Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom - Presented by

Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom - Presented by
Student Collaboration
in the Online Classroom

         Presented by

Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom - Presented by
2   Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
Student Collaboration
in the Online Classroom

 Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •   3
Table of Contents

Introduction: Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom ......................................................................................5

Online Teamwork Quick Reference (Summary) ..........................................................................................................6

Keeping Teamwork Alive, Motivated, and Enthused! ..................................................................................................8

Improving Results and Reducing Frustrations from Team Activities ............................................................................9

How to Promote Collaborative Active Online Learning ..............................................................................................11

Considering Collaboration ........................................................................................................................................12

7 Ways to Improve Student Satisfaction in Online Courses ........................................................................................15

Open-Source Blog Platform Provides Much-Needed Communication Flexibility ........................................................16

Building Community in Online Classes through Group Work ....................................................................................17

Study: Changing Virtual Team Membership Improves Participation ..........................................................................19

Facilitating Student Interaction with Online Discussion Groups ................................................................................20

Active Online Learning Prepares Students for the Workplace, Reflects Changing Learning Style Preferences ............22

17 Tips for Successfully Including Peer Collaboration in an Online Course................................................................23

Comparing Online Peer Interaction Methods ............................................................................................................25

Developing Community Online..................................................................................................................................26

Let Students Choose How to Collaborate ....................................................................................................................27

Online Process-Oriented Group Projects ....................................................................................................................28

How a Former Student/Current Instructor Facilitates Online Student Collaboration ..................................................29

4                      Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom

      U    sing team assignments in an online course can be an excellent way to create commu-
           nity and improve learning. But just as in a face-to-face course, student collaboration
      in the online classroom requires careful course design, student preparation, and team

      This Online Classroom special report is a compilation of articles that will help you
        • recognize when teamwork is an appropriate strategy
        • overcome student resistance to working together on group projects
        • select collaboration tools
        • teach students how to collaborate online
        • monitor teams and help resolve conflict, and provide meaningful feedback.

      We have compiled this special report to provide you with online collaboration design and
      facilitation ideas that work, whether you are a new or seasoned online instructor.

                                                          — Rob Kelly
                                                            Online Classroom

                   Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •             5
                               Quick Reference
                                      Best Practices compiled from Online Cl@ssroom

                                                     elly, Justin, Neil, and Cori have been assigned a
    What Is Teamwork?
       Teamwork occurs when individ-
    ual peers redefine themselves as a
    group. (Smith, p.26)
                                               K     teamwork project. Kelly tends to take charge and
                                                     makes sure everything gets done according to her
                                               high standards. Justin is happy because he was on a
       Collaborative learning, collective      team with Kelly previously and received a high grade
    decision making, teambuilding, and         without putting in much effort. Neil has been finishing
    group projects are all teamwork ac-        his degree one course at a time because of his hectic
    tivities that involve taking responsi-     work schedule, and Cori is new. Because of family
    bility for one’s ideas and having          obligations, Cori is only able to work on school projects
    sensitivity to the ideas and goals of
                                               in the evenings.
    others. (Shank, p. 12)
       Teamwork mirrors the real world           See any likely problems for this team? As you know, teamwork projects can
    where sharing information and              be frustrating. The most common reasons for learner frustrations include in-
    under-standing the views of others         adequate preparation and communication, and the most common reason for
    is often critical. (Shank, p. 12)          faculty frustration is the need to deal with learner frustrations. (Shank, p. 9)

    What are the Benefits of                   How Do Instructors Successfully Incorporate
    Teamwork? (Engle, p.11)
    • Learners think through topics            Teamwork in Online Teaching and Learning?
      more thoroughly                          • Define Teamwork & Prepare Learners for Team Roles Early
    • Teamwork encourages exploration             Begin by making teamwork a stated course outcome. Collaboration, partici-
      of alternative perspectives and so-      pation, and communication expectations should be written into the syllabus.
      lutions                                  (Roby, 2005) Then, discuss teamwork, broadly, during the first class. Use
    • Teamwork stimulates critical             real-life examples of the benefits of teamwork with which learners can iden-
      thinking and helps learners clarify      tify as a great teamwork motivator. (Sull, p. 8)
      ideas through discussion and de-            Terry Morris, associate professor at William Rainey Harper College in Pala-
      bate                                     tine, Illinois, uses her online “Working in Teams” module (http://terrymor-
    • Solutions are typically better than to help learners understand team roles, how to be good
      what one learner could develop           team members, and how to resolve conflicts. After learners have used the
      working individually — particu-          module, she facilitates a discussion about teamwork experiences, including
      larly if the project is complex.         what made them good or not so good and how to prevent the not-so-good
                                               ones. (Shank, p. 9)
    What Other Skills Does Teamwork
    Develop? (Engle, p.11)                     • Establish Criteria for Forming The Teams
    • High-Level Thinking skills                 Some instructors set up teams and others allow learners to form their own
    • Negotiating skills                       teams. If learners are allowed to select their own teams, it’s important to pro-
    • Feedback skills                          vide a way for them to learn enough about each other to make good deci-
    • Communication skills                     sions about who to work with. (Shank, p. 9)
    • Project Management skills                  Instructors who assign learners to teams have many options. Learners may
    • Interpersonal skills                     be randomly assigned or assigned based on their interests, skill levels, partici-
    • Intercultural skills
                                                                                                                 NEXT PAGE

