Online learning communities in which collaboration can occur between students are essential for deepening student learning. Palloff and Platt (2005; 2007) suggest several benefits of learning communities including allowing an opportunity for shy students to be heard, for creativity and critical thinking to occur, and for students to learn to both trust others and be trusted by others by learning to work as a team. Also, by being part of a community of individuals with diverse backgrounds students can be exposed to opinions and ideas that differ from their own leading to a deeper, more complex understanding of the topic being discussed. However, even though learning communities and collaboration has great benefits for students’ learning, there will be some students who do not want to work with others or contribute to online conversations. It is up to the instructor to come up with ideas to encourage these students to participate with their classmates.
Learning communities can present many challenges for both students and instructors, especially in the ways that assignments are assessed. Instructors can encourage students to participate in online communities by providing the assessment tool that will be used for evaluations so students can contribute what they know they will be being assessed on (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008b); making the assessments formative rather than summative to provide students feedback without affecting their grade (Laureate, Education, Inc., 2008b); or by allowing students an opportunity to reflect on their work to assess themselves and their classmates. If summative assessments are to be used, instructors should be sure to include at least a minimum requirement as to how many times and how often students should participate in group discussions. Siemens suggests that part of students’ assessments could also be based on how much learning has actually occurred so that assessments are “fair and equitable” for students at different learning levels (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008b).
George Siemens (Laureate Education, Inc., 2008b) mentions that a major reason these students don’t want to be part of a learning community is because they are afraid of losing their sense of self or individuality. If students find that part of their learning community is not participating they should try to reach out to those individuals to make sure they aren’t dealing with some kind of issues that are keeping them from participating. If that doesn’t work, the community could contact the instructor and make sure that he/ she is aware of the situation. The instructor may be able to encourage these students to participate by simply reminding these students how learning communities can contribute to their learning (Palloff and Pratt, 2005), and remind them that not participating may negatively affect their grade. Also, the instructor may be able to avoid having to confront students by making themselves “present” in group discussions by participating and collaborating in the learning communities.
Check out these other resources for more information on collaboration in online environments:
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008a). Principles of distance education: Assessment of collaborative learning. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008b). Principles of distance education: Learning communities. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building online learning communities: Effective strategies for the virtual classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.