Accommodating Collaboration: Unequal Partners, Equal Results

Concurrent Session 9

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Promoting and maintaining active collaboration within online classes continue to be a vital concern among distance educators. Let’s explore effective practices we’ve used to foster online interaction among faculty in training. This conversation provides opportunities for you to share your own applied effective practices for collaboration in the online classroom.


Dr. Williams works as an Online Instructional Specialist with responsibility for online faculty development at the UWI, Open Campus. She has been involved in Higher Education for 13 years and served over the last 10 years in online education in roles including Programme Coordinator, Curriculum Development Specialist, Instructional Design and Administrator with the Open Campus. Dr. Williams' research interests include faculty development strategies, literacy for development and emerging trends in virtual education and accessibility. Previous speaking engagements include conferences sponsored by the Online Learning Consortium, EDUCAUSE, Regional Best Practice for The University of the West Indies and The Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning.
Janice M. Orcutt, Ed.S., Ph.D., is an Online/Distance Learning Instructional Specialist (ODL IS) at The University of the West Indies Open Campus responsible for professional development programmes for adjunct facilitators. She has been involved in online communities for 40 years and served in online higher education institutions in roles including course developer, instructor, and administrator over the last 20 years. Previous speaking engagements included OLC Innovate 2018, OLC Accelerate 2016, and conferences sponsored by Pearson Learning (CiTE) and the Society for Applied Learning Technology (SALT).

Extended Abstract

Institutional Context

The University of the West Indies, Open Campus (The UWI OC) operates in 17 English speaking Caribbean countries, with both physical and online facilities. The UWI Open Campus delivers programmes in face-to-face, blended and online modalities, and has offered fully online programmes since 2008. Operating with a completely adjunct faculty, the courses offered by The UWI OC employ a collaborative teaching model which includes the Course Coordinator (Academic Lead) and eTutors/ Group Facilitators who guide students through course activities. Courses can range from as low as 10 students to well over 500 using this approach. In smaller courses, the Course Coordinator serves as both the academic lead and the tutor.

Accommodating peer engagement through collaboration

As part of our faculty development process, we have created a community of practice Collaborating as Professionals (CAP) which has had a participation rate of up to 200 faculty members each academic year. We consider the discourse on collaboration a valuable conversation as the idea of teamwork is integral to the delivery model used within our adjunct faculty community. As such, we believe that the development of processes for team collaboration have applicability across institutions that offer courses online where consistency in delivery is important. Further, as part of competency development in our courses, we have embraced the benefits shared by  Palloff & Pratt, (2003) for online collaboration: Development of critical thinking skills, Co-creation of knowledge and meaning, Reflection, and Transformative learning.

The conversation will utilize a call and response format that follows a directed discussion approach. Four main questions will be posed to the participants to create a structure for the discourse. The main ideas from the discussion will be summarised to conclude the process.

Interactive Processes and Practices

The engagement methods below will be used to facilitate interaction among participants

  • Practice Query - Verbal responses will be solicited from participants on the collaborative options used in their practice

  • Interactive Polling - Using QR Code readable on a mobile device (text responses to be shared in real time)

  • Peer Review/ Inventory - Open document format used for sharing group ideas and posting results to the group in real time

Ques 1: What do you do to support collaborative engagement online?

One challenge faced by online instructors involves creating collaboration models that foster deep learning in a community atmosphere. Active learning online, while not a new concept, requires new approaches which may include the implementation of strategies that provide guidance and instruction engagement in collaborative groups (Conrad and Donaldson, 2011). For instance, the instructor must decide on the level of guidance that is needed to get the students started in their groups how often to provide specific feedback on the work of the group and encouragement for maintaining engagement.

Ques 2: How do we foster deep learning in online discussions?

A suggested practice is to assess both the process and product of the collaborative task and assign activities to each group member. This is possible by organizing the process thru - Clear instructions and expectations of the task, Communication by small groups in an assigned forum
Identifying the level of group effort required (percentage or number of posts and feedback), Documenting the process and rating peer engagement (taking notes and sharing meeting agenda and minutes as an artifact attached to the final group assignment) and monitoring by the facilitator.

Ques 3: What is the value of switching instructor roles during the collaborative process (emotional support vs intellectual challenge - for academic discourse )?

The facilitator's’ perspective on the value of instructor roles could create meaningful discourse on how the social and teaching principles align in online delivery. Palloff and Pratt (2015) remind the online practitioner of the differences between face to face and online delivery. In their view, an experienced instructor will move between emotional support and cognitive guidance to facilitate the creation of intellectual challenge for the students to remain engaged in the collaborative process. They further opine that the facilitator must help the students to understand their roles as co-facilitator within the group and the need to work towards the goal of the group. For this to happen, the facilitator must include productive learning team activities and opportunities for reflection. Instructors need to foster a secure online setting that affirms diverse thought and critical inquiry into the subject matter. Student discussions should be monitored to ensure that students observe netiquette guidelines which will support open and genuine sharing among the group. The facilitator can model appropriate practices through his own communication protocol in the course. This could include the sharing of messages and the establishment of a communication tone that encourages open questioning and reflection. We can deduce that many experienced online faculty members have adopted a learner-centered approach. They have learned how to provide instruction that guides their students through the expectations of both group and individual tasks. The aim is to make this knowledge accessible to everyone who facilitates delivery, regardless of experience.

Ques 4: What technologies beyond discussion forums have you used to support the collaborative process? How effective have these been?

Presenters will introduce this question with experiences related to using the ePortfolio and WIKI within faculty training and delivery.

Participants will then be asked to share their practices at this time, and guided through sub-questions that help inform the audience on needs related to the selection of tools used, cost to the institution, training of the instructor, training for the student, and time on task within the engagement.   

Summary of ideas and final question

Based on the discussion so far, what aspect, if any, of this collaboration process, would you want to implement in your delivery?


The goal of the session is to share evidence-based practice on how collaboration facilitates active learning and the development of metacognitive strategies. The underlying goal is to encourage the sharing of successful practices among participants of this conversation. We will look at how the application of peer engagement leads to networking and the creation of online communities.

Participants will be encouraged to talk about:

  • Success factors for online collaboration

  • Aligning course design with teaching strategies

  • Support for learner engagement and evaluation of the collaborative process

Participants will learn about:

  • How emerging technologies (WIKIs and e-Portfolios) are applied for collaboration

  • Considerations for implementation in different contexts -forging new pathways.


Conrad, R., and Donaldson,  J. A. (2011). Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction 2nd Edition. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Palloff, R. M. and Pratt K., (2015). Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Palloff, R. M., and Pratt, K., (2003) The virtual student: a profile and guide to working with online learners. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.​