In a traditional classroom collaboration is natural, it doesn’t need to be planned or forced. In an online environment, it is quite different, since on the way to submitting an assignment it is, shall we say, highly unlikely, that one student will run into another and they will get into a deep conversation regarding the week’s topic. Hard to believe I know.
With that being said, as educators, we know that students learn best through interaction, so how can we provide this interaction in an online class. Let’s look as some options. This week we will be looking at synchronous tools, and next week we will look at asynchronous tools. There are of course many more tools than I will be able to mention here, so if there is a particular synchronous tool that you use, please feel free to add it in the comments at the bottom of the article this week. If there is an asynchronous tool you love, please add it next week. Any of these options can be done either with the entire class, or with the class divided into smaller groups, depending on what is more manageable for a chosen activity.
Synchronous tools are tools that require everyone to be online at the same time. If synchronous tools are to be used, it is advised that students be made aware of this at the very beginning of the semester, if not earlier, as many students chose to take online courses because they cannot meet at a certain time due to other classes or life circumstances. It is also advised that if assigned after the semester begins, students should be given a few choices for times that work in their schedules.
Chat – Participants have an online discussion by typing short, text-based messages in Blackboard. Sort of like a real-time discussion board. A great option for online office hours because they can be recorded and viewed later.
Virtual Classroom – A more robust version of the Chat, as it includes the test box for chatting, but also includes a Virtual Whiteboard to display course materials, websites and for drawing.
Saba Meeting – A tool provided by for faculty by ECU that takes the Virtual Classroom to the next level. With Saba Meeting, communication can be done either by chat or by microphone, and can also take advantage of live video streams. In addition to the “old fashion” whiteboard and presentations, a presenter can also share his desktop to demonstrate a program or browse the web. During a meeting, surveys can be given and breakout rooms can be set. Meetings can be recorded, but will be deleted unless requested each semester to be kept. Saba meeting is a great solution, but it can be rather technical, and sometimes students can have a hard time getting in, as typically Java needs to be updated/installed. Following the User Guide will usually help with the install process.
Second Life – If you are ready to take your students to a whole new way of learning, then Second Life is the way to go. I will warn you that there is a learning curve. In Second Life, you have an avatar and you can literally have the students sit in class, go on field trips, visit your office, the possibilities are endless. ECU even has a campus and its own Pirate Ship there. The more creative you are, the more you can make of it. In the past, I have seen a faculty member teaching Shakespeare require her students come to “class” dressed in Elizabethan garb and the students loved it. There are a lot of interesting, educational things that have been built that could possibly serve as great field trips: a Holocaust Museum, The Mayo Clinic, a Renaissance Gallery, New York City, Paris, even the RMS Titanic just to name a few.
So those are some synchronous ways you can encourage collaboration in your online class. A couple work directly in Blackboard and a couple can be linked in Blackboard and then taken outside. Are there others perhaps that you use synchronously? Use the comment area below to contribute what you use.
Next week we will talk about Asynchronous Tools that you can use in your classes to help encourage collaboration. Remember that any of these tools/activities can certainly be used in your seated classes as well to enhance collaboration amongst your students.
Throughout the semester, the OAA-Instructional Technology Team will be offering Professional Development opportunities. For more information on these opportunities, please visit the COE Professional Development website. To register for any professional development sessions, please use Cornerstone.