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MON: Three Steps to a Collaborative Learning Environment: a module for teachers and trainers in the post-16 sector (John Baglow)

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John Baglow
9 January 2016

Three Steps to a  Collaborative Learning Environment: a module for teachers and trainers in the post-16 sector

This conference session will be of interest to anyone engaged in the teaching and learning process. It is designed for trainee teachers in the Further Education sector and in the post-16 sector in general but it looks at issues of pedagogy which go to the heart of teaching at any level.

Effective collaboration through openness

We will consider the impact of some aspects of openness on teaching and learning. I shall argue that implementing Weller’s “open state of mind” is perhaps the most relevant aspect of openness in the context of teaching in the post-16 sector. It is implicit that students and teachers will need to deliberately implement an approach where they are happy to be open about their methods, where they encourage their students to feed back to them about the learning process and where there is an understanding that the teacher is also a learner.

Have you considered the implications of an environment which encourages sharing of comments on each other’s ideas and work? Would such an approach be universally popular and effective? What are the pitfalls of expecting students to collaborate and be open with each other in this way? What has been your experience of sharing drafts on H818? Feel free to exploit the backchannels! Contact me on Twitter @JohnBaglow or in OpenStudio or on so that your views can be incorporated in the conference.

Effective collaboration using technology 

The Initial Teacher Education (ITE) module will look at how a range of technologies can play a part in the implementation  of a collaborative learning environment in the classroom and online. For example, students can collaborate using discussion forums, video conferencing, wikis, online bulletin boards and a host of other platforms. Peer feedback can use the same vehicles and can be almost instantaneous if necessary. There is great scope for achieving a sophisticated and nuanced feedback approach which makes use of screencasts, podcasts, online written feedback and online tutorials. There is the additional benefit that trainee teachers become familiar with these new technologies whether or not they adopt them.

Tailoring your approach to your students’ needs

it is fair to say that the student body which my trainees will be teaching is much less homogeneous than that at a university. For example, a colleague reports that written feedback, whether electronic or not, is invariably perceived as rather intimidating by his BTEC students. They much prefer oral feedback, whether face-to-face or in a video clip.

So whether you are a practising teacher who is keen to increase student engagement in the learning process or are just interested in finding out more about how technology has increased the options for introducing an open outlook in education, this presentation is for you.

Extra content

My poster:

John Baglow
19:24 on 16 January 2016 (Edited 16:43 on 6 February 2016)

Here is what I hope will be the final version of my presentation slides. I have added a spoken commentary to give the flavour of what I shall be saying in the conference itself.

Here is the videocast

and here are the notes I used for my commentary on the videocast and which I shall use for the conference.


John Baglow
16:34 on 6 February 2016 (Edited 16:51 on 6 February 2016)

Embedded Content

Presentation slides

Presentation slides

added by John Baglow

Three Steps to a Collaborative Learning Environment: Transcript

Three Steps to a Collaborative Learning Environment: Transcript

added by John Baglow

No gain without pane: what I learned from the conferences

No gain without pane: what I learned from the conferences

added by John Baglow


Wendy Maples
1:05pm 11 January 2016

Hi John! This is such a great project. In my experience (though I would say the benefits outweigh them), there are a lot of risks with peer feedback, even (especially?) amongst professionals. I wonder what safeguards you will put in place for your trainee teachers as they experience a collaborative learning environment, and what you would advise are essential safeguards for students?

Mark Johnstone
5:45am 12 January 2016 (Edited 5:48am 12 January 2016)

Hi John. This is a very interesting topic. I have used collaborative writing in advanced ESL courses in Saudi Arabia and found this very productive. As with other objects of collaboration, there was an indication that the collaborative effort was of higher quality than any individual contributor might achieve alone. I also experimented with peer-feedback.

I believe that it may be useful to separate collaborative work from peer-feedback. Both activities require some training prior to rolling out. As Wendy points out, peer-feedback brings some risks. For this reason, it may be useful to incorporate some framework for writing feedback. One framework I know recommends that feedback be Constructive, Specific, Measurable, Sensitive and Balanced. 

Constructive: offers solutions instead of just identifying problems; Specific: includes an example of what is being recommended; Measurable: describes a suggestion that can be observed or evaluated; Sensitive: avoids negative language; Balanced: mentions strengths as well as weaknesses. Students can be trained to write feedback that bears these qualities. There are other frameworks as well, or you can develop your own.

