Draves (2007) cites Dr. Rita-Marie Conrad “we no longer deliver courses. Instead we create ‘knowledge environments’” (p. 133). Online instructors need to establish a learning environment that encourages collaboration, interaction, self-reflection and the desire to be life-long learners.
Instructors will have evidence of an online community when the following indicators are seen (Palloff and Pratt, 2007): 1.) Active interaction involving both course content and personal2.) Collaborative learning evidenced by comments directed primarily student to student rather than student to instructor3.) Socially constructed meaning evidenced by agreement or questioning, with the intent to achieve agreement on issues of meaning4.) Sharing of resources among students5.) Expressions of support and encouragement exchanged between students, as well as willingness to critically evaluate the work of others (p. 31)
Draves (2007) state, “[that] by creating a learning community you enhance the learning of all your participants” (p. 131). He continues to justify establishing a community early stating “the creation of the learning community takes place from the student’s first contact with the course at registration to about the second week of the course” (p. 133). Draves (2007) encourages the online instructor to “build the foundations of [the] learning community” beginning at least two weeks prior to the start of an online course and continuing through the second week of the course (p. 133).
Palloff and Pratt (2007) state, “our communities today are formed around issues of identity and shared values” (p. 27). Palloff and Pratt (2007) cite Shaffer and Anudsen (1993) defining community “as a dynamic whole that emerges when a group of people share common practices, are interdependent, [and] make decisions jointly […]” (p. 27).
Elements of a community as identified by Palloff and Pratt, (2005). “We now note that social presence is a critical element of the online community and one that is critical to collaborative work” (Palloff & Pratt, 2005, p. 9).
Elements of effective online groups as described by Palloff and Pratt (2005).
By creating an online course that provides effective learning opportunities it is expected the students will find the activities to be useful, meaningful, manageable, collaborative, and engaging. By providing discussion questions, interactive, and collaborative activities that encourage learners to discover and then share with their peers they are able to learn from each other, engaging them in the learning process. Draves (2007) calls this the “learner-to-learner” activity when “students learn from other students instead of always relying on the instructor” (p. 183).
Palloff and Pratt (2005) mention a variety of challenges faced by both students and instructors in an online environment. Here is a list of challenges as described by Palloff and Pratt (2005, pp. 32-33). “The bottom line is that good planning and preparation for collaborative work can head off or resolve many of the woes that may befall a collaborative activity before they even occur” (Palloff & Pratt, 2005, p. 39).
As cited by Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland, (2005, p 86).Watkins (2005) supports activities that “provide learners with an opportunity to question assumptions, challenge attitudes, gain a broader perspective on issues, develop constructive study skills, and / or work with others to build proficiencies” (p. 965).
As cited by Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland, (2005, p. 87).Activities that support collaboration also provide “students with a deeper understanding of the subject they are studying, allow them to develop greater facility with online research, and create connections that can serve them long after a course ends” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p. 180). Online learning is more about the interaction between the students and between the students and instructor than the lecture, video, audio, or required readings. Designing activities that support the online learning community provides for more engaged students (Draves, 2007).
The rubric “promotes discussion standards and encourages uniform contributions” (Rovai, 2000 as cited by Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland, 2005, p. 87)The last line of my directions to a discussion forum often reads “make sure to reply to at least two peers every week, but try not to leave anyone out of the discussion.” In these very subtle ways, students can begin to feel welcome and a part of the online community. Acknowledging each other and providing feedback even as simple as “what a wonderful activity to do with your family” can provide a basis for connection and trust in an online classroom. “Online discussions are a social process and the development of mutual trust between group members is essential. […] Although face-to-face meetings may be impossible, the initial development of the learners into a social group is still important” (Sanders, 2006, p. 591).
Dabbagh & Bannan-Ritland (2005) suggest instructors create a personally meaningful environment and meaningful experiences that will build community. Palloff and Pratt (2005) state that online instructors must “continuously search for ways to improve student-to-student interaction in their courses, to create more personal and relevant learning experiences, and to promote the development of active and engaged learners” (p. 4).
Palloff and Pratt (2001) and Draves (2007) encourage online instructors to hold office hours or host a synchronous chat for question and answer time. The Online Office Hours activity encourages building relationships between the practicum teacher and students. The practicum student is “able to create more personal and relevant learning experiences” for the students, and allows the practicum student to “recognize the value of collaboration online” (Palloff and Pratt, 2005, p. 4). Palloff and Pratt (2001) describe the misconception of the roles of online students and instructors, clarifying that the instructor should “act as a facilitator, or ‘guide on the side,’ enabling the students to learn collaboratively” (p. 108).
Online learning is more about the interaction between the students and between the students and instructor than the lecture, video, audio, or required readings. Designing activities that support the online learning community provides for more engaged students (Draves, 2007). Moallem (2007) sums it up in a study of online learning and student learning styles, “in online learning environments where social interaction, collaboration and problem solving are highly emphasized, it is likely that students’ perception of their positive learning experience influence their motivation and willingness to adjust their preferred learning styles” (p. 238).