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                                     Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
Sample Teamwork Course                      pation levels, or their learning styles. (Humbert, p. 17)
  Outcome Statement                           Forming teams based on learning styles is a great way of giving learners
  In this course you are required to        the opportunity to develop projects that best fit their specific styles. For in-
collaborate on a team project:              stance, an instructor could have a team of kinesthetic learners develop a
• You will use the same team for            Web page, a team of auditory learners develop and record a jingle, and a
  the entire course.                        group of visual learners write a paper or create a flyer. (Humbert, p. 17)
• Your team will share a Discussion           Once grouping criteria have been established, create teams of three to five
  Forum.                                    learners. (Roby, p. 23) Introduce the project and then, if possible, give the
• Teamwork grades consist of two            team a relatively easy task before they take on more complex team tasks.
  elements: (Engle, p. 11)                  “Before you actually launch a project, it’s important to make sure that every-
  1.a group grade for the product it-       body knows who’s doing what,” says Jan Engle, coordinator of instruction
    self and                                development at Governors State University. (Engle, p. 11) individual grade based on
    peer reviews of your contribu-          • Guide Learners Through Team Communication
    tion to the team.                          Regardless of course platform (on-campus, hybrid, or fully online) allow
• Failure to participate in team proj-      team members to choose whether they work face to face, by telephone, or
  ects is an automatic one-grade de-        online. (Dineen, p. 19) Online interaction options can include e-mail,
  duction for the course. (Engle, p.        threaded discussion, text-based chat, document sharing, and blogs. Instruc-
  11)                                       tors decide whether to limit online options depending on whether they plan
                                            to monitor team interactions and whether team communication will be pri-
Sample Team Agreement                       vate within the group or open to the rest of the class.
• Project Title & Due Date                     Once teams are formed and the learners have some understanding of what
• Project Objectives/Purpose                is expected, it’s important that they document their understanding. To facili-
• Team Members & Contact Info               tate this, teams should construct their first collaborative assignment, a for-
• Member Expertise                          mal team agreement. (Shank, p. 9) “We identified the roles and
• How to Communicate/How Often              responsibilities, the tasks, and how they would be shared. And we did it all
• Project Tasks & Deadlines                 through discussion threads. Being able to have that record of the process
• Member Roles/Deliverables                 was very helpful,” says Valerie Taylor, a former online learner. (Taylor, p. 29)
• Conflict Management Procedure
                                            • Improve Participation Through Peer Evaluation & Varied Membership
Sample Peer Evaluation (Shank,                Some learners resist teamwork because of past experiences where they
p. 9)                                       ended up doing most of the work while others did nothing and everyone got
  Does this team member                     the same grade. (Engle, p. 11) To prevent inequity, set up a formal mecha-
• accept responsibility for tasks de-       nism so team members can provide feedback about and to each other. This
  termined by the team?                     allows team members time to adjust their behaviors while they can still
• respect differences of opinion and        make a positive difference. The results of these assessments can also be
  backgrounds?                              used to determine individual grades for team assignments. (Shank, p. 9)
• provide positive feedback of team           Another idea is to replicate professional contexts where membership in
  member accomplishments?                   working groups changes frequently as tasks evolve. Alternating team roles
• keep in contact with team mem-            (Piezon & Ferree, p. 21) and/or team membership may reduce social loafing
  bers for the purpose of maintain-         without reducing levels of team communication or learning outcomes. (Di-
  ing team cohesion and                     neen, p. 19)
• meet team deadlines?                      • Seek Feedback
                                               In addition to a general course evaluation, ask students for feedback on
Working in Teams Tutorial                   teamwork projects/exercises, particularly those that are newly implemented.
(Shank, p. 9)                               Use the comments received to adjust, abandon, or confirm the use of spe-           cific teamwork projects. (Roby, p. 23)

     Online Classroom Editor: Rob Kelly. To subscribe:
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                              Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
standing posting requirements or proce-
Keeping Teamwork Alive,                                                                  dures; students who complain about
                                                                                         their teamwork grade, about other team
Motivated, and Enthused!                                                                 members, or your comments regarding
                                                                                         their team postings—the list goes on.
                                                                                         By posting a list of these, and your sug-
                                                                                         gestions for each, at the beginning of
                                                                                         the course you will cut down—tremen-
By Errol Craig Sull                                                                      dously—on student “teamwork emails”
                                                                                         to you!

T    eamwork: it is a specified or non-
     specified section of so many online
                                           tant it is and they will not lose it
                                           amongst    other   aspects  of the  class. Be
                                                                                            Use teamwork “genius” from stu-
                                                                                         dents  to motivate the class. Scour the
courses where students have the oppor- sure to use the active voice and active, team postings regularly and gather
tunity to “speak” with one another in an involved verbs—this “feel” only adds            those that extend beyond that one team
asynchronous environment. Yet online       to the overall importance you place on but can benefit the entire class—in
instructors often overlook its impor-      teamwork and its value.                       teamwork or any other area of the
tance, and it can be the most difficult      Give an example of a good team-             course. This can result in two positive
section to “maintain.” To peek in and      work session. Students need to know           outcomes: first, students will love to
see a teamwork thread of five, six, or so that their teamwork responses cannot           have their “genius” team postings used
students sharing ideas, growing their      be  merely   “I agree,”  “That’s   cool,”     for the entire class as great examples;
learning from this participation, and of- “Nice job,” and the like—yes, short re- second, you will be demonstrating the
fering good ideas and responses—this is sponses can certainly be part of team-           importance of teamwork—and both are
the stuff that online instructors dream of work, but the ideal teamwork thread           great motivators.
seeing in teamwork postings. Yet moti-     will  have  all team   members    involved,      Maintain a list of teamwork
vating students to buy into the team-      each offering substantive posts (both         “nuggets.” These will be items you
work concept—beyond getting a              proactive and reactive) and about 30          harvest from teamwork throughout the
grade—can be a challenge. It is far eas-   percent short reactive postings. Copy-        course that are so good that they can
ier for the online student to work by      ing  and  posting   a previous   team’s       be used from course to course to
him/herself than in a teamwork envi-       thread that offers what you seek in           demonstrate great ideas that came from
ronment—and to do this for an entire       your class will give them a nice guide— teamwork; to motivate students in
course, well, instructors are wont to say so much more effective than simply             teamwork or another portion of the
... good luck!                             your   description!                           course; and to offer suggestions, in-
   Some basic approaches, a bit of time,     Become an active part of teamwork. sights, and info for this, that, or an-
and a persistent enthusiasm on the in-     You cannot be merely the “teacher ob-         other course portion. I have so many
structor’s part can translate into team-   server,” but rather you need to dive in       that they are broken into categories—
work sessions by students that are         as well:  respond    to some   of the  posts, including “Great Metaphors and Analo-
outstanding in that they result in the     offer suggestions, give kudos when ap- gies”—and they prove very helpful as
core outcome set for teamwork, can be propriate. (Never chastise one student             motivational or information “dust”
fun and engaging, and make for a more “in front” of the other team member;               sprinkled throughout a course.
enjoyable and meaningful class for         rather,  do this  in a  private email.)  By      Be sure to offer substantive re-
both students and instructor.              doing this, the students can see that         sources for teams. Beyond your opin-
   To accomplish this, try the following you walk the walk, not just talk the            ions and observations on postings
techniques:                                talk—and a combination of your pres-          during teamwork, be sure to post web-
   Emphasize and explain team-             ence and what you offer will truly help sites, anecdotal information, and the
work—early. Many students have             motivate them to stay active in team-         like that is specific to the teamwork
never taken an online course or have       work!                                         thread—not only does this show you
not had one that used teamwork, thus         Post a list of teamwork problems— are actively interested in teamwork but
many aspects of it will be foreign. It’s   with possible solutions. There will be that you have gone “the extra mile”
very important that you discuss team-      a variety of teamwork problems that           with solid items that can make a team’s
work, broadly, in your first posting of    pop up: team members not contribut-           efforts—whether it a team project or a
the class, but also follow this with an-   ing, being too bossy, using negative          team discussion—better.
other posting that only emphasizes and language, personally attacking other                 Answer all teamwork questions
explains teamwork—this one-subject         team members; technical difficulties
posting lets students know how impor- with postings, late postings, misunder-                             PAGE 9

