What facilitates peer collaboration and discussion forums to make adult online instruction more effective?

The procedure of teaching and learning has changed from a teacher-centered to a student center environment. Given this fact, the structure of online learning is based on constructivism and supports social learning theories. ³The interactions between students and teachers changed as well in that personal communication and discussion increased and became more detailed and deeper´ (McNeil & et al, 2000, p. 700). To build an online learning community in order to achieve the online learning goals, the instructor must provide opportunities to interact, collaborate, create a learning environment, and reflect on thoughts and experiences. Although social aspects of interactions might not affect the instructional objectives directly, they indeed affect the learning process (McNeil & et al, 2000). In terms of building an online learning community, the learner¶s contribution and involvement in discussion forums, small group activities, and proposing ideas based on real-life experience engages them with the course content, the instructor, and with each other. Communication in online courses can occur via synchronous and asynchronous tools; however, the asynchronous communication option has more potential in terms of a community building of an online class (Palloff & Pratt, 2007). McNeil ad et al in Facilitating interaction, communication and collaboration in online courses (2000, p.702) have listed the benefits of asynchronous communication: y y The quality of postings and homework increased because of peer review. Students learned from postings and online discussion with other students as well as instructor. y The ability to think about a topic, collect and organize thoughts and check grammar and spelling was valuable before posting. y There was more time for comments because there was no competition for a certain amount of class time. y Students who learned English as a second language felt less at a disadvantage because they could think about what they wanted to say, translate if necessary and then post. y y Students valued being able to read and post at a convenient time and place. Students felt more a part of class and more connected with their classmates because of more interaction and communication. Those designing online collaborative learning activities should consider both the learning and teaching aspects. It has been found that team forming is difficult in an asynchronous way because the members log on at their convenience (Palloff & Pratt, 2007). However, Palloff and Pratt mentioned that ³enough time along with encouragement and reminders from the instructor can help the situation´ (2007). The number of the group members should be small and the activity instructions and expectations should be well explained by the instructor. The objectives and standards for the group activity also need to be clear

at the beginning. Palloff and Pratt in Building Online Learning Communities (2007, pp. 165-6) listed some guidelines which facilitate online collaborating: y y y y y How will the group communicate? What roles or duties will each person in the group performs? Who is responsible for posting group responses to the main discussion board? How will the group handle a member that is not participating? Discuss any other topics that are unique to your group.

For effective group work, the learners should have cooperative skills to do the activity. They need to coordinate their work with others in the group. They need to have an outline of the goals, tasks, and deadline to feel commitment to the group and the activity. The above-mentioned aspects will help to create successful collaboration if the instructor designs, manages, and monitors the activity so that each student understands the expectations and their own responsibilities for participating in the activity. Factors for effective online peer collaboration in graduate-level Espinoza and McKinzie in Online Collaboration: Two Models, designed activities for their graduate students to complete collaboratively between large groups with less instructor¶s interaction. The result showed that although students are at a graduate level, they still need the instructor¶s active participation and detailed and specific instructions. In spite of each student¶s responsibilities for completing the tasks of the project and learning outcomes of the project, the students still need to know if they are following the right course and need to receive feedback from the instructor on their progress. Another lesson learned from this study was that students work more effectively and productively in small groups, where they can participate in a way that lets them feel they are contributing (Espinoza & McKinzie,1999). Conclusion There are two types of online collaboration: synchronous, like live chat, and asynchronous, like discussion forums. As I mentioned above, each have good and bad points. For online instruction we need to identify the principles that facilitate peer collaboration and discussion forums effectively. These principles are: 1. Comprehensible objectives, instructions, and expectations for the group activity 2. Small numbers for each group 3. Coordination and participation from each member of the group 4. Clear outline of tasks and deadlines for the group members 5. Regular contribution with group members The key to facilitating collaboration using these principles is in the role of the instructor to use them, and make the initial participation mandatory. By beginning with a clear structure, mandatory activities and

participation, and instructions on what the group is to accomplish, a sense of teamwork and community is fostered. This in turn, motivates the students to participate and collaborate, and as the project progresses, less and less is required of the instructor. These are principles for all collaboration in an online environment, either graduate or undergraduate levels, or even for K-12. They also apply to different content areas. The difference is in the level of application. The specific use of these principles might vary in degree based on the level of our audience and the content area. For instance, students of architecture with a project of designing a building are required to regularly contribute with group members, and in this case they may be assigned to log in every two days and update their design. In another content area, such as a philosophy class, students are not actively completing a physical assignment, but are instead discussing principles in an abstract way. They are also required to have regular contribution with group members, but this contribution may be better in a synchronous forum, such as an online audio conference. Principles are values and will not differ on content and audience basis, however, the level of emphasis of these principles may change to meet the audience needs and the major requirements.

References: Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (2007). Building Online Learning Communities. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. McNeil, S., Robin, B., and Miller, R. (2000). Facilitating interaction, communication and collaboration in online courses. Computers & Geosciences (26), 699-708. Espinoza, S. & McKinzie, L. (1999), Online Collaboration: Two Models. Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference, San Antonio, TX, February 28-March 4, 1999.

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