According to Siemens (2002) students’ interactions in an online environment can be viewed as a four stage continuum:
- Communication – People ‘talking,’ discussing
- Collaboration – People sharing ideas and working together (occasionally sharing resources) in a loose environment
- Cooperation – People doing things together, but each with his or her own purpose
- Community – People striving for a common purpose
I think in most people’s general definition of collaboration, all these four stages are included. We often talk about collaboration and doing all these things.
In my mind, the next question is, how do we do this effectively in the type of learning environment that we are considering?
In the 2009 article I referred to previously from Brindley, Walti & Blaschke, they identified some strategies that both communicate the value of collaborative learning and increase motivation of the students:
- Transparency of expectations
- Clear instructions
- Appropriateness of task for group work
- Motivation for participation embedded in course design
- Readiness of learners for group work
- Timing of group formation
- Respect for the autonomy of learners
- Monitoring and feedback
- Sufficient time for the task
They also described some instructional strategies they identified to improve the quality of group collaboration and to increase the likelihood of student participation.
- Facilitate learner readiness for group work and provide scaffolding to build skills
- Scaffolding is important in preparing learners for small group projects.
- Establish a healthy balance between structure (clarity of task) and learner autonomy (flexibility of task)
- Nurture the establishment of learner relationships and sense of community
- Monitor group activities actively and closely
- Make the group task relevant for the learner
- Choose tasks that are best performed by a group
- Provide sufficient time
I think that in my experience, one of the key strategies is to establish the balance between structure and learner autonomy. This is often times, more an art form than a science. One major consideration here would be to understand the learner(s) and the levels that they are working at intellectually, academically, socially emotionally…
This task has unique challenges in the multi-age learning environment, but if students are able to work with other with similar ability levels it could potentially allow collaboration to happen in a way that may not be possible or as easily happen in other learning environments.
Brindley, J., Walti, C. and Blaschke, M. (2009, June). Creating Effective Collaborative Learning Groups in an Online Environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/675/1271
Siemens, G. (2002). Interaction. E-Learning Course. October 8, 2002. Retrieved May 19, 2008, fromhttp://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/Interaction.htm