8                                  Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •

within 24 hours. In most online
                                             Improving Results and Reducing
courses, student questions to the in-
structor are usually not posted in a
                                             Frustrations from Team
teamwork thread—but this will not
prevent students from doing so. Often,
these are spur-of-the-moment, emo-
tion-filled questions—the kind that ne-
cessitate the quickest of responses. Be
on the lookout for them—and let your         By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT
students know that all questions, com-
ments, etc. posted or sent to you will
receive a response within 24 hours.
(Don’t single out teamwork: if you do,
you are inviting students to post ques-
                                             S    hauna, Juan, Morris, and Kati make
                                                  up team #3 in Dr. Davidson’s online
                                             business ethics course. Shauna is a
                                                                                           collaboration, learners can share infor-
                                                                                           mation about themselves such as
                                                                                           course-related special interests, specific
tions to you there!)                         planner and makes detailed plans for          skills (when heterogeneous skills are
   Use Reality-Based Education in ex-        home, work, and school so she can             needed), desired topic (when teams
plaining the benefits of teamwork be-        make sure that everything she wants to        can choose a topic), collaboration style
yond a grade. Always look for                accomplish gets done according to her         (such as well-planned and more lais-
opportunities beyond the course to           very high standards. Juan is thrilled to      sez-faire), and availability (week-
show the benefit of teamwork—these           be on Shauna’s team because he                day/weekend, time of day, time zone).
can include working together, new            worked with her in a previous course            Some instructors set up teams and
ideas coming out of group inter-             and knows that Shauna’s plans usually         others allow learners to form their own
changes, interacting with varied per-        result in optimal outcomes (and high          teams. If you prefer to allow learners
sonalities, overcoming hurdles, and          grades). Morris has been finishing his        to select their own groups, it’s impor-
making team decisions. Be sure to            degree online because he is unable to         tant to provide a way for them to learn
bring real-life examples of these with       fit classroom-based courses into his          enough about each other to make good
which the students can identify (Real-       hectic travel schedule, and Kati is a         decisions about who to work with.
ity-Based Education)—this is a great         new online learner. Because of her fam-
teamwork motivator, as it points out         ily obligations, she is only able to work     Understanding teamwork
Teamwork value in everyday life.             on school projects in the evenings.              Because so many educational activi-
   Stay 100 percent enthusiastic about          See any likely problems for this team      ties reward individual results, lots of
teamwork’s importance. You never             from the get-go? If you have been imple-      folks are unprepared for teamwork. Be-
want to give the appearance you are a        menting collaborative projects, you           fore beginning collaborative projects
“rah! rah!” supporter of teamwork be-        know that they can be frustrating. Col-       then, learners should ideally be pre-
cause it is your job or only for the first   laborating at a distance adds additional      pared for team roles and responsibili-
part of a course; students quickly pick      potential frustrations. The most common       ties and resolving typical team
up on this. Teamwork—properly exe-           reasons for learner frustrations include      problems.
cuted teamwork—is a crucial compo-           inadequate preparation and communica-            Terry Morris, associate professor at
nent of any class, and you must              tion, and the most common reasons for         William Rainey Harper College in Pala-
remain its most ardent cheerleader not       faculty frustration include the need to       tine, Illinois, uses her “Working in
only in words bit in deeds ... from day      deal with learner frustrations.               Teams” module (http://terrymorris.
one to day last of the class. @                                                            net/teamwork/) to help learners in her
                                             Setting up teams                              courses understand team roles, how to
                                                In online courses, learners often          be a good team member, and how to
                                             don’t know much, if anything, about           resolve conflicts. Consider having
                                             one another, so it’s hard to form teams       learners use this resource (or build one
                                             based on commonalities. Online in-            of your own). After learners have used
                                             structors should consider implement-          it, facilitate an online discussion about
                                             ing a process whereby learners are able       good collaborative experiences, includ-
                                             to find commonalities or differences          ing what made them good or not so
                                             useful for team formation and activi-
                                             ties. Depending on the purpose of the                        PAGE 10

