Creating Collaboration in Online Learning Environments
Concurrent Session 6
Fostering a community in online learning requires careful planning and it stems from the design of the program. From observing a particular online survey course we have learned that certain approaches help foster the community to evolve and enhance the learning experience.
Collaboration in Online Learning Environments
Online education is growing in significance and as educators it is an important to study what is effective in online design. The online medium can be used in a variety of ways to educate individuals but all courses are not created equal. In my final project of my Master’s program I conducted research for my practicum using the grounded theory approach (Strauss and Corbin, 1994) which uses the comparative analysis method and allows for interpretation to evolve as the information is gathered. Data was collected from within the course Learning with Emerging Technologies: Theory and Practice (LETTP) taught and designed by Professor Eileen O’Connor. My aim was to see how adult learning blended with emerging technology and whether it was possible to design a highly interactive collaborative course in the online medium. My research identified what activities encourage both collaboration and community to evolve. Many theorists indicate learning is a social process, so how is social activity encouraged in an online learning environment where there is no physical contact with the instructor or the other students? How does a community of learners evolve from a group of independent individuals who participate in an online class? Can we observe the community building and create collaborative projects in these settings? While participating in the background of this ongoing course for the entire semester I was able to collect data on the interactions between the students and Professor Eileen O’Connor. This approach allowed me access to all the discussions, activities and all the input from both the students and the professor. I was, therefore, able to observe and interpret how the interactions evolved over time. The course is rich in a multitude of approaches using virtual worlds, discussion boards, badging, individual and group presentations, creating projects, and written assignments. Looking at each of these design strategies it was possible to identify how the approaches help create a community of learners who have developed enough trust to collaborate and share ideas and ultimately carry out a large collaborative project at the end of the course. The results showed certain emerging technologies and design strategies have impact on creating a collaborative learning community. I was able to observe the building blocks or scaffolding that the designer created which contributed to the community and collaborative environment as the course progressed and see how trust was created between the participants. For example, virtual worlds had a significant impact on developing a sense of being part of a group. Therefore, the results help online course developers gain insight into effective strategies that when used can create more collaborative settings in online learning courses. Being able to incorporate the natural collaboration that occurs in face-to-face training in online courses can create more effective and engaging online programs.
O’Connor, E. (2014). Learning with Emerging Technologies: Theory and Practice (LETTP). Course In MALET program Empire State College, NY. Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1994) Grounded theory methodology: An overview. In: Denzin N.,Lincoln Y. eds. Handbook of Qualitative Research. 1st edn. (pp.273-85). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing.