How can I foster group collaboration online?

One of the main challenges in online teaching is to facilitate the kinds of active learning that take place in the classroom such as paired and group discussions. The online course can become static, with students the passive recipients of content pushed to them as text, documents, or pre-recorded lectures. Even live lectures can become a one-way conversation, with the teacher doing most of the talking, and students feeling shy to contribute.

Some of these challenges come down to the nature of online learning. Yet there are steps teachers can take to make online courses more collaborative, engaging spaces that students can feel present in.

Five Top Tips

  • Plan each week’s learning around what students will do, and what they will do together. The focus should still be on students using and applying skills and knowledge.

  • Brainstorm ways of transforming activities that have worked in the classroom into engaging online activities. Team up with a colleague to explore the possibilities, and/or connect with altLAB for support.

  • Consider opportunities for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration. Blackboard Collaborate spaces might be set up for Groups to use as a live discussion space.  However, working on a live document may provide the flexibility students need to work together effectively.

  • Having a clear purpose or outcome for collaborative activities will help students determine their relevance. Defining how an activity helps students meet course outcomes or prepare for assessments may enhance engagement for some.   

  • Look for opportunities to let students drive collaboration. For example, set up a Blackboard wiki for groups to add weekly summaries of learning to. Or ask each group to create and manage a forum thread through the course. While it’s important to maintain teacher presence in discussion spaces, putting students in the driving seat may lift engagement.

Useful Resources