Online collaboration

Web 2.0 presents many exciting new tools for learner collaboration. But what are the challenges to overcome, and how to implement and assess online collaborative learning?

Opportunities. It is more exciting and engaging. Research shows that students are more engaged in the topic when they are debating it with peers (1). Also, it works for learning. According to Constructivism, “knowledge is constructed and transformed by learners” (1).

Challenges. Communication, learning curve and organization are the biggest challenges to online collaboration. The biggest one of these is communication, both between the learners’ and instructor and between the learners themselves. Because of the limited bandwidth of electronic communications, misunderstanding can be easy. Also, asynchronous communication, such as on a blog, can be frustrating.

The learning curve of first time online learners can be steep. If there is a mix of people who are experienced with online learning and those not, it can be awkward as the newbie struggles to define their online learner’s voice and/or the technology interface.

Organization is the third challenge. Again, newbies to online learning can struggle to keep all the balls of assignments up in the air.

Implement. There are some best practices to implementing online collaboration, most of these deal with clear communications. First is give the learner clear, well organized expectations. Next, be clear on how to form groups, whether it is self-chosen or by the facilitator. Have a communication plan. If a member of the group is not actively participating, how will you communicate this? Finally, will you be monitoring the work actively or passively? Of course this depends on your role and the assignment.

Assessment. Last, how will you assess the learning? Learners expect you to be clear how they will be assessed. What role should self-assessment or peer assessment play, if any? But most importantly, how will you deal with student accountability? I am sure that many of us have heard stories of the lazy or incapable group member. Thus, a plan for learners’ accountability to both themselves and the other members of the group is important.

Finally… There is much that can be learned in collaboration, but the proper planning of it, taking into account the challenges you may face as an instructor, are important.

Source: (1) Linda Thistlethwaite. Co-creation in classroom, sharing, multi-session creation, long-term co problem solving. Different levels of collaboration, http://literacy.kent.edu/cra/cooperative/coop.html

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