                                Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •                               9
FROM PAGE 9                      • How will they handle work that is             termined by the team?
                                                sub par, incomplete, or not done?           • respect differences of opinion and
good and how to prevent the not-so-                                                           backgrounds?
good ones.                                    The instructor ideally should review          • provide positive feedback of team
                                            team agreements and provide feedback              member accomplishments?
Team agreements                             on agreements that aren’t specific              • keep in contact with team mem-
   Once teams are formed and the stu-       enough or otherwise unlikely to work              bers for the purpose of maintaining
dents have some understanding of            well. It’s a good idea to not allow               team cohesion and collaboration?
what is expected, it’s really important     teams to proceed with other team as-            • meet team deadlines?
that they document their understand-        signments until a solid and workable
ing, so all team members are on the         team agreement that all members of               This process empowers team mem-
same page and can refer back to the         the team support is in place.                 bers to have a say in the grade distribu-
agreement as needed. To facilitate this,                                                  tion on team assignments. Everyone on
teams should construct their first col-     Team assessments                              the team receiving an identical grade
laborative assignment, a formal team           Well-thought-out team agreements           despite inadequate contributions by
agreement.                                  can greatly reduce team problems, but         some team members is one of the
   Joanna C. Dunlap, assistant profes-      they may not eliminate them. As a re-         biggest complaints from learners about
sor in the School of Education and          sult, it’s a good idea to set up a formal     team assignments. The team assess-
Human Development, University of            mechanism for team members to pro-            ment process also lets the instructor
Colorado at Denver and Health Science       vide feedback to each other. In addi-         know what additional support he or
Center, has each team answer the fol-       tion to providing valuable input about        she needs to provide to teams and indi-
lowing questions (and I adapted her         how each team member is meeting               vidual team members.
list to include a few of my own):           team commitments, if completed
   • Will they will have a leader, and if   throughout the course, this allows all        Your turn
      so, who this will be, and will this   learners time to adjust their behaviors         Consider adapting the ideas in this
      role will be rotated?                 while it can still make a positive differ-    article to your team assignments in
   • How will work be distributed? Who      ence.                                         order to have greater benefits and fewer
      will do what? Who is the desig-          Dr. Dunlap uses teamwork assess-           frustrations. Also, consider working on
      nated backup?                         ments at various points in her online         these ideas collaboratively with other
   • What work style do they agree to?      courses. The results of these assess-         online instructors and instructional de-
   • Are there any known problems or        ments impact individual grades for            signers in your institution so that all
      problematic dates or times that       team assignment when assessments              can benefit from the collaboration.
      need to be factored in?               show that a team member is not fulfill-
   • When and how will they “meet”          ing commitments. For example, she             Patti Shank, PhD, CPT, is a widely rec-
      and communicate with each other?      may lower team deliverable grades for         ognized instructional designer and in-
      How often?                            anyone who receives less than 50 per-         structional technologist, writer, and
   • How will iteration and version con-    cent of the allowable points from more        author who builds and helps others
      trol get handled?                     than one team member. Here are some           build good online and blended courses
   • Who will post the team deliver-        of the questions Dunlap uses in her           and facilitated learning. She can be
      ables?                                team assessments.                             reached through her website,
   • How will they provide constructive        Does this team member             @
      feedback to each other?                  • accept responsibility for tasks de-

The Benefits of Active Learning                 through discussion and debate,              b. Negotiating skills
in a Collaborative Environment                  and                                         c. Feedback skills
   According to Jan Engle, collabora-         • generates solutions that are typi-          d. Communication skills
tive active learning                            cally better than what one stu-             e. Project management skills
   • develops higher-level thinking             dent can develop working                    f. Interpersonal skills; skills in
     skills—students think through              individually—particularly if the               dealing with diversity
     the topics more thoroughly,                project is complex.
   • encourages exploration of alterna-                                                    Students also learn strategies for
     tive perspectives and solutions,         This type of learning also helps de-       learning by interacting and observing
   • stimulates critical thinking and       velop the following ancillary skills:        team members.
     helps students clarify ideas             a. Teamwork skills

10                                Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
attention to groups in which I’m not
How to Promote Collaborative                                                              seeing any activity,” she says. “If I’m
                                                                                          not seeing any activity in the discus-

Active Online Learning                                                                    sion thread, then I’ll post a message to
                                                                                          that group, saying something such as,
                                                                                          ‘It looks like you’re getting off to a
                                                                                          slow start. Are there any problems that
                                                                                          you need help with?’ It’s kind of a gen-
                                                                                          tle nudge so that if there really are
                                                                                          problems, that tends to bring them

