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Confer – Three steps to consensus

February 9th, 2016 by Graham Attwell

I have written a number of post about the Learning Toolbox mobile app being developed through the Learning Layers project and of course Pekka Kamareinen has documented the development of the project in some detail on this site.

But Learning Toolbox is just one of a number of applications developed by the project and being rolled out for evaluation this spring. One which in my view holds some promise is Confer. Confer is a collaborative workflow tool, being launched under the banner of  “Confer – Three steps to consensus”. Confer provides online collaboration spaces for working groups that can be used both synchronously as well as asynchronously and supports groups in working collaboratively on a task or project; helping to keep the work focused and flowing, recording the discussions and reasoning along the way and producing a final summary output that can become the first draft of a report or recommendations.

Confer is based on research work in computer supported work and learning – for instance by Hämäläinen & Häkkinen, who say “the production of descriptive and surface-level knowledge, the difficulty in creating explanation-seeking questions, the reaching of mutual understanding among participants, and uneven participation are some of the main challenges that exist in computer-supported collaborative learning settings.”

Confer supports and scaffolds groups in working through a collaborative meaning making and decision process.

It first asks “What do we need?” by clearly describing the problem at hand including what, where, when and for whom? The second stage is to explore “What do we know?” through a brainstorming process identifying issues and collecting together relevant knowledge, resources, ideas and experience.

The third stage is decision making – “What should we do?” –  developing and describing options/solutions that will address the problem and identified issues. The end point is to agree on a recommendation.Whilst it may all sound simple in real life these processes are challenging especially with distributed groups who may only meet together face to face at limited intervals. Our research suggests that in reality one person is left alone to write up the results, thus both diminishing group expertise and often failing to develop shared meanings.

The pilot implementations of Confer start next week. But if you would be interested in trialling Confer please email me. You can find out more by visiting the Confer Zone.

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