Principle 2 - Good Practice Encourages Cooperation among Students
The social nature of the web provides rich opportunities for collaboration. Professor Rob Sommerson wanted to take advantage of the rich resources that were abundantly available on the web, but he did not want to overwhelm his online students with information overload. He wanted his students to explore and share resources between themselves in ways that made the synthesis of information more efficient for both him and his students. Rob saw his students not as passive recipients of knowledge but as fellow researchers who he wanted to develop as critical users of the web. “My student-researchers and I tried something a little different to kick off our semester. Instead of the standard syllabus that requires everybody to read a few articles to discuss, we decided instead to organize ourselves so that we could try to really read a good chunk of the literature on a single topic each week. It follows the logic that all of us are smarter than any of us.”
So Rob had each of his students find five different articles each week to read and post summaries on a wiki, a collaboratively edited website. Students also linked to their articles in a social bookmarking site tagged with the week’s topical category. Student discussions and assessments were based on the summaries, leading students to depend on each other’s summaries. As the course progressed, one student voluntarily began adding a summarizing note that brought out common themes from across the articles. Others in the class edited this note and developed a weekly note guide to the article research. The end result was a rich resource every week of background literature to supplement the textbook and add relevance to the course.
Rob was very satisfied with the results. He noted that he had never been able before to develop such deep discussion board conversations based on the literature. “I count it as a huge success, and I would highly recommend it to any other faculty out there looking to spark an engaging conversation with your students.” (Based on Wesch, 2009)
A common mistake in translating educational work online is to see the process as individualistic. Earlier in this decade, nearly 80 percent of elearning was designed for solo work, which in effect made it little different from correspondence courses (Galvin, 2001). Chickering and Gamson’s review of research showed that learning:
“is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's own ideas and responding to others' reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding” (p. 1).
Clark and Mayer (2003) suggest that one way to build cooperation among students is to design assignments online that require collaboration among learners. By placing students in groups that optimize interaction, one can structure group assignments around specific learning objectives.
Discussion forums are a good starting point for student-student contact. Graham et al (2003) suggested that discussions be required in online classes and that a portion of their grade depend on participation. Online discussions require a bit of a balancing act by faculty. Students want their faculty present in discussions, but too great a presence has been shown to stifle student conversation. As with classroom learning, the best discussions are those facilitated by faculty direction but conducted by the students themselves.
Learning management systems like Blackboard, Angel, and Moodle provide for both class-wide and group discussion forums. The web offers numerous other options, such as collaborative writing through Google Docs or wikis. Faculty can model and encourage commenting on student-generated content in blogs, social networking sites, or content sites such as SlideShare and YouTube. Peer review not only encourages cooperation among students, but develops deeper critical thinking practices and metacognition. Building in peer review can also reduce the time faculty spend in critiquing student work, as the level of submitted work tends to be higher when previously screened by peers. The web of course offers opportunities for global review as well, which also has improved the level of student work (Wang et al, 2005).
The New Media Consortium in its 2009 Horizon Report sited collaboration webs as a near-term emerging trend. It goes on to state that online collaboration applications make:
“…it easy for people to share interests and ideas, work on joint projects, and easily monitor collective progress. All of these are needs common to student work, research, collaborative teaching, writing and authoring, development of grant proposals, and more. Using them, groups can collaborate on projects online, anywhere there is internet access…faculty can evaluate student work as it progresses, leaving detailed comments right in the documents if desired in almost real time. Students can work with other students in distant locations, or with faculty as they engage in fieldwork.”
The evolving web now has free tools that allow one to quickly assemble a space for collaboration. Encouraging the social presence of students in online courses reinforces this collaboration, which in turn builds community and enhances learning.