Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning

Some of the upcoming posts will highlight a series of articles from the February 2006 issue of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. This issue focuses specifically on online collaboration. I became interested in this topic because the virtual school I'm observing is trying to integrate more collaborative projects into the curriculum. Apparently, this is a challenge. I hope to research best practices for designing collaborative components of online courses and determine if those examples would address some of the issues at the high school.

In the article, Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning, Caroline Haythornthwaite makes the following recommendations:
  • Be aware of the model students have of how class work progresses and work with that to ‘sell' the change from individual, proprietary, single-owner work to joint, collaborative work.
  • Factor in the extra time needed to collaborate and to collaborate online when establishing course requirements.
  • Make students aware of the collaborative process, including the need to get to know others, create common goals, and establish their own communication practices.
  • Make students aware of the differences between offline and online work and learning practices.
  • Keep message load manageable by limiting class or group sizes, and by creating ‘small within the large' both for groups within larger classes, and for message threads within larger topics.
  • Teach collaborative online skills as part of the practice of being an online student: e.g., use of conventions such as message subject headings, proper message thread use in bulletin boards, topic management. (Haythornthwaite, 2006, p. 1)
The themes that stand out to me include the need for time management, organization, and actively teaching students how to collaborate. If I were to guess, it's this last item that is most difficult for online instructors. Course designers try to incorporate collaborative activities. Yet teachers are already bogged down in the existing curricular requirements.

Considering these constraints, why is collaboration so important? Haythornthwaite points out that collaboration is more efficient than learning alone. It also supports a constructivist theory of learning. "The goal of the collaboration is to create a community of inquiry where students are fully engaged in collaboratively constructing meaningful and worthwhile knowledge" (Garrison as quoted by Haythornthwaite, 2006, p. 1).

In my brief observations I still see some of the same time constraints and limitations in the online environment that I see in the brick and mortar school. Change takes time. Once fully ingrained in the prescribed curriculum, there is just no time for teachers to think creatively. Yet effective collaboration requires time to plan, time to organize, and time to teach students how to do it properly.

Haythornthwaite, C. (2006). Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, 10(1). Retrieved Apr. 8, 2008, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/JALN/v10n1/v10n1_2haythornthwaite_member.asp


Mark said...

I think facilitating collaboration online is a fascinating topic, but especially in the context we are observing (where students are not only on different daily schedules, but also at different sections of courses). I also appreciate how you (I think) mentioned how online courses can be 'set up' to encourage collaboration, but the actual teaching practice has to focus on promoting collaboration as well. I've been learning about Moodle lately in my practicum class, and learning about that learning environment has also made me more interested in ways of promoting collaboration online.

eductechnology said...

Children now a days collaborate on social network sites and cell phones. It only makes sense to incorporate this into the daily curriculum because it is what they are interested in. I think people resist change when they see it as one more thing added to their plate and not a better way of doing things. I agree that once it is implemented they will see it is a better way.