My first foray into online teaching was that, online. I taught a Learning Technology for Educators course and a section of Research Methods. Creating on demand videos and mini lectures was time consuming but ultimately satisfying. Students, in general, found the ability to review materials several times before completing assignments was superior to note taking in a f2f course.
Yet there was a clear lack of social presence. And this revelation was disappointing but presented a challenge. How can my online students feel as connected in the online environment.
Adding group work in the earliest iterations had one basic tenet for me: avoid a boring discussion forum at all costs. So matchmaking a purposeful group assignment with a complimentary tool has been an ongoing passion.
Over the last three years, I have elected to include f2f meetings during each semester and began teaching weekly, synchronous sessions with structured team activities. Students report feeling connected and the tools selected fit the assignments.
In a recent collaboration with a colleague, we began using similar grouping methodology and compared the results. Listed are the components of structured group work that we have found to be instrumental in creating social presence and a collaborative online environment.
- Establish social presence prior to assignment
- Establish clear roles or process for collaboration within team activity
- Select tools that allow collaboration
- Monitor participation
- Rubrics with specific expectations
- Individual grading accountability