Collaborative Learning in Online Classes
Summary: Working together on assignments is better training for the future workplace than the independent assignments we typically give in class. Done well, it allows students to play to their strengths and learn how to work as a member of a team. Why then, do our best students often hate group assignments? In an online class, it is difficult to prevent collaboration from happening so why not embrace it instead of fighting it? Find out how to infuse your online class with collaborative approaches without sacrificing individual accountability. In this workshop, we will explore some synchronous collaborative tools such as text chat, video conferencing, wikis, and Google Docs. We will also briefly explore the Groups tool within Bb Vista.
Assessment strategies: how do you make group work accountable?
- Make it clear to the students that group work does not necessarily mean they will all get the same grade.
- Suggestion: Break the assignment grade down into 3 components: 1) overall project quality, 2) individual contribution, 3) collaborative contribution.
- Assigning points for overall project quality forces the participants to pull together and integrate their work or lose points.
- Assigning points for each person's individual contribution assures that a bad group doesn't drag down a good student too far.
- Assigning points for collaboration ensures that people don't just go off and do their own thing, or do nothing at all.
- Make sure that each person in the group has a unique assignment that is only loosely coupled to what the others do.
- Option: Instead of breaking the work into chunks, you could assign distinct roles such as Organizer, Writer, Presenter, Researcher, etc.
- Ask group members to assign a collaboration grade to the other members of their group and send it to you; this is a great indicator of group dynamics.
- Groups of 5 or more usually don't work; someone will try to coast.
Why fight it? Accept what can't be changed and design your course accordingly.
- Option: Allow students to work independently or, if they prefer, to form small groups but make them declare in advance what they have decided.
- Rather than focusing on rote memorization, give students projects that encourage them to do research, think critically, and offer and defend their unique opinions.
- Be clear in your syllabus about which assignments are collaborative and which ones are independent.
- If independent work is absolutely necessary, you need to bring them into a lab where they can be monitored.
- In an online course, technology cannot stop them from consulting the text, each other, or the Internet; there are no technical enforcement tools that work.
- A test with a short time window may reduce the chance of collaboration, but it also adds stress and creates problems for students with disabilities and with slow connections.
Tools that foster collaboration without requiring in-person meetings.
- Synchronous Text based chat (also know as Instant Messaging or IM) tools: there are a variety of tools that allow students to talk to each other remotely by typing short text messages to each other and receiving real-time responses. GMail's GoogleTalk, AOL's Instant Messenger, Microsoft's Messenger, and Vista's built-in chat tool are just a few examples.
- Video conferencing: Skype and many of the IM systems listed above allow people to text chat, use voice communication, videoconference, and even do file transfers. Some tools allow multi-way conversations.
- Wikis such as PBWorks allow students to work on the same documents simultaneously, and they even keep a log of changes so that if something bad happens, you can revert to a previous version. The log also indicates who has made what changes, so it's ideal for determining the relative contributions of group members.
- Google Docs is an online collaborative Word Processor, Spreadsheet, and Presentation tool similar to Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But since they are online, they can be edited by multiple people simultaneously. As with wikis, you can revert to previous versions and track who has made the changes.
Bb Vista provides some tools for assigning groups and grading group work.
- Group Assignment creation
- when creating a group assignment, under "assignment recipients" the instructor selects "groups of students."
- Instructors have the option to "create additional sets of instructions for groups of students."
- How are groups created?
- The instructor can manually assign which students work together.
- Students can be randomly assigned by the system.
- Students sign up for a group of their choice.
- How is group size determined?
- by specifying the number of participants per group (for example, make each group have 5 members)
- by setting the total number of groups (for example, divide the class into 4 groups)
- the instructor decides how to assign the leftover students in the case that it doesn't come out evenly
- Group members can interact in a group specific chat room or discussion board
- Grading options:
- Instructors can assign grades for discussions
- Discussion options are:
- journal topic
- Grading options are:
- numeric; instructor sets the maximum number of points and a gradebook column is created
- alphanumeric (letter grade)
- grading form: a grading form is created in the build tab, and allows you to use a grading rubric. It offers criteria such as spelling, grammar, style, etc and you can create your own. The instructor then fills out their guidelines such as "needs improvement, meets expectations, exceptional" etc. and the point total for each of those.
- Submission options
- If you give an assignment to a group, then one student will submit it and every student in that group will get the same grade.
- If the group members submit using the group discussion board, then each student will be graded individually.