J  an Engle, coordinator of instruction
   development at Governors State Uni-
versity, uses group work in her online
                                            gency plans,” she says. “And if they
                                            have nonparticipating members, I give
                                            groups the ability to fire a member, so
                                                                                             Engle encourages her students to
                                                                                          send her private emails to alert her to
courses with an initial emphasis on         that they are not continually spending        problems; however, she makes it a
process and, as a course progresses, a      all of their energy trying to chase           point to have the students resolve
growing emphasis on product.                someone who is not going to partici-          problems in the threaded discussions.
   One of the biggest problems with         pate anyhow.”                                 “I’m not solving their problems. I’m re-
doing group projects online (and face-        If students in her course have not          ally helping facilitate their resolution of
to-face) is student resistance. “One of     done online group work before, Engle          the problem. There’s a tendency as an
the best ways to overcome resistance is     introduces the project and then, if pos-      instructor to want to solve their prob-
obviously for students to have a posi-      sible, gives the students a relatively        lems, but that just doesn’t work. You
tive experience. Unfortunately, many of     easy team task before they take on            just really have to get in, and I might
them come into an online class having       more complex team projects. She offers        try to encourage. I may do it through a
had a very negative experience with         suggestions on using threaded discus-         discussion thread. I might suggest that
group work. Almost always, those neg-       sion and chat and asks students to ad-        we have a team chat where we can get
ative experiences stem from problems        dress the following organizational            in and talk about the issues and get
where they’ve been on teams where           issues:                                       them resolved.”
they ended up doing most of the work
and other people did nothing and              • How are you going to divide the           Project design
everybody got the same grade,” Engle            project so that each team member            An important consideration in incor-
says.                                           has a part?                               porating group work into an online
   To prevent this inequity, Engle makes      • Who is going to be responsible for        course is making sure that it suits the
participation in group work mandatory           each part?                                goals of the course and that it makes
and uses peer evaluation to encourage         • How are you going to communicate          “authentic use of the content that’s
equal participation. Grades consist of          during the project?                       being presented,” Engle says. “If you
two elements: the group grade of the          • How will members submit their             use group work simply for the sake of
product itself and a grade for participa-       work to the group?                        incorporating group work, you’re prob-
tion (based on peer review).                  • What is the deadline for the sub-         ably not going to create an engaging
   Engle provides a rubric for peer eval-       missions of individual pieces?            exercise.”
uation. Failure to participate in group       • Who is going to be responsible for          One of Engle’s most successful group
projects is an automatic one-course             putting the pieces together into          projects was a scavenger hunt for an
grade deduction. “I do that primarily           one paper?                                introduction to online learning course.
because really bad group experiences          • How are you going to handle final         Leading up to the scavenger hunt, stu-
and failure to participate in the online        proofing?                                 dents learned about search engines,
environment just decimate the sense of        • What will you do if somebody does         search strategies, Boolean logic, and
community we’ve worked so hard to               not do his or her part or does not        the relative merits of different search
develop up to that point,” she says.            meet deadlines?                           engines for different purposes.
   Preliminary group projects in Engle’s      • How are you going to go about an-           “In this course, I wanted to make
courses tend to be relatively easy and          swering questions that group mem-         sure that the students had an opportu-
fun, in order to emphasize group                bers might have about the project?        nity to do virtual group work, and I
processes. “Before you actually launch                                                    also wanted them to be using this con-
a project, it’s important to make sure        Engle also monitors all groups by           tent knowledge from this unit on find-
early on that everybody knows who’s         making herself a member of every dis-
doing what and that they have contin-       cussion group. “Early on, I’m paying                         PAGE 12

                               Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •                               11

ing information on the Internet,” Engle
                                             Considering Collaboration
   The scavenger hunt consisted of 50
esoteric trivia questions that students
were not likely to know the answers to.
Each group consisted of five students,
so each student in each group was re-
                                             By Patti Shank, PhD, CPT
sponsible for 10 questions. Each team
captain submitted answers to the ques-                                                     The benefits of collaborative
tions through WebCT’s quiz tool. The
grade for the project was based on the
                                             C     lose your eyes and see if you can
                                                   recollect your high school algebra
                                             class. Do you remember who sat in the
                                                                                              Research studies clearly indicate that
number of correct questions, and Engle       seat in front of you? Now, remember a         learning benefits can accrue from col-
gave extra credit to the group that fin-     college history or economics course.          laborative learning activities. They de-
ished first with the most correct an-        Where did you sit?                            scribe ways that social interaction can
swers and to the group that                     If your recollections are anything like    positively influence learning, motiva-
demonstrated the most effective team-        mine, you were probably sitting at a          tion, and problem solving, and can
work.                                        desk in a classroom or lecture hall, tak-     help learners gain needed support and
   Teams were required to use threaded       ing notes, while the teacher lectured         overcome frustration. In online
discussion or chat, which enabled            and scribbled words on the blackboard.        courses, especially, social interaction
Engle to monitor group interaction and       Lecture-driven courses with individual        and collaborative activities can help
made communication within the                assessments and deliverables such as          learners avoid feelings of isolation and
groups less confusing than using email       tests and reports were the norm. Work-        improve motivation and persistence.
would have done.                             ing together in groups may have been             Changes in the nature of the work-
   In an online graduate course in on-       acceptable in some situations (e.g.,          place have put an increased emphasis
line learning, Engle makes it a point to     study groups) but not in others (e.g.,        on teamwork, group cognition, and
create group projects that are common        writing papers). All in all, collaboration    collective decision making. Much of
to all students but are not in any one       didn’t loom large in most teachers’ in-       today’s work isn’t predictable or rou-
student’s field of expertise. When she       structional strategies toolboxes.             tine, as it was 50 years ago. Work in
first tried this approach, some students        As a result of your own experiences,       this era of knowledge and information
felt that it was a waste of time to de-      you may not have considered collabo-          increasingly involves
sign solutions that were of no interest      rative activities for the courses you            • tasks done alongside other tasks
to them. “It was clear to me that they       teach. Even if you understand the ben-             and under complex conditions and
weren’t understanding that, in order         efits of collaborative activities, re-             distractions,
for everybody to design and see alter-       designing your courses to include them           • competing demands and the need
nate design strategies, they had to be       may seem daunting. You may also have               to continually prioritize and repri-
looking at something that is common          questions about how to monitor and                 oritize, and
to everybody in the group,” Engle says.      grade such activities. And you may               • complex decisions made with
She explained to them, “If I were sim-       have heard complaints from other in-               changing and sometimes contradic-
ply to say, ‘Pick something from your        structors about the problems they have             tory information.
own subject matter and do this proj-         faced with collaborative activities. Eas-
ect,’ then the ability for other people to   ier to just stay with the same ole, same         As a result, the development of criti-
compare solutions doesn’t exist.”            ole, right?                                   cal-thinking skills, sharing, and collab-
                                                Because collaboration has critical         orative decision making is increasingly
Contact Jan Engle at J-ENGLE@                benefits for learning, I’m going to ex-       called for in instructional environ- @                                 plain in this and the next few articles,      ments. Effective collaboration, like
                                             the rationale for using them, what new        most other skills, takes time, practice,
                                             online tools may be valuable, how to          and feedback.
                                             design good collaborative activities,            Here are some assumptions about
                                             and how to avoid common problems.             learning that explain why these bene-
                                             We’ll start with the potential benefits       fits occur.
                                             and typical ways to employ collabora-
                                             tive activities.                                             PAGE 13

