There are inherent difficulties working in the online environment, as some reports from 2001 and 2002 have stated that 70% of corporate and 20-50% of other e-learning students dropout (Wang, 2009, p.345). We need to investigate and understand some of the difficulties student’s are experiencing in the online environment, so that we can develop strategies that will produce higher student satisfaction.Following are some of the difficulties encountered with online collaboration, followed by strategies for maximizing collaboration and ultimately satisfaction for the student.
Collaboration styles and aptitudes are related to who we are as individuals, and the most basic identity we hold is that of gender. Women have, generally speaking, unique collaborative styles within our culture and across cultures. This affects their interaction in a collaborative online environment, and instructional planning around these aspects is essential. According to Bender in 2003, women enjoy sharing and interaction as their primary learning style, which may actually make them more at home in the online, collaborative environment. In contrast to this potential advantage, often women have different roles and responsibilities which, according to Kelland (2011) are based on family responsibilities. These potential time constraints can be problematic for the online, collaborative environment.
In the online environment, where we can’t rely on visual clues, body language, and other non-verbal communications, there can be added pressure to the formation and efficient functioning of small groups. Roles need to be established for the effective functioning of any group, and online collaborative groups are no different. Aiding in the formation of these roles to promote effective group collaboration is imperative, and as reported by Palloff and Pratt in 2004 the more clearly these roles are defined, the higher the student satisfaction with the academic process. Without this, collaboration can prove to become nonproductive in the online environment.
There are many areas of potential difficulty to examine with regard to collaborative communication. Given that students are not in the same physical space in the online environment, they could in fact experience delays in communication by as simple a fact as they may live in different time zones, as reported by Koh in 2009. Open communication is needed for students to feel included in the collaborative, group process as Pallof and Pratt stated in 2004. Communication barriers, including the lack of face to face interaction, can be detrimental to group effectiveness as one might expect, and as reported by Koh in 2009.
Many of us have experienced the frustration of technical difficulties in the online environment. This could be due to insufficient orientation to the technology, an instructor that lacks the knowledge to guide us through the technological processes, or a host of other problems form ambiguous internet transmission issues to power outages due to fallen trees. Nonetheless, technical difficulties are perhaps the most frustrating barriers to effective online collaboration, as stated by Palloff and Pratt in 2004.
We as educators have to watch the way we design online courses for collaboration. Online learning is not merely a virtual reiteration of a traditional class, and if we design them primarily around independent work and add a couple of collaborative activities, the result is burdensome to the online student, Palloff and Pratt stated in 2004. The authors go on to say that effective online courses are designed around social interaction.
Lastly we run into collaborative difficulties if we don’t acknowledge the role that culture and race plays in the way students interact online. Race is more than the color of our skin, and in fact Pallof and Pratt found in 2004 that culture can affect our decision making process, conflict resolution, and attitudes toward disclosure.
So, with all of the potential difficulties that can arise to frustrate and limit the collaboration of the online student, we realize the need to do what we can as designers and educators to attempt to lessen these burdens if we want our students to have a positive online experience. Following are some suggestions aimed at this objective.Students often have reservations going in to an e-learning setting, as evidenced by the fact that completion rates of online courses is actually higher that the students originally predicted, as reported by Wang in 2009.According to Koh in 2009, first “Instructional designers should consider ways to facilitate group work in an online environment. Instructional designers should focus on student learning style, age, culture, group size, task type, communication tools, group composition and group process development” (Koh, 2009, p.87).Koh goes on to suggest that the instructor needs to be aware of the shift towards being the facilitator and guide to the educational process, in order to maximize social interaction.Another important strategy for online educators is to develop an understanding of small group communication, knowledge of how to manage across functional areas and national cultures, and the ability to use communication technologies as their primary means of communicating and collaborating, as well as to assist students with communication and community building in the diverse online environment.Our next suggestion is to design with a sensitivity to student’s potential time constraints. A good examples of this was stated by Kellard in 2011 that if planning a synchronous collaboration session, don’t set the time to be when child care may be a problem.With regard to technology, it is a good idea for the instructor to become familiar with the technology used in the course, so as to guide the student, boosting their confidence, and lessening this potential fearful distraction. An effective orientation session is a good time to accomplish this.WE need to remember that student motivation is the key to student success. As Kim stated in 2005, “learner’s motivational level is likely to increase when the e-learning course is designed in a way that it simulates relevant situations, provides feedback on the learner’s performance, and provides easy navigation on its course Web site.IF was design for collaboration, keep in mind diversity and time sensitivity, and optimize the use and learning of the technology involved, we can create the environment that is fertile for student motivation, interaction, and satisfaction.
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Difficulties to collaboration in an online environment<br />Kurt M. Sussman<br />
Introduction<br />Dissatisfaction: Precursor to Failure<br />Corporate training drop out<br />E-Learning drop out<br />
Difficulties<br />Gender issues<br />Learning styles<br />Gender related time constraints<br />
Difficulties<br />Decision Making process: small group communication<br />
Difficulties<br />Communication<br />Student inclusion<br />Communication delays<br />Impact on group work<br />
Difficulties<br />Course design issues<br />Designing for collaboration<br />Aim for social interaction<br />
Difficulties<br />Cultural issues<br />The relevance and impact of cultural identity<br />
Solutions and pedagogical strategies<br />Design for diversity<br />Strive to become the facilitator<br />Promote effective small group communication<br />Design with sensitivity to potential time constraints<br />Familiarize yourself with the technology<br />Design to maintain motivation<br />Promote social interaction<br />
References<br />Bender, T. (2003). Discussion-based online teaching to enhance student learning: Theory, practice and assessment. (p.84). Sterling, Virginia: Stylus.<br /> <br />Kelland, J. H. (2011). Mixing personal and learning lives: How women mediate tensions when learning online. University of Alberta (Canada)). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, (pp. 339-340). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/857080263?accountid=28180<br /> <br />Kim, K. (2005). Adult learners' motivation in self-directed e-learning. Indiana University). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, (pp. 129-133). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304986682?accountid=28180<br /> <br />Koh, M. H., & Hill, J. R. (2009). Student perceptions of group work in an online course: Benefits and challenges. Journal of Distance Education (Online), 23(2), 69-69-91. (pp. 72-88). Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/867412655?accountid=28180<br /> <br />Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2004). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. (pp. 34-38). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc. <br /> <br />Wang, G. G. (2010). Theorizing e-learning participation: A study of the HRD online communities in the USA. Journal of European Industrial Training, 34(4), 344-344-364. (p.345). doi:10.1108/03090591011039081<br />