Skillful provision of useful feedback is itself a high level objective and important in professional life. We should not assume that students know how to do this. Including it in our objectives / outcomes can significantly enhance our courses as well as our pedagogy. This is something that I did did not do, but if I use peer feedback again, I will build this skill into my course and declare it in the objectives.

Anita Houghton
11:34am 16 January 2016

Hi John

Incorporating openness and collaboration using technology into initial teaching training is brilliant.  I have limited experience of teacher training departments, however, in one organisation I worked in,  it was always do as I say and not as I do.   For example,  I used to recruit retired mangers to be NVQ assessors on Management programmes.  They were by far the best assessors I every worked with.    I had to refer them to the teacher training department who taught them how to be assessors.    Assessors were expected to use e-portolios with their learners, however, the teacher training department couldn’t get to grips with the e-portfolios so taught an assessor award producing a paper portfolio.  It sent out a very clear message that technology wasn’t entrenched in their practice.   A constant source of frustration to me. 

Is it easier or harder to be open when you are new to things or when you are established?   A new teacher being encouraged to be open may feel very daunted  as they are very new to the profession.   One analogy is  - riding a bike.  Would you want to learn the basics in private first before you ventured into the public or would you be comfortable with  everybody watching you fall off!   (However, this goes back to the thoughts about openstudio – watching others develop helps your own development)

Once a practitioner starts to learn in private is it too hard to change normal practice so making the leap to open at a later date is too much of a change? 

Nicki Berry
11:50am 16 January 2016

As a fellow FE practitioner, I am really interested and excited about your project. We are about to offer the Level 4 certificate in education and training, and I think there will be outcomes from your project that might benefit my organisation too.

I am particularly interested in the contrast between teachers using collaborative tools for their own planning and preparation, and learners using them as part of their course. Is this something you could comment on in your presentation?

Elaine Dalloway
11:32am 17 January 2016

I'm interested to hear more about both these areas but agree collaboration is an easier one to implement.  I'm looking forward to hearing how to incorporate peer feedback which doesn't terrify or upset some of the participants.

Anna Orridge
3:01pm 17 January 2016

Hi John,

This all looks very interesting indeed.

I am particularly interested to see your conclusions as to how different online learning tools can help foster collaboration. I wonder if there are particular tools which help students to interact in small groups. I notice quite a few of the commenters above highlight the role of fear and social apprehensiveness, and I share their concerns. Perhaps people would be more likely to engage in peer feedback if they knew that the number of people who could view their work would be limited?

I think that online forms are very promising for peer feedback. Direct questions, I think, would limit the risk of students making bland remarks on others' work.

I'm happy to talk about how sharing drafts has been on OpenStudio. I'll post my thoughts to you via Twitter or Studio.

John Baglow
12:31pm 18 January 2016

I am realising from several of these comments that I should not let my enthusiasm for collaborative activities and peer feedback blind me to the potential barriers to its success. Several of you have stressed that students will not automatically take to the idea of working together on a joint end-product. And as Anna implies, some students might not like the idea of their thoughts and opinions having a wide audience. There is a potential clash between the benefits of openness and the fact that some students will not want to be very open. Maybe the H818 openness-max would not be for everyone. Perhaps Dron and Anderson's first category of networking (i.e. the group) would be the approach most likely not to unnerve the students.

This is very useful input for me as I need on my ITE course to acquaint the trainees with the possibility of collaborative work but without ignoring the possible obstacles.

John Baglow
12:40pm 18 January 2016

Elaine, your point about peer feedback potentially terrifying students has got me thinking about how to avoid that happening. One thing I have occasionally done is to give students early in the course a piece of work from an earlier cohort and asked them to assess it. Of course, that is not peer feedback as such, but it does get them used to formulating their views and applying some criterial.

One reason I am keen on collaborative activities is that in my limited experience of them they really do seem to break down the boundaries between comment, suggestion, factual input and feedback so that all of these are going on in a kind of organic way. Students are giving each other feedback almost without realising. And I sometimes get some group members to give others an update on their progress with the task, which also generates feedback.