12                                 Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
FROM PAGE 12                     time and space.
                                                 It takes preparation and practice to
  1. Learning is social. We learn in          design and implement good collabora-
     order to participate in the spheres      tive activities, and learners need
     of influence we are involved in or       preparation and practice to get the
     wish to be involved in. Joint in-        most from them. Hopefully the exam-
     quiry and meaning making often           ples in the table have provided you
     leads to greater understanding for       with a few ideas for collaborative activ-
     all.                                     ities in your courses. Another way to
  2. Learning is active. Learning re-         find good ideas is from colleagues who
     quires meaningful activity and in-       have successfully implemented collab-
                                                                                             Collaborative Active
     tegration of new ideas with what is      orative activities.                            Learning Advice
     already known. Collaboration can            Collaborative activities can model            Jan Engle offers the following
     help learners better organize and        what it means to learn from and with           advice for online instructors look-
     integrate new information.               others, being sensitive to how others          ing to incorporate collaborative
  3. Ideal learning activities are real       view the world, and taking responsibil-        active learning in their courses:
     or realistic. Collaborative learning     ity for more than your own outcomes.
     activities can be designed to mirror                                                      • Start with simple collaborative
     real or realistic activities, leading    References                                         projects until you get a feel for
     to enhanced engagement and                  Anderson, T. (2002, October 3). Get-            how to structure and facilitate
     learning. Collaboration can help         ting the mix right again: An updated               collaborative exercises.
     learners deal with realistic levels of   and theoretical rationale for interaction.       • Avoid introducing group proj-
     complexity, including differences        Message posted to ITFORUM mailing                  ects too early in the course,
     of opinion and group decision            list, archived at        unless they are VERY basic.
     making.                                  forum/ paper63/paper63.htm.                      • Provide specific, clear
  4. Ideas of others are beneficial. In          Brown, J. S., and Duguid, P. (1989).             instructions.
     collaborative activities, learners in-   Situated cognition and the culture of            • Provide tips for success (both
     evitably encounter differences. Ne-      learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1),           for virtual communication
     gotiating these differences builds       32-42.                                             process and for group work).
     important capabilities such as un-          Moore, M. G. (1993). Three types of             Don’t assume that students
     derstanding, tolerating, or resolv-      interaction. In K. Harry, M. John, and             know how to do group projects.
     ing differences. These are crucial       D. Keegan (Eds.), Distance education:            • Do not abandon students during
     twenty-first century life and work       New perspectives (pp. 12-24). London:              this time … you still need to
     skills.                                  Routledge.                                         be available to guide and
  At their best, collaborative activities        O’Reilly, M., and Newton, D. (2002).            encourage groups.
involve taking responsibility for one’s       Interaction online: Above and beyond             • Allow plenty of time.
ideas and contributions and having            requirements of assessment. Australian           • If you are going to do a very
sensitivity to the ideas and goals of         Journal of Educational Technology,                 sophisticated group project in
others. In this way, they mirror the re-      18(1), 57-70.                                      the class, try to introduce a
ality of living in a world where sharing         Palloff, R. N., and Pratt, K. (2004).           simple exercise earlier in the
information and understanding the             Collaborating online: Learning together            course to allow groups to
views of others is often critical.            in community. San Francisco, CA:                   develop a group process that
                                              Jossey-Bass.                                       will support the more complex
Collaborative activities                                                                         project that comes later.
  The table on the next page lists some       Patti Shank, PhD, CPT, is a widely rec-
of the more common types of collabo-          ognized instructional designer and in-
rative activities and describes how to        structional technologist, writer, and
implement them in online courses.             author, who builds and helps others
  Collaborative activities can engage         build good online and blended courses
learners and help them learn. This is         to facilitate learning. She can be
especially important in online courses        reached through her website:
because learners need to overcome the @
inevitable issues that arise when learn-
ers and instructors are separated by

                                Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •                               13
Activity        Description                                     Online Course Example

                A detailed story of a real or realistic situ-   Small groups of learners collaboratively analyze an injury case and identify
                ation is introduced, along with a problem       measures that may be undertaken to prevent or reduce the damages from
                that learners can analyze and resolve.          this type of injury.

                                                                The learners in the case analysis group write a joint position paper on the
Collaborative   Small groups of learners create a written
                                                                most promising measures for preventing and reducing damages from this
writing         deliverable.
                                                                type of injury.

                Learners post questions and call on the
                                                                The course help discussion forum in the object-oriented programming
                diversity of people resources to get help.
                                                                course allows learners to post questions and get help from other learners
Peer help       The questions also provide the instructor
                                                                and the instructor. As a result, questions are often answered quickly and
                with opportunities to assess problems
                and progress.

                Learners maintain a knowledge base to
Knowledge                                                       The intro-to-statistics course uses Web forms and a database to maintain a
                help them deal with typical problems en-
base                                                            list of common issues and problems, and solutions for each of them.
                countered in the course content.

                                                                An online database has been created by the lead instructor for learners en-
Resource        Learners find, share, tag, and maintain a
                                                                rolled in the Web development certificate course. Learners in the program
database        list of favorite resources.
                                                                use, maintain, and add to it as part of their course activities.

                Learners exchange draft versions of
                                                                Learners in a public health course write a paper on whether public health
                course deliverables (papers, Web sites,
                                                                workers should advocate for the prevention of accidents (such as mandat-
Peer editing    spreadsheets, etc.) and get feedback
                                                                ing motorcycle helmets). They share their papers with two other learners
                from each other in order to improve
                                                                who provide feedback on the quality of their argument and writing.

                                                                A business law course includes two online discussion topics in the asyn-
Online          Asynchronous dialogue is used for shar-         chronous course discussion forums each week. One discussion is initiated
discussions     ing and negotiating understanding.              by the instructor. Another is initiated by one of the small groups that are
                                                                formed at the beginning of the course.

