Palloff & Pratt summarized the significance of including collaborative learning opportunities by stating, “Collaborative effort helps learners achieve a deeper level of knowledge generation while moving from independence to interdependence” (2007). Oosterhof, Conrad, & Ely support this notion as well, with their assertion that, “Study findings indicate that collaborating learners have higher levels of participation, achievement, productivity, self-esteem, peer interaction, group cohesion, and enhanced critical thinking skills than non-collaborators”(2008). To promote collaboration online, key components must be in place, including technology tools and an organized plan for collaboration.
An Organized Plan
Because student engagement and collaboration are central to learning, instructors should look for ways to design quality engagement/collaborative opportunities for students. A huge amount of research has been conducted on collaborative learning, and there are many resources available to support such learning online. Instructional designers might access research findings as well other guidelines by joining professional societies related to training and instructional design, by searching through periodicals at a local college or university library, or by looking through the reference sections of related textbooks.
Armed with research-based information, an instructor might ask specific questions when developing collaborative elements for online coursework. Below is a sampling presented by Pratt. K. (2007):
1. What is the content of this course? What aspects of the content lend themselves to collaborative group activities?
2. What size groups or teams should be formed in order to achieve those goals?
3. How should groups or teams be formed? By the instructor? By the students? Dependent on interests? Dependent on strengths?
4. How will activities be structured to insure participation by all members of the group?
5. Should roles be assigned to various group members?
6. How will accountability be built into the process?
7. How will individual and group performance be evaluated? Who will evaluate this performance? The instructor? The participants themselves?
Technology Tools for Collaboration
In addition to asking the right questions, instructional designers should be familiar with technology tools that support collaboration in the online setting. Web conferencing tools, such as Skype and Blackboard Collaborate, support online collaboration. Features include interactive white boards that support text, audio, multimedia, and streaming audio/video capabilities for both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
The video clip below provides one practical use of web conferencing for collaborative and interactive language learning.
Oosterhof, A., Conrad, R.-M., & Ely, D. P. (2008). Assessing learners online. Upper Saddle Palloff, R., &
Pratt, K. (2007). Building online communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Palloff, R., & Pratt, K., Promoting Collaborative Learning, Building Online Communities). Copyright 2007 John Wiley & Sons Inc. Used with permission from John Wiley & Sons Inc. via the Copyright