Strategies to Engage Students in Collaborative Online Learning
Strategies to EngageStudents inCollaborative OnlineLearningIt is all about the Community
Why Collaborate Online “Collaborative activities can alleviate feelings of isolation by purposefully connecting learners with one another through various learning activities and promoting interdependence” (Palloff & Pratt, 2007, p.159Collaboration promotes the following skills: Development of critical thinking skills Co-creation of knowledge and meaning Reflection Transformative learning (Palloff and Pratt, 2005. p.4)
Evidence of CommunityInstructors will have evidence of an online community when the followingindicators are seen (Palloff and Pratt, 2007):1.) Active interaction involving both course content and personal2.) Collaborative learning evidenced by comments directed primarily student to student rather than student to instructor3.) Socially constructed meaning evidenced by agreement or questioning, with the intent to achieve agreement on issues of meaning4.) Sharing of resources among students5.) Expressions of support and encouragement exchanged between students, as well as willingness to critically evaluate the work of others (p. 31)
Accomplishing Community Collaboration “The most meaningful learning for students [occurred] when they shared personal experiences related to course content” (Dabbagh and Bannan-Ritland, 2005, p. 86). Collaboration has a direct correlation to an online community, which is essential and dependant on student’s social presence, learner satisfaction, and active interaction in their online courses.
Elements of CommunityPeople: The students, faculty, and staffShared Purpose: Coming together sharing information,interests, and resourcesGuidelines: Create structure by providing ground rules forinteraction and participationTechnology: The vehicle for delivery and a place whereeveryone can meetCollaborative Learning: Student-to-student interaction thatsupports socially constructed meaning and creation ofknowledgeReflective Practice: Promoting transformative learning
Individual Group *Sense of accomplishment *Collaboration *Quality of outcome *Teamwork *Satisfaction with the process *Sense of well-being and support *Ability to work at own pace *Promotes reflection *Sense of self-expression *Reduces isolation Technology & Groups *Problem solving *Conflict management *Group norms *Connect and communicate Facilitator Technology *Comfort with technology *Vehicle for communication and task completion *Competence in online facilitation *Provides communication *Ability to communicate clearly *Transparent and easy to use *Comfort with reasonable chaos and conflict Task *Creates a safe place for the group *Creates sense of purpose *Nurtures relationships *Source of motivation*Promotes self-organization and empowerment Source of collaboration
Learning is Authentic and Meaningful“One of the most important tenets of e-learning isthat it bridges work and learning. While the bestclassroom experiences bring work into thelearning environment, the best e-learningexperiences bring learning into the workenvironment” (Rosenberg, 2011, p. 179).
Challenges in Online Collaboration Mistrust of information and individuals Limited Resources to time and information Class dynamics change with students dropping class or entering late Lack of group communication, representation and participation Technical difficulties with hardware, software and LMS Course design issues or improper activities Leadership or faculty concerns Cultural differences and conflict resolution Expectations set to high
Instructional Strategies and Activities Instructional Strategies and Activities Suggested in Simich-Dudgeon (1999): Create awareness to promote shared meaning and a supportive learning community Encourage use of interpersonal involvement strategies such as personal stories, metaphors, and irony Encourage use of personalized greetings to promote a sense of community
Instructional Strategies and Activities Instructional strategies and activities suggested by Haythornthwaite, Kazmer, Robins and Shoemaker (2000): Promote initial and sustained bonding through multiple means of communication related to social and work activities Establish a regular schedule for communication to occur Provide public and private synchronous interaction Monitor and support continued interaction Provide feedback
Instructional Strategies and ActivitiesInstructional strategies and activities suggested byRovai (2001) Create a community by designing and supporting student interaction and involvement Build community by encouraging socio-emotional communication as well as educational interactions Be sensitive to differences and adapt your teaching to facilitate interaction Consider incorporating a rubric
Instructional Strategies and Activities Instructional strategies and activities suggested byBarab, Thomas and Merrill (2001): Involve interpersonal issues Promote sharing of personal experiences through content that is personally meaningful Design a course that intentionally establishes an online community Emphasize course climate as well as course content Consider asynchronous communication methods for promoting reflective thought
Simple Activities You Can Add to Your Online Courses Synchronous chat via online office hours Allow students to provide feedback on each other’s work through Track Changes features Establish personal sharing via Ice Breaker activities Use Web 2.0 Tools such as Voice Thread, Wikis, and Blogs Small-group assignments Simulations Homework forums Asynchronous discussion of readings and assignment progress Shared course and discussion facilitation
One Last ThoughtPalloff and Pratt (2005) state The more we engage our students in a process of ongoing evaluation of their own performance, the more meaningful the online course will be to them. The more we engage them in working with one another in both collaborative activity and collaborative assessment, the more likely they are to engage in a learning community that will sustain them beyond the end of the course. The more meaningful the course, the more likely it is that they will become empowered and lifelong learners. (p. 53)
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