14                                    Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
Padavano says. “If you find that
7 Ways to Improve Student                                                                     the class is quiet, you can become
                                                                                              more active. If you find that the

Satisfaction in Online Courses                                                                students are very active, you can
                                                                                              step back. You can facilitate based
                                                                                              on the way that the students are
                                                                                              participating in the course.”
                                                                                            • Provide frequent interaction. In-
                                                                                              structors need to be responsive to
                                                                                              students’ needs—Padavano recom-

P    reparing students for the online
     learning experience and managing
expectations are critical to student sat-
                                                each person, they tend to delegate
                                                roles and responsibilities based on
                                                the strengths of each of their learn-
                                                                                              mends a 24-hour response time to
                                                                                              students’ questions—but interac-
                                                                                              tion is not solely the responsibility
isfaction, says Marie Gould, assistant          ing styles,” Gould says.                      of the instructor. Students also
professor and program manager of              • Explain the importance of group               need to interact with each other
Business Administration, and Denise             work. Because some students may               and with the content. “Students
Padavano, associate professor and pro-          object to working in groups, stu-             need to touch the content every
gram manager, Information Technol-              dents need to see how they will               day. They want to know how
ogy, both of Peirce College.                    benefit from group work. “We have             they’re doing, and they want to
   Students at Peirce College (whether          to try to get students to focus on            know quickly. They want to know
they are face-to-face or online stu-            why we want them to work in                   the faculty member is there and
dents) are required to take a one-credit        teams. We’re not just putting them            that he or she cares about the stu-
online course that gives an overview of         into teams because we want to                 dents.”
how the college works and helps de-             make them suffer. [Teamwork] is a
velop students’ time management and             critical skill that students need to      Contact Marie Gould at mgould@
study skills. The course uses eCollege,         learn so they are functional when and Denise Padavano at
the same course management system               they get out and work. We need to @
used for online, hybrid, Web-supported          help them get over that fear and
courses at the college.                         manage expectations,” Padavano
   By the time students enroll in their         says.
regular courses (which are accelerated        • Use team contracts. Major obsta-
seven-week courses), they have a                cles to group work are finding the
working knowledge of eCollege and a             time for students to work together
good idea of what to expect. But man-           and defining each group member’s
aging expectations needs to go beyond           roles and responsibilities. Gould
using the technology.                           has each group develop a team
                                                contract that outlines how and
  The following are suggestions by              when the group will work together.
Gould and Padavano for improving stu-           Interaction options include email,
dent satisfaction:                              threaded discussion, text-based
                                                chat, document sharing, and audio
  • Post the course syllabus on the             bridging.
    Web. Part of managing expecta-            • Use a variety of assessments.
    tions is letting students know up           Points should be spread evenly
    front how the course is organized.          across different assessments be-
  • Administer a learning-styles in-            cause some students might not
    ventory. For each of her courses,           perform well on tests while others
    Gould uses a learning-styles inven-         might not write very well.
    tory as an icebreaker activity, and       • Be flexible. “I might have guide-
    because group work is a required            lines and even assignments pre-
    component of her courses, she has           pared, but depending on the
    students share their results of the         makeup of the class and students’
    inventory. “When the students see           learning styles and personalities, I
    the strengths and weaknesses of             might have to adjust some things,”

                               Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •                              15
dents who have worked with me for
Open-Source Blog Platform                                                                  three semesters, and they’ll look back at
                                                                                           their first year’s journal and say, ‘Wow!
Provides Much-Needed                                                                       I didn’t remember that.’ In that sense I
                                                                                           do like it because it provides opportuni-

Communication Flexibility                                                                  ties for reflection.”
                                                                                              Use of these blogs also benefits stu-
                                                                                           dents after the class has ended, by pro-
                                                                                           viding them with experience using a tool
                                                                                           that they might be able to adapt to the

W        hen Margaret Anderson, a psy-
         chology professor at the State
University of New York at Cortland,
                                                For discussions that are relevant be-
                                             yond the students in a particular course,
                                             Anderson may invite colleagues and
                                                                                           courses they teach in the future. “Most
                                                                                           of my students are currently teachers,
                                                                                           and they hear a lot about the use of
began teaching online 12 years ago, she      students from similar courses at other        technology but don’t necessarily see it in
used an open-source communication            institutions to participate. For example,     action. So for a lot of them this is model-
tool to facilitate online discussions. She   a discussion on how states are imple-         ing a tool that they can use in their own
later moved to WebCT when the college        menting laws related to No Child Left         classes. One of the reasons I prefer this
decided to stop supporting the open-         Behind might benefit from the perspec-        to something like WebCT or any of the
source product for security reasons. But     tives of education students in different      proprietary course management systems
WebCT did not provide her with the           states or even the perspectives of a          is that if a high school or middle school
flexibility she needed, so she found a       broader group. (Anderson reserves in-         teacher uses this system in my class,
new open-source communication tool—          teraction with the general public for the     students can replicate it on their own
LiveJournal.                                 end of the term.)                             because it’s free,” Anderson says.
   LiveJournal is a blogging tool that has      Anderson has students use LiveJour-           When considering a tool such as Live-
helped Anderson to work around sev-          nal for group work as well. In these in-      Journal or other blogging platforms, An-
eral shortcomings of WebCT. WebCT’s          stances, she can easily set up groups by      derson recommends that you carefully
discussion feature works well for dis-       changing the security settings to restrict    consider the needs of the course. “Peda-
cussions among those enrolled in a           access to certain students.                   gogy needs to drive the technology use.
course, but Anderson wanted to open             She also conducts one-on-one com-          I love to look at new toys and new
certain discussions to former students,      munication with her students by creat-        things out there, but I want to know
interns’ site supervisors, and colleagues    ing groups consisting of herself and          what the needs of my course are, and
in similar departments at other institu-     each individual student. She uses this        what is the best technology to meet
tions (including several overseas).          mainly for student journal entries based      those needs?”
   Anderson chose LiveJournal because        on each class session. In the past, she          Before using a blogging platform, con-
it is free, easy to use, and allows users    would ask students to submit their jour-      sider who will have access to each blog
to change security settings to enable        nals every two weeks for her to review.       before the course begins, to avoid hav-
variable access. She takes full advantage    The problem with that method was that         ing to change security settings, which
of the ability to change security settings   often students would write several jour-      can be cumbersome. It also helps to
to provide different access—individual,      nal entries just before they were due         adopt standard user name conventions
instructor, class group, entire class, se-   rather than writing them after each           to make it easier to grant access to spe-
lect individuals outside the class, and      class session. With LiveJournal, how-         cific forums. For example, for students
even the entire online community—to          ever, each entry is date stamped.             enrolled in her Psychology 501 course,
suit specific communication needs.              For interns, Anderson is able to do        Anderson has students log in as 501last-
   At the beginning of her courses, the      “virtual observations,” in which she          name to enable her to easily sort users.
class as a whole has access to LiveJour-     can have students post artifacts of their        One of the disadvantages of using
nal to build a sense of community and        work, such as audio or video files. An-       open-source tools is that you may not
discuss issues that are pertinent to all     derson also opens these intern blogs to       have on-campus technical support for
the students. Each of these discussions      the student’s site supervisor, which          them. However, in the case of LiveJour-
lasts for two weeks. Anderson posts a        provides more insight into the stu-           nal, there are “excellent” user groups
question in the first week, and students     dent’s experiences.                           and FAQs to help with technical issues
respond directly to the question. In the        The archives of these blogs provide        that arise, Anderson says.
second week, students continue the dis-      students with a record of their learning,
cussion. (The discussion can extend be-      which they can use to create electronic       Contact Margaret Anderson at Ander-
yond two weeks, but it is not required.)     portfolios, Anderson says. “I have stu- @

