Purposeful, Engaging, and Effective Collaboration

Sometimes a well meaning instructor can unintentionally frustrate students with a collaborative online activity. A poorly written discussion prompt, an unorganized group project, a misguided wiki assignment are just a few common projects of frustration. However, when done effectively, students can enjoy the online collaborative activity while building connections and community as they learn.

Below are several tools you can use along with tips for promoting successful student collaboration.

1.     Effective Discussions

  • Establish and communicate discussion board ground rules – What are the expectations for writing styles? Are there rules of netiquette that need to be adhered to.
  • Determine and communicate how you will evaluate students’ participation – Do students need to post once and never return? Do they need to reply to other students posts? What criteria must be included for a good post and for a good reply?
  • Engage your students by asking good questions to get discussions going. Use open ended questions. – Poorly written discussion prompts are often the main reason why students don’t like them. Consider making the prompts relative to your students and their opinions, views, or thoughts for a given topic. The worst discussion prompts are ones that ask students to answer a question which has a defined answer and consequently each response is restating the answer again and again. 😉
  • Create an introductory discussion board where students can introduce themselves, what interests them in the course topic, and an interesting thing about themselves. This is a great way to immediately start building community in the course.

Adapted from: Using Online Discussion Boards to Enhance Learning in Your Class – University of Washington


2.    Purposeful Blogs

  • Reflections – Students can use blogs to share reflections on readings or the topic learned. They post their thoughts and read other students’ posts to gain additional insight.
  • Online Portfolio – As students proceed through a course, they can post their reflections or project creations to a blog so they will have a full online portfolio when they complete the course or program. This makes a great end of course project because it encourages them to do well on all projects leading up to it. They can easily share this with other students, their friends and also future employers.
  • Many blog tools also work well with mobile devices. This is a huge advantage. Using tools such as Posterous.com, students can upload images and post from anywhere using their mobile devices. For more on using mobile devices for learning, check out this previous post on Jumpstarting Mobile Learning in Your Online or Blended Courses.

Adapted from: Tips for Using Blogs in the Classroom – Onlinedegrees.org


3.     Clearly Organized Group Projects

  • Use a wiki to encourage groups of students to collaborate and complete a project. Remember if you choose to do any type of group projects online, that you clearly identify to students how to get ahold of other group members, the timeline for completion, all requirements, the tools they may use for completing the project, as well as what to do if a group member fails to participate. Be clear with the guidelines. Group projects can be frustrating to students if all of these details are not clearly stated prior to beginning the project.
  • Use web tools that are available to have students develop presentations and work with one or more other students to create the presentation. Again clear guidelines must be set at the beginning. One suggestion you may consider is to encourage students to divide up the workload so that much of the work can be done individually if that is possible. Also have one or more people go through the final product and streamline it to make sure that it sounds and looks good and appears as one cohesive project.


4.      Guided WebConferencing Group Presentations

  •  Giving the option for students to present their projects to the class using a webconference tool may sound appealing, but be sure and take the time to demonstrate to students how to use the tool and provide guidelines for their presentation.
  •  Archive Presentations – Since many students sign up for online courses due to scheduling issues, archive the presentations so that those who can’t attend live will still benefit from viewing the presentation.
  •  Encourage viewers to fill out a survey or provide feedback of some sort for the presentations. This keeps all participants engaged and participating.
  • What is the student benefit? – One question you might ask yourself is what benefit is achieved when holding synchronous (same time) online presentations/webinars compared to just having students watch an asyncronous video or archive at their own time. If participants are not expected to ask questions or interact with the presenter than it may be better to just send an archive out to students to watch when convenient for them.
  • More Webinar tips – For additional tips on making webinars more interactive, check out this on designing interactive webinars or read my previous post on 8 Vital Tips for Webinars.

Is it possible to have too much interaction? Yes, here is a post that clarifies that it is possible to have too much interaction. You don’t wan’t extra fluff, busywork, or interactions just to have interaction. But you do want opportunites for building community and learning through effective collaboration.

The key is to encourage MEANINGFUL and PURPOSEFUL interaction among students that PROMOTES LEARNING along with CLEAR DIRECTION for the collaborative learning activity.

Hopefully some of these tips can help ensure that the interaction we have in our online courses is purposeful, engaging, and effective. Do you have any tips? What have you found effective? Please post your suggestions in the comments area.


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