As I reflect upon some of my recent experiences in MOOCs (most recently #ETMOOC and #EDCMOOC) and online communities (especially my recent participation in #COOPLIT), I find myself thinking about the notion of digital collaboration and the pursuit of digital collaboration fluency.

Learning about positive and effective communication is a lifelong task, an area where I know that I want and need to grow.  I am especially fascinated by how this looks and evolves in digital spaces. Regardless of the context, there is ample research to support the idea that high impact groups/teams develop clear and positive methods of communication.

From the positive psychology research, we know that the positivity ratio in group interaction is a key to success, even to the overall success of businesses.  When there are more negative comments than positive ones, that is a danger sign for the organization.  On the flip side, if there is 100% positivity, that lead to ineffective teams as well.  The important part, it seems, is to have more positive comments than negative, building a culture of trust and openness where people are generally positive but they can also disagree.  They can even battle some things out while keeping the co-worker / co-learner relationships healthy and intact (many of the ideas in this paragraph were informed by Seligman’s book Flourish).

Howard Rheingold just drew my attention to this blog post where the author reviews and highlights parts of Sarah Miller Caldicott new book Midnight Lunch: the 4 phases of team collaboration success from Thomas Edison’s LabTwo ideas captured my attention from this blog post and book:

  1. “Collaboration begins with collegiality. Unless people feel they can roll up their sleeves and work together, innovation is much tougher.”
  2. “Collaboration is reinforced through casual dialogue rather than stiff agendas. Every member of a collaboration team engages in dialogue with other team members, and is not able to shrink to the background.”

These two points remind me of the importance of cultivating a culture of collaboration and not simply trying to apply collaboration principles to standard meetings, classes, and environments.  It also reminds me of Jay Cross’s important work about the power and importance of Informal Learning in the workplace over traditional training programs, workshops, and seminars.

All of this brings me back to the title of this article, “Toward Digital Collaboration Fluency.”  Literacy, as I am thinking about it now is not as much about memorizing rules, grammar, and punctuation as it is about socially negotiated meaning.  As I write about digital collaboration literacy and fluency, it is more than simply applying principles from a manual on how to collaborate effectively in digital spaces.  Instead, it is about negotiating over and over.

The more that I think about it, the more that I believe that the most powerful digital collaboration comes when those involved take time to build community and trust, and then they persevere through imperfect attempts at digital communication and collaboration. Given this trust relationship, they are willing to explore and experiment with new modes of digital age communication and collaboration.  They experiment with the affordances and limitations of text versus audio versus video, synchronous versus asynchronous versus nearly now communication like what we see in texting and Twitter. They explore new ways of thinking about roles and responsibilities.  They try out various tools in search of new affordances and not simply leaning on a couple of preferred tools that are personally comfortable.  In the end, they negotiate mash-ups of collaborative tools for a given context, project, or team; and then the do it all over again with the next project or team.  This is certainly a messier way of thinking about digital collaboration fluency, but it may be one of the only ways to make significant progress toward true fluency rather than plateauing at moderate levels of competence.

The pursuit of fluency also requires lots and lots of time. I’ve yet to see any shortcuts.  It demands a willingness to immerse oneself in the environment and lean on others so much that, if they were move, you would fall over.  With that will come frustration, more messiness, and uncertainty.  It will drive us to want to revert back to our comfort zones, but doing so may inhibit us from the joy of that next digital collaboration aha moment.  This is why that informal and collegial community of trust is such an important foundation.  It is much easier to take risks when you are among trusted friends, collaborators and/or colleagues; people who pay more attention to your strengths and contributions than your weaknesses or shortcomings.

9 Thoughts on “Toward Digital Collaboration Fluency

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  4. You’ve captured perfectly what I have experienced and documented in numerous vibrant online communities–the best of which operate in a blended online-onsite combination. Having been introduced to that blended process while collaborating with colleagues in an online course (I was in San Francisco, they were in two different Canadian cities), I continue to explore this level of engagement through a variety of digital collaborations (including those available through #etmooc) and cherish what they provide.

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