Meaningful Student Collaboration for Online Courses

Creating meaningful collaboration in an online course doesn’t have to be difficult. What kind of collaboration will depend on whether the course is self-paced or has a live (online) lecture component. Here are a few suggestions for either situation: 


Self-Paced (No Live Sessions)


Online discussion boards, while useful for having students read and discuss one another’s work, do not often get interest beyond the requirement for a grade. Here’s how to get students working together and posting more organically. 


  1. Assign a peer-review buddy. Rather than having everyone post on 2 or 3 papers - put students in pairs. Have them share their work and provide feedback with one another. Google docs, microsoft track changes, and other programs allow students to comment directly on one another’s work. Have students share their assignments several days before they are due to you to allow time for feedback. Then grade students on the quality of their feedback as well as how well they incorporated the feedback of their partner. 
  2. Assign group projects. Although students don’t meet in person or even online, you can assign students a group project to have them work through.This can be either a large paper or project, or something shorter, like a scenario or case study to answer questions about. Students can meet in person or virtually to complete the assignment. Make sure that you make the expectations for group work clear and that you provide a place for them to post their work for the other groups to see and benefit from. 
  3. Assign a jigsaw. Students are given different sources and then required to teach it to the rest of the class. You can put students in pairs or small groups to research and develop a presentation. Then students record it for the class and post it. The other students could post questions or provide feedback to the group. 


If there is a synchronous component and students participate in an online lecture, you can still use any of the above options. Instead of recording or posting their work, students would just present during live lecture time. In addition to what’s above, if you have a virtual lecture time, you can also do one of the following: 


  1. Breakout rooms. Provide questions for students to discuss and then have them go into pre-assigned break out rooms to discuss. Give each group different questions so that when you come back to the whole group, students can share their answers. Circulate through the breakout rooms to make sure students are on task and provide feedback. 
  2. Poll-Discuss-Repoll. You can ask a poll question related to your material. Then, have students share their reasoning. Repoll students to see if anyone changed their mind. Have a discussion around what made students change their minds 
  3. Student Teams. Group students and have them work on learning material together, either in breakout rooms, asynchronously, or in-person as they are able. Then, quiz students and average the scores. This makes students accountable for one another learning the material. 


With a little focused effort toward student collaboration online courses can have meaningful group work and provide opportunities for community building

by Stacy Brown

Published October 29, 2021

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