents a very interesting analysis of social media metrics, scholarly quality/reach, and participation equity. There’s much food for thought (and future research, I hope), here.

    Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2016). Scholars in an increasingly digital and open world: How do education professors and students use Twitter? The Internet and Higher Education.

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