John Baglow
12:43pm 18 January 2016

Nicki, you asked about teachers networking - this is not my strong point, I don't think. For some time I have been on the lookout for some people and organisations in F.E. who I could network with, especially those involved in teacher training. I did think of trying to start some sort of a group ( or would it be a net or a set??) but have never decided what platform would be best.

Sarah J Sneddon
2:22pm 19 January 2016

Hi John,

May I 'follow' you?  - For EMA purposes, that is (I'm not a stalker!).

Although I work in the two sectors perceived to be on either 'side' of yours - school and HE, I think a lot of what you are considering will be applicable in 'my' sectors too.  I'm very much looking forward to hearing about some of the different approaches you are considering. 

Anna Orridge
3:37pm 19 January 2016

Oh dear, I didn't realise we had to ask. I've followed quite a few people now. I think I'd better just stick with it though - might not look good if I 'unfollow' them now :)

Chris Gray
8:20pm 21 January 2016


I've had experience of peer feedback amongst students when I was lecturing back in the 90's (1990s that is). The students were (quite surprisingly) very reasonable and responsible in their feedback as a group and collectively gave well informed feedback.

Being able to encourage student collaboration can create a very positive learning environment, although I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on how appropriate feedback, within defined boundaries, is implemented and 'policed', as some students will I am sure feel out of their comfort zone in the first instance. As Wendy mentions, safeguarding issues would need to be considered, which from your questions looks like you will comment on anyway, but this shouldn't preclude engaging with the more dynamic approach of student learning. I suppose it's making sure it creates an environment in which the comfort zone for collaborative is appropriately managed.

Students will be able to develop their critical thinking and reflective practice skills, plus hopefully develop further empathic skills as well.

John Baglow
9:16am 22 January 2016

Chris, in my ITE class students have to deliver a short micro-teach and then one of their peers runs a brief feedback session. Because experience has shown me that students find giving feedback almost as challenging as delivering the teaching session I now spend time in the previous module on assessment developing good feedback practice. Some students, as you suggest, still feel 'out of their comfort zone', as you suggest. 

I do feel, though, that being able to highlight key aspects of a peer's teaching is an excellent test of whether they really do understand what makes a session effective or not.

In a nutshell, I encourage the use of questions when giving feedback on the micro-teach. e.g. "how do you feel the group activity went?" or " How could you have got more people engaged?"

Chris Gray
9:43am 22 January 2016 (Edited 9:44am 22 January 2016)


Thanks for this and I agree that questioning is a really effective feedback tool. Sometimes the time pressures and requirements on FE tutors from senior management is such that sometimes best practice is difficult to implement. I no longer teach in FE so not sure if this is still the case.

Nicki Berry
12:09pm 23 January 2016

Hi John, 

Could I just check (as I am following your project and don't want to miss anything) what is your project artefact going to be and where is the best place to follow its development? Originally I think you were going to produce a multimedia presentation but I wasn't sure if that had changed now.

John Baglow
1:28pm 23 January 2016

Nicki, my project artefact is an online module which I would ultimately put on Blackboard as part of a blended Level 4 Certificate in Education and Training. This would involve a range of media, including video clips (screencasts) of my giving feedback, clips of student collaborative work, extracts from Padlet, journals and maybe more. On an ITE course there is what Dave called the 'vicarious learning' going on i.e. as well as learning about the subject matter my students can also be learning about the use of resources.

My presentation was going to include 2 such clips but since the request to submit everything in ppt format rather than pptx that will not longer be possible. I may try to play a snippet from them on the day but I may decide to play safe and avoid the possibility of technical hitches.

I think my ppt is more or less ready but I haven't finalised my commentary. Originally it was going to be a potted version of my project but I now realise it is more of a review of my own progress towards the goal. 

Do you think I should put my ppt on Cloudworks? I could also add my script at a later point.

Sarah J Sneddon
2:35pm 25 January 2016

Hi John,

I just tried to view your presentation slides but was denied access and you have been sent an 'access request'.  My apologies for the intrustion if your presentation wasn't supposed to be looked at just now - feel free to deny access!

I've actually put mine up in OpenStudio because it is less 'open' than 'Cloudworks' and it is pretty rough at the moment.  Like you I've not completed my script - and like you, I have also reduced the technical gizmos in mine.  The tutorial last week made me realise that I would lose valuable presentation time by trying to show a couple of online lessons (I'm going to use screen shots instead).  I'm going to keep in the live performance which seems to be technically straightforward to do but apart from that images are as 'whizzy' as it is going to get!

