2. Encourage cooperation among students

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The next of the Seven Principles is Cooperation Among Students that provides students with the opportunity to work together in groups, usually under the direction of the instructor. Discussions, collaborative learning, share writing in a wiki are all examples of technology enhancing cooperation among students.

Students often resist working in groups for fear of having their grades pulled down by the least effective member of the group. In practice, students working in groups learn more about the content area and are more engaged in the activity than working individually.

In the "real world" people rarely work alone. Learning to work collaboratively in an online environment is an important life skill.


There are many ways that students can use existing technologies to cooperate and collaborate.

  • email communication to one or more students
  • online discussion where all posts can be viewed
  • instant messaging with archiving to permit review and access by student not participating in real-time
  • online conferencing for live participation or archived for later viewing
  • collaborative writing using a shared writing area, e.g., wiki

Students say...

  • I am an international student, and this is the first time that I have ever discussed questions in class.
  • I have always hated group work, but this was different. I learned so much more working on the group project.
  • I have to work with other people in our company offices all over the world. Working on the group project in this class has helped me a lot with my job and my coworkers.
  • After three weeks, I feel like I know my classmates better in this online class than in any on-campus class that I have ever taken. I love it.
  • I am really happy to be in my group that we work together as a team, help each other, understand our strengths and weaknesses. For example, I let my group acknowledge that I am not familiar with computers and group online, so I need them to remind if I make mistakes. In addition, they would always be there for me, such as posting their suggestions or thoughts. I am proud to say that our group was able to work together to produce a good report.
  • I am taking an online english course and the way the peer review was done in that class was better in my opinion. It randomly distributes the papers to people who also turned in a paper. The review is anonymous and I liked that way much better as a writer and a reviewer because it made sure everything was done in a certain amount of time. The only downside was that if you didn't get your paper in by the deadline then you were not included in the peer review.

Enhancing Instruction

Even if some or all of the course work is not face-to-face, students appreciate a sense of community. Working together, sharing information builds connections between students and makes the learning experience more personal.

Students with limited language skills, fears of speaking in class, find great empowerment in finally being able to participate in a class discussion. They can formulate their thoughts, edit, look up words, use spelling and grammar checking software.

Meeting classmates

Having students introduce themselves, along with sharing some personal information, is a time-honored classroom "ice-breaker" which works well in an online discussion environment. Students get to "know" one another, and can build lasting friendships based on "meeting" someone in an online class.

Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions

The paper CREST+ Model: Writing Effective Online Discussion Questions provides a model for prompt questions, covers the cognitive nature of the question, the reading basis, any experiential possibility, style and type of question, and finally ways to structure a good question. This model encourages students to participate in online forum discussions, provides a template for online faculty to use in creating effective discussion questions, and promotes a higher level processing of the material. http://jolt.merlot.org/vol3no2/akin.htm

Grading discussion participation

Students need to be reassured that you are looking for a demonstration of reasonable effort. Even if the student posts a great discussion question or makes a significant contribution, it doesn't necessary follow that other students will interact in some interesting meaningful way. Students need to know their efforts will be taken that into account. It is important to track the participation and contributions of individuals for grading.

Grading discussion participation is recommended. Individual posts can be graded as mini-essays. Counting discussion postings, assessing posts for substantial contribution (not just "I agree" posts) ensure that students take an active role in discussions.

Collaboration forum

For student collaboration, provide a separate forum and encourage students to to use the forum (rather than email) for project communication. This ensures that there is a record of the interaction and all students have the opportunity to read the information. All the posts are linked and automatically collected together. This is great for students and for faculty.

Top 100 tools

Keep yourself up-to-date. These tools will help you keep up to date with what people are doing and what's happening in the e-learning world

Bloom's Taxonomy Blooms Digitally

In Bloom's Taxonomy of critical thinking skills, Bloom designated understanding as being one of the Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS). Key terms and the associated technologies associated with Understanding included in the digital additions are:

Understanding: Interpreting, Summarizing, inferring, paraphrasing, classifying, comparing, explaining, exemplifying, Advanced searching, Boolean searching, blog journalling, "tweeting", categorizing and tagging, commenting, annotating, subscribing.
Bloom's Taxonomy Blooms Digitally http://www.techlearning.com/story/showArticle.php?articleID=196605124

Teaching and Learning

Monitoring and managing student cooperation in an online environment requires some planning. Making use of the tools available for recording and tracking "conversations" can be a significant benefit. All interactions are available for student and instructor review. This provides a more accurate insight in to group dynamics and workload sharing, than is possible in a classroom setting.

Managing Discussion Displays

For large classes with a lot of postings, managing the quantity of information can be challenging. Learn to use the different discussion display formats - available in a pull-down menu near the top of the topic display page. Highlighting new posts in context is helpful. Displaying new items at the top of the page provides a quick way to see new posts to a topic thread.

Facilitating Discussions

Most students are willing to participate in well designed discussions. Several open ended prompt questions are often enough the get the conversation going. Instructions about participation expectations - number of posts, some indication of depth of discussion, help students determine how much is "enough" contribution.

Some instructors find it helpful to guide the discussion with feedback, follow-up questions and summaries of points made. In some cases, it may be necessary to address issues of inappropriate posts - personal attack, inappropriate language. Functions are provided deleting or editing offensive posts. However, these should be used sparingly.

Sometimes, discussions without instructor intervention can be more spontaneous and surprisingly insightful. Without a visible authority presence, students are more willing to express themselves, ask for help and provide assistance to classmates.

Others say...

  • I read every comment I get. I don't always reply because I prefer to allow students to have the last word - though at the urging of some students I've tried recently to be more forthcoming in my replies. -- Stephen Downes, Aug 07

Online Group Projects

One of the most difficult aspects of group project work is often scheduling. Most students have many demands on their time. Surprisingly, being able to work asynchronously is a good alternative, once the initial resistance is overcome.

Encouraging students to work on a single shared document, such as a wiki eliminates the need to track versions of the product as it develops.

Grading group projects

Grading group projects is "fairer" if there is a published grading rubric. In that way, everyone in the group can assess how the group submission is measuring up, and can take action to ensure the final product meets the published standards.

Support for students

The De Anza Student Success Center (SSC) provides help for De Anza students. Students post requests and essays, and tutors respond with suggestions for improving content, organization, and grammar, and links to online explanations and exercises for the most important areas where improvement is needed. Our philosophy: "Help the student, not the paper."

Learn more...

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