I am a huge fan of collaborative learning—in both virtual and classroom settings. In addition to what I learn from the instructor, my cohorts always seem to introduce me to new, challenging, and creative educational resources, tools, articles etc. And, typically when collaborating on a final project together, my team work skills are sharpened, and I get objective feedback on things I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It’s also a great way to get introduced to a field or area that you probably don’t have prior experience in. For one of my class team projects, my team members and I worked on creating a part of instructional manual for a scout group. Since I’ve had no exposure to scout activities before this, normally I wouldn’t even have attempted such a project. But, because in a collaborative environment, you are not expected to be the expert on everything, I could rely on my team members’ knowledge to work on the project.
I don’t know if collaborative learning is more crucial in online classes, but I have no trouble believing that several studies out point out that collaborative learning in a virtual setting provides a way to building meaningful knowledge. In the article, Interactive technologies for collaborative learning, the authors talk about the three modes of virtual teams. I agree with this description, but based on my experience, I also think the three modes tend to overlap.
I can’t remember all the interactive tools I have used over the years to work with team members living in different parts of the country, but without them, working on projects asynchronously would not have been possible.
For document sharing, my two favorites have been Google docs and Microsoft’s workspace. I like the latter a little better because I have found it to be a little more stable and has more powerful features than Google docs.
Skype has been my go-to tool for conferencing both for work and school. And, I have yet to find a good tool for chatting. And, in my experience chat rooms did not promote good discussion. Forums, on the other hand, have been more discussion-enhancing among my fellow cohorts.
Moving to the next article, Learning at a Distance: Engaged or Not?—my short answer is—it really depends on the students, their interests, and to some extent, the instructor’s effectiveness in engaging the students (the onus of course lies with the students).
I am not surprised that almost all the students interviewed cited convenience as their main reason for taking online class. Not having to show up at a certain time on a certain day at a certain location is definitely an advantage I have benefited from during my time in the IST program. The other option was to drive 40 miles to San Francisco State University after work. No-brainer, right?
As convenient as distance learning has made my life, my journey is by no means inspirational like Amy Stokes. Her work moved me to tears. Yes, the security concerns are real, but providing emotional support to children who have lost one or both parents via e-mentoring, now that’s awe-inspiring.