Best Wishes,



John Baglow
4:03pm 25 January 2016

Hello Sarah, goodness knows why you couldn't access my slides. It should work now. My next task is to revisit my stuff in OpenStudio to see if there is anything I can add. As I believe you are reviewing my presentation please let me know if you have any questions I can answer to help you do the review. I have chosen 2 people's presentations which seem particulary relevant to my FE context. I have summarised my review comments so far so that they see what I am thinking, but I am now rather dependant on them responding to my points.

I am toying with the idea of putting my slides and script on twitter or the like, but because of the technical limitations of the conference my latest version is now minus my voiceover. I think the conference is a good example of Parkinson's Law.

Would you be interested in trying out your presentation in OULive, perhaps next week?

Sarah J Sneddon
4:20pm 25 January 2016

Hi John,

Thanks - I can access your slides now.  I love the images - are you going to provide references for them?  Elaine's project on copyright and using Creative Commons stuff has made me very nervous!

I'll be back with more questions...


ps.  Yes - definitely up for a practice next week.  Is Thursday night any good?

John Baglow
4:22pm 25 January 2016 (Edited 5:40pm 25 January 2016)

Would you like to talk now??!! Room A

Lisa Hale
2:01pm 30 January 2016

Hi John

I would like to follow you for my EMA - if that's ok. All aspects of your project are interesting and useful for me. Like Anna, I'm looking forward to seeing some of the technology tools you use and how they can develop collaboration. As you know, feedback is also an area that I'm very keen on and the idea of tailoring your feedback approach - as a tutor - is an area that I would like to think about more - especially as I work with international students who all come from such diverse cultural and educational backgrounds. In my experience, peer feedback can be really successful or not. It defintiely depends on those involved - as an educator, I know that peer feedback is useful and important, but some students just don't see it that way - they just want tutor feedback. The more I scaffold the peer feedback process, the better it works and while most peer feedback tends to be on the positive side, I have had instances of very harsh peer feedback that has caused a few issues.  I kept thinking about your project and the different types of groups/nets/sets/collectives formats etc. while I was reading the Dron and Anderson paper earlier this week - a bit behind, I know.


John Baglow
4:44pm 30 January 2016

Lisa, the more the merrier!

Here is an extract from my draft EMA, dealing with peer feedback:

Because my own experience of collaborative activities in my teaching has been positive my early drafts of the project tended to concentrate on the perceived benefits but without taking sufficient account of possible obstacles to its success. This was pointed out by several of my peers whose comments centred around the belief that asking learners to be open might take them too far outside their comfort zone. Anita Houghton (Cloudworks 16 Jan 2016 11 34) wondered if those of my trainee teachers who were new to teaching (not all are) would be comfortable venturing into public from the outset. I suggest that in their capacity as trainee teachers it would be reasonable for me to expect them to do so, but they would need to judge for themselves how appropriate it was with their own learners.  She also asks whether learners used to keeping their ideas and views to themselves might find “the leap to open is too much of a change”. My response to that argument would be that teachers often introduce their learners to different ways of learning....

In FE, where I work, it would certainly be the case that peer feedback would work better with some groups than others - but I still think that it is worth trying with most groups.

Elizabeth Frost
5:27pm 31 January 2016

Since being introduced to your project and the subject of feedback, I have made a concerted effort to encourage my students towards peer feedback.  I tried to do this in a roundabout way by using the format I use for feedback as a framework.  I split my feedback into three sections, 'Strengths', 'Improvements' and then if they feel they can, 'Targets'.  The students are used to me doing this with them and are therefore a little more comfortable with giving the same feedback to their peers.They struggle a little with the targets as they find it difficult to differentiate between 'Targets' and 'Improvements'. 

I have noticed that they are slowly becoming more confident and are able to give constructive criticism in a more honest and organised manner and I agree it is worth trying with most groups.  The benefits are huge.