16                                 Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •
class to encourage community build-
Building Community in Online                                                               ing.

Classes through Group Work                                                                 Group Project 1: Online Discussion
                                                                                              As a future teacher it is important
                                                                                           that you become familiar with key
                                                                                           issues affecting technology in public
                                                                                           schools. Using the discussion guide-
By Roxann Humbert, EdD                                                                     lines, tips, and rubric, accomplish the

S   tudents’ sense of isolation is often
    cited as one of the reasons for low
retention rates in online classes. One
                                              assessment and grouping them by sim-
                                              ilar skills for group work is a great way
                                              to lessen the intimidation many stu-
                                                                                              1. Locate the topic that has been
                                                                                                 assigned to you.
                                                                                                   a. Do schools need more com-
way to combat this is to build group          dents feel when their skill level isn’t as              puters or more teachers? John,
work into your online class. In doing         high as that of their classmates. On the                Maria
so, you will most likely also improve         other hand, if the group were to de-                 b. Is technology further widening
retention and increase student learn-         velop some sort of technology-rich                      the gap between rich and
ing. When built properly, group proj-         product as part of the group work, e.g.,                poor? William, Julie
ects will also require students to use        a Web page or brochure, grouping stu-                c. Is technology further widening
higher-level critical-thinking and prob-      dents with a range of technical abilities               the gap between males and
lem-solving skills.                           would make for a more successful                        females? Jessica, Scott
                                              group project. Students could assign                 d. Should technology resources
Creating the groups                           each other tasks, and the students with                 be focused on basic skills or
   Deciding on how to group the stu-          the better technical skills could be re-                higher-level thinking? Shan-
dents can be very important to the            sponsible for developing the final prod-                non, Pat
groups’ success. Students may be ran-         uct.                                            2. Decide if you agree or disagree
domly assigned to groups or assigned             Grouping students by learning style             with the statement.
based upon their interests, their skill       is a great way of giving students the           3. Locate two Web sources that
levels, their learning style, or their par-   opportunity to develop projects that               support your position.
ticipation levels.                            best fit specific styles. For instance, in      4. Write a brief essay (approximately
   There are several methods for ran-         a nutrition class the instructor could             200 to 400 words) expressing your
domly creating groups. Many course            have a group of kinesthetic learners de-           point of view.
management software packages in-              velop a Web page on one of the vita-            5. Identify, by quote, the point or
clude an option for randomly assigning        mins, have a group of auditory                     points from the Web resources
students to groups. Another way to di-        students develop and record a jingle               that support your position and
vide students is to have the instructor       about one of the vitamins, and have a              elaborate on your point of view.
manually assign students to groups            third group of visual learners write a          6. Go to the discussion board and se-
based on the course list. So the first        paper or create a flyer for one of the vi-         lect the Assignment 2: Discussion
student alphabetically would be as-           tamins.                                            Questions topic.
signed to group one, the second person           In addition to these methods of creat-       7. Please put your name, the letter of
alphabetically would be assigned to           ing groups, instructors can use data               your topic, and a brief description
group two, etc.                               provided by their learning management              in the subject line of your mes-
   Assigning students to groups based         system (LMS) to group students. Most               sage, e.g., Julie’s Topic B: Rich or
on a common interest is a great way to        LMS packages track student participa-              Poor.
have students tackle controversial is-        tion. Assigning students who partici-           8. List the hyperlinks for the two
sues. To group students with common           pate early and often to the same                   websites you found.
interests the instructor could provide a      section can circumvent the problem of           9. Write out the topic question before
list of topics and have the students sign     random groupings that result in one or             you write your answer in your
up electronically or through email for        two group members doing all the                    posting. This will help us focus on
the topic they wish to discuss. To en-        work.                                              the content and keep things in
courage critical thinking, the instructor                                                        order. (This is due by April 21.)
could assign students to take the oppo-       Developing group projects                       10. Reply to at least three other stu-
site position on the topic.                     The following are three group proj-
   Giving students a technology skills        ects used in an educational technology                      PAGE 18

                                Student Collaboration in the Online Classroom •                              17
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