During the last six years, I have become a convert to online teaching, offering students opportunities to participate collaboratively in my online literacy courses. Below are some ways I use educational technology to foster collaboration.
Communication is essential for contact time with online students. While all instructors need to establish their own online schedules, I find that communication is needed every day of the week. The virtual office where students may post questions is very popular as it allows everyone in the class to see questions posted with the instructor's reply. Other modes of communication include email, chat sessions, discussion boards, and yes, the phone.
Technology allows students to collaborate with peers and offers the potential to develop problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communication skills (Saavedra & Opfer, 2012). It also helps learners address their misunderstandings.
Communication and organization before class begins
It is important to send an email two weeks before the class begins. This email should include your contact information and express a willingness to help with course assignments. I also recommend sending the syllabus or course outline, the top 10 questions former students have asked, and any information about special expectations.
Include the schedule for any live chats on the course assignment due dates page. Also, provide a tutorial on the opening page of the course for joining live chat sessions as well as accessing a recording of a session.
Synchronous and asynchronous learning
For synchronous chat sessions, instruct students to arrive early and run audio and microphone set-ups. The instructor should place an agenda and study guide of discussion topics into a PowerPoint and insert it on the white board of the session. If a student does not have a microphone, he/she may type responses in the chat box.
There are many ways to assess student learning in synchronous chats. Polling is one way. Students may type responses using chat, you can ask them to use the line tool for matching on the whiteboard. Most systems have application share ability. Have students use application sharing to share assignments for peer review. Another example would be to divide students into groups and use breakout rooms for small group presentations. For instance, after presenting a case study with questions, provide time for the groups to meet and upon returning, have students present their work on the whiteboard. Finally, instructors can use the Quiz Manager to give quizzes during the live sessions.
The most popular asynchronous collaboration for me is the discussion board. Students post comments to a community forum and also respond to another student's comment. Try to ask a question and relate it to assigned course readings. Other asynchronous interactions include announcements, email, resources, grade book, virtual office, and webliography. Remember your own style when choosing possible asynchronous collaboration.
A reading room or library resources can enhance the quality of an online course. After receiving the reserve list from the instructor, the librarian posts the actual reading assignments in the library reserve list, which consists of credible references that help students complete activities and assignments. In order to stay current, these articles should not include articles more than five years old unless they are classic references. Students appreciate this convenience as they prepare their assignments.
Cheating is a serious issue with virtual learning. Kremer (2011) suggests three solutions to this issue: 1) require students to take major tests in person; 2) require frequent writing samples to check for consistency; and 3) design assignments that are not easily plagiarized (real-life situations or people).
Another challenge of online teaching is that online contact time is difficult to regulate. The university notifies the instructor and the student after two days if they have not logged in to the class. Also, most online systems have a way of checking on students' contact time; however, they may not be working all of this time. Hopefully, there will be a solution to this issue in the future.
The lack of meaningful interaction is another issue in online learning. The discussion board and group activities described earlier are good solutions to this problem. These two interactions require students to use their skills in reflection, critical thinking, and communication.
In this article, I have shared the pedagogical values of teaching and designing online classes that feature collaboration. Every academic year, classes need to be updated and changed with the technology available to instructors and students. Furthermore, changes in curriculum, state and national standards, and assessment all present a challenge in creating good courses that provide interactions. I feel that online teaching in higher education holds great promise in fostering collaboration in students' education.
Kremer, N. (2011). How I became a convert to online learning. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 63-67.
Saavedra, A.R., & Opfer, V.D. (2012). Learning 21st-century skills requires 21st-century teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 94(2), 8-13.
Marilyn Moore is a professor at National University in La Jolla, CA. and serves as the faculty lead for the Reading Program in the Teacher Education Department.