As far as your project is concerned, For example, students can collaborate using discussion forums, video conferencing, wikis, online bulletin boards and a host of other platforms. Peer feedback can use the same vehicles and can be almost instantaneous if necessary. There is great scope for achieving a sophisticated and nuanced feedback approach which makes use of screencasts, podcasts, online written feedback and online tutorials.  How would you monitor this?  Would you nominate 'caretaking' students or would you allow the students to self-regulate?

John Baglow
11:06am 1 February 2016

Elizabeth, I find feedback such a fascinating subject. Your ideas for getting your students to follow your feedback approach is interesting; what sort of activities would you and they be feeding back on? Practical activities done in class? Written work? Do you agree with the idea that getting students used to constantly feeding back and reviewing is important ? ....but it does need a bit of a cultural change, perhaps.

I'm interested in your idea of 'caretaking students'. How might that work? I must admit that my most collaborative activities have taken place in the classroom-based version of my course. The collaboration all took place in the course of a day and a bit so I was able to monitor it. To be doubly sure that the external examiner would be happy I got each student to complete a proforma  which listed the learning outcomes on which they had to outline how they contributed to achieving that outcome in the end-product. (so they wrote things like: "when X wanted to include group activities I pointed out that this was not possible in some contexts" or "I suggested ......") I think that worked quite well.

Collaborative activities online are more challenging perhaps as they rely on the students being able to communicate online. Up to now, I have only got groups of about 3 students collaborating online. In the end that has always worked but it can be a bit of a challenge if, for example, one member of the group does not pull their weight. I think I need to introduce more-regular checks on each group's progress. Some students have successfully used Webex (like OULive) to hold a 30 min collaborative session. That was great. I really think that, whether or not you call it feedback, the kind of interaction produced was an example of really effective learning. Somebody I have read (I forget who) refers to 'intrinsic feedback'. That sounds good to me; what do you think?


Elizabeth Frost
11:47am 1 February 2016

Hi John

Have you had a look at this  I know that Swan is mostly for maths collaborative learning but you may be able to pick up some tips etc.

I will try to answer your questions:

Your ideas for getting your students to follow your feedback approach is interesting; what sort of activities would you and they be feeding back on?  Students are giving feedback on written work mostly, but we also have discussions.  I think it is important that students recognise that we are looking for improvements - and encourage them to take the feedback on board .   Do you agree with the idea that getting students used to constantly feeding back and reviewing is important ? Feedback is so important to all the students - it is an employability skill too.  Students can't improve unless they have some honest feedback, but targets are also a big part of this because the targets will help them focus. ....but it does need a bit of a cultural change, perhaps. Lots of reluctance to be critical of their peers, needs to be in a safe environment and they all need to feel their POV is valuable.  I've been having discussions with my lecturers about the importance of feedback, particularly the maths lecturers and we are trialling not giving a physical mark - just feedback to see if there is any difference in students' output.  There has been some reluctance on behalf of the lecturers to give feedback and the analogy I make is that the lecturers should put themselves in the students' shoes.  How would they feel if they completed work and the lecturer hadn't really marked it - under-valued?  Waste of time?  Message is slowly getting through.

My line manager recently attended a conference where feedback was discussed about recent research completed on two groups.  One group had feedback which said, 'I've given this feedback because I believe in you'.  The other group had generic feedback. The group with, 'I believe in you' out-performed the other group.  I think it was Jo Boaler and the 'Growth Mindset' based around maths.  Might be another avenue for you to investigate.  I have had a quick look but can't find the exact research.

I'm interested in your idea of 'caretaking students'. This could be a bit like the OU students who moderate the forums.  Also, think about Freecycle etc - there are always volunteers who are happy to take on the responsibility.

We have our Teaching Skills Academy which is dedicated to staff development and we offer the DETs and PTTLS (name may have changed) in-house to our lecturers. I could pass your name onto the manager if you would like. 

Maxine Armstrong
6:13pm 11 February 2016

Hi John,

I am really interested in your topic and think that collaboration and peer feedback are two very useful activities.

As an art student I was very familiar with working in a shared studio and being able to exchange comments and ideas about one another’s work. It felt very different when I moved into education and there was not this openness with work in development. It felt very unnatural to me and I missed the ‘Vicarious learning’. However, I did smile reading Anita’s analogy of riding a bike, remembering how embarrassed I felt as my cousins watched me (I fell off a lot!).

I am looking forward to your presentation on Monday.

