Whilst the roots of elearning lie in the US military, current developments are driven by a very diverse international group that collaborates under the auspices of the International Standards Organisation’s Joint Technical Group SC36. I keep a watching brief on this through my membership of the BSI committee (IST/43) that feeds British contributions into the international effort.

The JTC’s committee on elearning (SC36) is voting today on the adoption of a standard for collaborative learning systems, (SC36 N0643 – PDF). It’s very early days for this, but the underlying idea is very exciting. You may find the initial proposal (PDF) more digestable.

Imagine wanting your Spanish class to do a collaborative project with a matched English language class in a Spanish school. Let’s suppose that they are going to investigate the weather patterns in each others’ countries, report on it in each others’ languages and then edit each others’ work and give feedback.

You can set that up through exchange of emails, but it’s very time-consuming for the teachers at each end. In practice, such projects are fairly rare because of the hurdles setting them up. But what if a publisher like Chalkface had done all the setup for you? I can envisage a system that would

  • match up interested schools
  • provide detailed role notes for each student
  • move the information (text, diagrams, meteorological data) from student to student in an appropriate sequence
  • provide the teachers with a suitable overview

What’s missing from this is that Chalkface doesn’t sell in Spain, so we’d need a publishing partner. This is where having an international standard comes in. If we have an off-the-shelf way of describing what we are doing to each other, it becomes much easier to create a joint project.

NO643 is pretty lightweight, and not very specific as standards go, but it’s a great start. We designed collaborative learning into Paperless School from the start, but so far we’ve not implemented it. Perhaps this will give us boost we need to turn the plan into a product.

Update: The very day I blog this, Rebecca Singer at Becta passes along this advert for a research fellowship in in Collaborative eLearning, right here in Cambridge. This area’s hotting up faster than I’d realised!

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