• Collaborative, Connected, and Experiential Learning:
      Reflections of an Online Learner

      by D. Bruce Curry
    • One teaching/learning model, which can ameliorate this sense of isolation, is collaborative learning. Collaborative learning involves students in social interaction, as groups work together to solve problems. Students in distance education programs, though separated spatially, can gain a sense of togetherness as they share and clarify ideas, actively contribute to a team, and cooperatively solve problems (Cecez-Kecmanovic & Webb, 2000).
    • hese advances coincide with a general shift in educational theory to a collaborative constructivist conception of learning, which recognizes the learner’s need to share control and assume responsibility for constructing meaning in the context of a peer group (Anderson & Garrison, 1998).
    • Collaborative learning is an outgrowth of cooperative learning, in that students must develop cooperative learning skills in order to use them in self-directed, high-performing teams. These teams conduct free inquiry and members jointly solve problems. Success in cooperative learning is grounded in the skills students develop within the context of the structure provided by the instructor. In distance learning, students must possess or develop the technical skills necessary for online communication, as well as acquire and practice social behaviors necessary for collaboration (Kemery, 2000).
    • Instructors should provide guidance for students on how to work effectively in collaborative teams. The social aspects of successful teams should be explicitly taught and not assumed.
    • desirable qualities are an ability to clarify and commit to goals, an interest in other team members beyond the task at hand, a desire to confront conflict positively, an understanding of others’ perspectives, a commitment to make decisions inclusively, the valuing of individual differences, a willingness to freely contribute ideas and encourage team members, an open and honest evaluation of team performance, and a readiness to celebrate accomplishments
    • The essence of project-based, online collaborative learning is communication because positive group formation and learning occur through on-going dialogue (Kemery, 2000). Asynchronous communications can be utilized for much of the collaborative effort, through email with attachments and private forums. Additionally, synchronous private chat rooms can be used advantageously to facilitate collaborative learning (Lai, 1999). Synchronous communications are critical for establishing team roles, responsibilities, goals, deadlines, and for resolving differences of opinion. Team chats are also important for building relationships, encouraging one another, maintaining momentum, and celebrating accomplishments.
    • Clearly stated project requirements give team members a common starting point and provide a structure upon which to build. They also assist students with the planning of collaborative work responsibilities.
    • Assignment 1: Analysis and Design
      Part 1: Product Review (individual submission)
      Part 2: Instructional Design (team submission)
      Assignment 2: Implementation (team submission)
      Part 1: Written Materials–Summary description of product
      Part 2: Electronic Product
      Assignment 3: Evaluation and Reflections
      Part 1: Evaluation (team submission)
      Alpha test (evaluation forms and summary)
      Beta test (evaluation forms and summary)
      Part 2: Reflection (individual submission)
      A personal communication from the student to the professor concerning the overall learning experience
    • Flexibility in meeting project requirements balances the provision of clearly stated requirements. Flexibility enables students to develop ownership of the project, provides room for creativity, aids in the development of critical thinking skills, and encourages a sense of team unity and individuality.
    • The instructor, by properly subdividing a project, can help teams manage a challenging task, encourage teams to keep on schedule, and provide opportunities for important instructor feedback during the process.
    • Providing guidelines for team formation is critical for team success and cannot be overemphasized. Team formation guidelines help students choose team members intelligently, aid in the formation of team member roles, and help provide a basis for mutual respect among team members.
    • Relationship building allows team members to get to know and appreciate one another’s strengths and weaknesses, facilitates the initial ideation stage of project development, and lays the foundation for a successful collaborative experience.
    • It is very important in online courses for the instructor to maintain a presence with the students.
    • timely emails, which served to help manage the various teams and to ensure that things were proceeding smoothly with the groups. He also provided models for unfamiliar products, such as examples of flowcharts and representative storyboards.
    • Instructors can only do so much to facilitate rewarding collaborative learning experiences. In the final analysis, team members play an important role in the success of the project.
    • The diversity of backgrounds was our team’s strength. It made defining team roles a natural process. Clear and distinct roles aided in team communications and gave members a sense of responsibility and importance. They also assisted in assigning work responsibilities and made project management easier.
    • Project responsibilities proceeded directly and naturally from team member roles. Responsibilities and authority in the given areas of responsibility were well defined. While some overlap existed, individual team members were given more decision-making authority in their various areas of expertise.
    • Team goals should encourage a standard of excellence, be challenging yet reasonable and doable, and be agreed upon by all team members.
    • The major deadlines were set by the professor and were based on experience teaching the class. However, team members also had the opportunity to establish sub-deadlines. These were set well before the actual deadlines to give members time to review and correct work prior to submission. Additionally, major portions of work were subdivided in order to meet schedules. In collaborative efforts, the project manager, by virtue of his role and responsibility, should have more authority in setting deadlines. However, team members must also be convinced that the work can be done in the allotted time. Once set, team members should hold each other accountable for meeting deadlines with encouragement and weekly meetings.
    • In order for collaboration to work, team members must be respectful and considerate of one another, must understand that everyone’s opinions and thoughts are valued, and must be open and honest with communication (frankness is desirable for group members as time is critical).
    • Conflicts concerning the project were resolved by listening to all arguments, debating, and coming to a decision. Decisions were based on ideas and not on personalities. Team members were concerned with the quality of the project and different perspectives were considered important for developing good solutions to problems.
    • Web site
    • In addition to the weekly online meetings, we used email with attachments to follow up discussions and to send subject matter content for inclusion into the
    • Online collaborative project-based courses can be extremely rewarding experiences if certain elements are present. A thoughtful instructor, capable of balancing guidance with freedom is one critical factor. Another is a team with the skills, both technical and social, to truly collaborate. When those two factors and all they entail come together in a learning environment, collaborative projects can result in outcomes far exceeding the expectations of the professor.

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