Best wishes, Maxine 

Dr Simon Ball
11:26am 16 February 2016

Hi John

Here is a summary of the questions/comments from your presentation - please respond as you wish:

  • Is the resistance to collaborative approaches about how they are trained -- or about their own educational experiences as students? Or something else?
  • Is Padlet the best tool available when it comes to collaborative learning? Are there any other tools that can perform a similar function? I find it impressive, but a little difficult to navigate when there is a lot of text content.
  • I'm finding it difficult to get students to contribute to Padlet, but John seems to have had success!
  • I think that it is often to do with how we are trained / educated. I was certainly encouraged to 'go for glory' as an individual, when it came to academia.
  • Should we assess feedback and collaboration, as important 21st century learning skills?
  • It is a change in culture that is needed.
  • Could that willingness to be criticised because of their background as teachers?
    Most people have given what I would regard as constructive feedback, so c.
  • I found people were very balanced in their feedback
  • New teacher often feel that if they are given criticism then they are being judged. Shame.
  • I want to use this method in my online course, so I am finding it useful - thanks! Peer feedback will be critical
  • My daughter has just started high school and I have been amazed at peer feedback activities. It’s in every lesson, every day. In the parents evening we were quoted peer feedback about her work in most subjects. I was really impressed. I have never seen it used to this extent before.
  • Do you give students a 'crib' for feedback? Is that the same 'crib' that you would use yourself in organising your feedback, or is it different?
    For peer feedback I mean
  • So are the activities you've shown us tonight going to be part of your online module? Or are they the thinking behind your plans?

John Baglow
7:46pm 16 February 2016

Here's my post-conference discussion:

Three Steps to a Collaborative Learning Environment: the discussion continues

My conference input enabled me to explore ways of getting students collaborating and in the process giving each other feedback and comment. Some interesting points were raised by the other participants and I would be pleased to hear what you think about these aspects of collaboration:

 Is the resistance to collaborative approaches because of how trainee teachers are trained -- or about their own educational experiences as students? Or something else? Is a change of culture needed if teachers regard feedback as a judgement?

I think that if you are not used to working in a way which means you have to comment on other people’s ideas and work, it must take a while to get used to it. What do you think?

 Are schools leading the way?  One delegate said: “I have been amazed at peer feedback activities. They’re in every lesson” 

 Should we assess feedback and collaboration as important 21st century learning skills?

I hadn’t thought of that as an argument in their favour - I was coming from the belief that peer feedback and collaboration result in more-effective learning. Do you think it is a kind of basic skill?

Do you give students a 'crib' for feedback? I do find that the trainee teachers need to practise giving feedback in the fairly formal setting of the micro-teach, when they feed back on their peers’ sessions. One of the reasons giving this kind of feedback is valuable is that to give it you have to have a reasonably good grasp of the criteria for judging a session; these are complex and have to be learned.

Is Padlet the best tool for (online) collaboration? I think you have to strike a balance between making use of the many new technologies and running the risk of intimidating some learners. I have had some good successes with getting students to work together on Padlet, but as I said there are many more-accomplished practitioners than me around. My main vehicle are discussion forums, online meetings and swapping slides. 

 How do you get your students working together with each other and with you?

Lisa Hale
1:06pm 18 February 2016

Hi John

I just wanted to respond to the point about feedback and collaboration as 21st century learning skills - indeed life skills and employability skills.  I'm not sure about FE but in HE we talk about 'graduate attributes' just type it into Google and loads come up. We've got our own set where I work and all our programme/module learning outcomes needed to be mapped onto these, but I just followed the first link on Google which was University of Glasgow and two of theirs stood out in connection with your topic: experienced collaborators and reflective learners.


Nicki Berry
4:01pm 21 February 2016

In the council, we have a 'competency framework' which breaks down 8 core competencies into specific skills with examples. The ability to give and receive feedback comes under 'collaboration'. It suggests negative (as well as positive) indicators, such as being defensive when given feedback and only telling people what they want to hear, so that they will like you. When we take people through their development reviews, we use this framework to highlight strengths and set targets. I find it quite useful.

Also, when we recruit staff, we put out the 'person spec' and applicants have to show how they meet all the essential criteria. I'm applying for a position at the moment and one of the essential criteria is requesting/valuing feedback. 

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