Monday, April 14, 2008

Collaborative Principles

I'm led to reflect on many aspects of the educational experience as I observe virtual school teaching strategies and techniques. It's clear that the virtual school applies solid principles of instruction to address the differences between face-to-face and online learning. Yet I continue to hear about the challenges of designing and delivering effective collaborative opportunities, especially between students. I've addressed some of the key obstacles to collaboration in earlier posts on this blog, the most challenging of which is student pacing. However, I think it's important to get a better grasp of the basic concept of collaboration before addressing specific issues. What makes online collaboration effective? Is it possible to design authentic collaboration into courses?

D.R. Garrison identifies the following online collaboration principles for design, facilitation, and direct instruction.
  • Establish a climate that will create a community of inquiry. In order to build trust, students should have formal and informal interaction with each other.
  • Establish critical reflection and discourse that will support systematic inquiry. Course design should support the students progression from awareness to knowledge construction and application, in other words through the proper stages of learning.
  • Sustain community through expression of group cohesion. Group cohesion is built upon a solid educational goal toward which each member is focused. Stronger bonds can be facilitated through calculated feedback.
  • Encourage and support the progression of inquiry through to resolution. The instructor facilitates conversations throughout the learning process.
  • Evolve collaborative relationships where students are supported in assuming increasing responsibility for their learning. It's important to define and communicate expectations and help students become more self-directed.
  • Ensure that there is resolution and metacognitive development.

    Recent research has begun to emphasize the importance of strong leadership to ensure discussions stay “on task and on track” (Garrison, 2008, p. 1).

    "Faculty may need to be more direct in their assignments for threaded discussions, charging the participants to resolve a particular problem, and pressing the group to integrate their ideas and perhaps, even, to prepare a resolution of the matters under discussion" (Meyer as quoted by Garrison, 2008, p. 1).

Bottom line - Design is critical in the potential success of online collaboration. Beyond that, instructors must monitor the collaborative process, provide calculated, balanced, timely feedback, and communicate expectations. I believe that making this work takes practice and experience. Like face-to-face teaching, it's also a bit of an art.

We as teachers are so influenced by our personal learning styles and the ways we were taught. I'm even more certain of this as I observe the virtual school. I find myself comparing the virtual online courses with those in my graduate program. As I continue to explore the existing research, I can see the foundation upon which our graduate courses are built. I can see how some of the techniques I've experienced as a student and online graduate facilitator might work in a k12 online environment. At the same time, I'm trying to be mindful of the unique challenges associated with teaching middle and high school students as opposed to college students. I have a much better understanding of the benefits and challenges of teaching in virtual school. I just keep wishing that I had the same understanding of the design component. I wish we had the opportunity to observe and interview the instructional designers.

Garrison, D. (2006). Online Collaboration Principles. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 10(1). Retrieved Apr. 14, 2008, from


Jay Bennett said...

Ah yes, design, the bane of many an online teacher. Design has always been a struggle for me and with experience I have come upon some ideas that I think may change the look of some of my classes. There are so many elements of design and also limitations related to both the software available to me and my lack of advanced programming skills. We have had long discussions amongst ourselves at Michigan Virtual about the rather plain look of our classes vs. the flashy "hey look at me" aesthetic of some other virtual offerings. We have always fallen back on the fact that all of our classes are taught by highly qualified Michigan teachers. We have been looking at redesigning the look of our classes, but nothing yet. Of course the other elements of design relate to education. Are the classes logical and easy to get through. Do the assignments and evaluations measure knowledge in a way that challenges the students while also conveying the necessary information. Are they learning or just getting the work done and moving on. A lot of these questions also apply to face to face classes. I am just now starting to think about some changes that a I want to make to my classes this summer. My hope is to have some of my classes revamped and ready to go for fall. Wish me luck and please excuse my nonsensical ramblings!

JeanneW said...

It's funny, I've been thinking some of the same things. I use Moodle for some assignments in my face-to-face classroom. I find that I design assignments, give feedback, structure discussion boards, and create quizzes just like the professors/designers in my university online courses. I teach as I was taught.

From what you wrote, I suspect the online courses at our university are very well designed, so imitating them at this point in my training is probably a good idea. Still, I'd enjoy observing the structure of other online courses and, even better, observe course designers directly.

Your post was very helpful to me. Thanks.

ck said...

I enjoyed reading this blog post! I am wanting to start a program with my fourth and fifth graders that incorporates communication with each other through an art criticism blogging site. The organization of the design is crucial for a basic, easy understanding for students at the 4th and 5th grade levels and I am looking for any kind of advice. Thanks for your information posted here. cassia