Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, instructors have endeavored to identify alternative assessments to engage their students online. Facilitating collaborative projects online is a
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I’ve been working in the Innovation in Learning Center at the University of South Alabama since 2012, helping faculty use technology to improve their learning outcomes. During that time, I’ve found web conferencing situations to be some of my most rewarding and frustrating experiences. Web conferencing applications enable instructors to extend the benefits of live classroom interaction into online spaces. They also allow students to meet together online as they collaborate and grow in their knowledge and skills. When it all comes together, it’s a beautiful thing.
In my corner of the country, we experienced an unusually harsh winter which resulted in many class sessions being canceled due to school closures. Our faculty, and likely other groups of faculty in our region, received an email message that stated:
If you cancel your face-to-face session, I expect a comparable experience will be online for your students.
This is easier said than done. For faculty who don’t regularly deliver coursework online, the expectation to “just move your teaching session online” can be an overwhelming task. It’s not as simple as putting that day’s lesson online. Teaching effectively online requires a skill set that can only be acquired with knowledge and experience. It doesn’t happen automatically.
Online Group Projects – Yikes! You can hear the moans and groans of students echoing through your computer monitors as you start the first week of your online course. The reasons for requiring a group project vary from one discipline to another, but there are educational and career motives for requiring group projects. Students will have an opportunity to develop team skills, improve communication skills, and leverage their own personal interests and experiences to contribute to a group project.
Looking for a way to get your students to collaborate and think critically? Consider group quizzes, a technique that Ida Jones uses in her business law courses at California State University, Fresno.
Glenda Hernandez Baca, professor/coordinator of teacher education at Montgomery College, Takoma Park Campus, encourages the use of collaborative learning throughout online courses. In an interview with Online Classroom, she offered the following ideas for facilitating collaborative learning in group projects and in threaded discussions:
If you are looking for ways to facilitate collaboration among students, consider using a wiki—a website that contains pages that can be easily created and edited by multiple users. Several characteristics of Wikis make them excellent choices for projects that involve brainstorming and research and that require a final report, says Rhonda Ficek, director of instructional technology services at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
There are many reasons why students don’t like group work, and in the online classroom the list of reasons grows even longer as the asynchronous nature of online courses not only makes collaboration more difficult but almost counterintuitive.
In “Social Dynamics of Online Learning: Pedagogical Imperatives and Practical Applications” the authors write that “Failure to address the social and relational dynamics within online courses may result in greater feelings of isolation among the distance learners, reduced levels of student satisfaction, peer academic performance, and ultimately increased attrition. … More often than not, most students wait for the professor to ‘do’ something that magically knits or binds them with others in meaningful ways.”