Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Collaborative tools in online learning

Over the last couple of weeks, I have been doing some research preparing for a staff professional development session we ran last week on collaboration in online learning. 

I have always been an advocate of interactivity in online learning/teaching, but this research has really opened my eyes to the importance of collaboration and interaction and the myriad of ways in which we can incorporate the tools available to create strong, effective and stimulating courses in an online educational environment (i.e.: MOLE 2).

The session looks at group work, utilizing tools such as Discussion Forums (a great way to get students to introduce themselves - as an ice-breaker, as well as to contribute to asynchronous online discussions), Journals and Blogs (both reflective spaces, the former being essentially shared between student and teacher; the latter often open to comments from peers), as well as Chat and Virtual Classrooms.

Virtual Classrooms (often avoided, or under-estimated in online courses) can be extremely helpful in eliminating the feeling of isolation and loneliness often experienced by distance learners.  Regular weekly meet-ups in synchronous (real time) chat sessions can allow learners to engage in real-time discussions, ask questions in a safe (text only) environment, and give them the chance to engage and share ideas and opinions with other learners.  

Another tool that can be used in online courses is the Wiki (derived from the Hawaiian word for "quick").  The most widely-known / popular Wiki would be Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org).  Introduced in 2001, this wiki is an online open content encyclopaedia which can be edited by anyone.
Ward Cunningham CC Attribution license
"The history of wikis dates from 1994, when Ward Cunningham invented the concept and gave it its name (he gave the name "WikiWikiWeb" to both the wiki, which ran on his company's website at c2.com, and the wiki software that powered it). c2.com thus became the first wiki, or a website with pages that can be edited via the browser, with a version history for each page."                         

Wikis can be used in many ways, but are typically web pages which can be easily edited by groups of users.

Typical uses could be for:
  • group note-taking (during f2f classes),
  • collaborative project working,
  • organisational excercises,
  • information gathering
Whereas Discussion Forums are asynchronous areas which facilitate discussions, Wikis are less conversational, and more about contributing factual information.

Here's a great clip (it is a little long, so pop your slippers on and get yourself all nice and settled!) about how Richard Buckland from the University of  NSW, Australia is using Wikis in his large (100+) f2f classrooms. 

Note:  Richard does use an external Wiki tool, rather than one built in (for e.g.) Blackboard (and does go on to mention at the very end (if you get that far!) that Blackboard and Vista's Wikis require too many clicks and permissions) ....This is not currently accurate:  Richard shared this video in 2009, and our current version of MOLE 2 runs with Blackboard 9.1, and this Wiki is quite simple and straight forward to use.  (I cannot comment as to ease of use back in 2009, however). ; )

All of these are powerful, useful educational tools to help our learners get the most out of their online courses, but these tools do not need to be used in isolation, either:   In fact, used in succession, they can become even more powerful as a suite of interactive tools employed to encourage engagement, teamwork and motivation for learners.

And so I would encourage any online instructors to go ahead and explore the interactive tools we have available in MOLE 2...

I'm sure you won't be suprised to learn: ...that students actually like / enjoy helping to co-create a course.  It’s a move away from being lectured to...to collaborating and discussing, and having some input...  


1 comment:

  1. Nice to see someone else not afraid to use double-bracketting!

    Nice video though. Inspiring. I like watching teachers talking about technology that has worked for them. That always seems to carry more weight than us Learning Technologists types evangelising like we do.



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