One of the primary issues with distance online learning is isolation. Although people can now opt for Cohort-based courses where they can learn collaboratively, it can still throw one down the 'Zoom Fatigue' spiral. Forget students, Zoom fatigue even got to the founder of Zoom, Eric Yuan. Students feel worn out from sitting in front of a computer screen for hours on end. As a result, their concentration levels dip, and learning suffers. This is where collaborative learning strategies prove useless by ensuring that students enjoy online learning and perform better.
The idea of learning together collaboratively was first popularized by the Soviet psychologist, Lev Vygotsky. His sociocultural theory of human learning describes learning as a social process and the origination of human intelligence in society or culture. This is further supported by various studies conducted over the years that emphasize the importance and effectiveness of collaborative learning as opposed to learning individually.
Keeping in mind the troubles of interactive online learning that course creators and instructors are now facing, I have put together this list of effective collaborative learning strategies.
Top Collaborative Learning Strategies for Improved Student Engagement
The Jigsaw Method
The primary idea behind the Jigsaw method is to break a large group (home group) of students into smaller groups (expert groups) and assign them a specific topic each. These groups are entrusted to learn and then teach others about their assigned topic. In this way, students get to learn different concepts in relatively less time and can retain the newly acquired information better.
The jigsaw method was first used by a professor of the University of Texas - Elliot Aronson - in 1971 to combat rising hostility among students after segregation. The technique was immensely successful and has been in use since.
It can be a challenge to get shy and introverted students to participate more in group activities. However, such students tend to perform better on online platforms where they can anonymously or individually share their thoughts. Brain writing is such a technique by which instructors can make such learners more involved in group work. In this technique, instructors start a discussion thread on an online forum. They provide a topic or prompt under which students can share their views either openly or anonymously.
A great online tool for brain writing is Miro. It is an online whiteboard platform that comes with various templates for brain-writing and other team projects as well.
Think-pair-share is one of the most common collaborative learning strategies. In this, the instructor breaks students into pairs. Students are then given a topic which they discuss and analyze together and finally, share it with the rest of the class. Group-based or pair-based strategies work better with open-ended questions which allow greater intellectual freedom.
Breakout rooms are an effective online learning strategy. Just like in physical classrooms teachers would make students work in groups, Breakout rooms do just that but online. These smaller groups meet for scheduled sessions and brainstorm ideas. Not only is that an effective learning technique but it also fosters community building.
Zoom is a popular video-conferencing platform that comes with the breakout room feature. You can easily divide your audience into these breakout rooms during your live sessions. Similarly, there are other apps besides Zoom that also offer the breakout-room feature. For example, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Stixy, etc.
However, as an online teacher, it can be tough to switch between different platforms trying to manage your course i.e. hosting a lecture on one LMS and then moving to other platforms to utilize the collaborative learning features. For this purpose, opt for an LMS that covers all your needs. Teachfloor is one such platform that comes with Zoom integration. For the price of one app, you can access the features of many.
In a purely academic sense, peer review is the process of assessing and verifying a document before its publication. However, in a more basic sense, peer review is an activity in which students review and provide feedback on the assignments of fellow students. The idea behind this is to strengthen students' evaluative skills and make them independent.
Keeping in mind the importance of collaborative learning, Teachfloor is a collaborative learning platform that provides its users with a community space with a discussion forum, Q&A thread, and Peer Review feature. With this instructors can schedule students' assignments and peer reviews. The discussion forum will also keep a track of all the reviews and keep a record of them for later use.
Scaffolding is a teaching method that involves gradually sharing the instructor’s assistance as students increase their understanding of a concept. Just like scaffolding provides structural support to buildings during construction, scaffolding in teaching provides instructional support to students to help with their intellectual development.
A good example of scaffolding is community guidelines. In this way, moderators set some basic rules that determine the course of discussion and interaction in a session. The process of scaffolding involves first determining how much the students know about the subject. Then by setting learning outcomes, the instructor decides the sort of instructional support or guidelines which are then drip-fed over the duration of the online course. Eventually, the intensity of the guidance is increased to scale up the learning of students.
Diversity is crucial to any collaborative working or learning environment. Researches prove that diverse classrooms improve learning for everyone. This is because a diverse environment brings together people from various differing (often contradicting) backgrounds and encourages them to interact devoid of any prejudices or biases. When people are made to work in such spaces, it introduces people to a multiplicity of perspectives which they otherwise did not have access to. Moreover, by sharing and understanding others' opinions, people also come to respect others.
Therefore, as an online course instructor, it should be a primary focus during the student onboarding process that your class is diverse. Bear in mind that diversity is not tokenist. On the contrary, it is less about the number and more about inclusivity and mutual respect for everyone.
Provide Learning Scenarios
Learning scenarios are a useful way of breaking down complex concepts and making students think out of the box. Moreover, it is refreshing for students too. So often teachers use analogies and real-life examples to explain topics. By doing so, students can understand concepts in a simple language without feeling bored or confused.
Some other examples of learning scenarios are case studies and role-plays. These scenarios act as prompts for discussions that stimulate students' thinking and push them to dissect concepts in unique ways.
As the name suggests, the Socratic method dates back to Socrates. The great Athenian philosopher used to engage in extensive intellectual dialogues with his disciples. They would sit circularly and go over a topic using a series of questions until they were able to deduce viable conclusions from their discussion.
Similarly, the Socratic seminar approach is used quite frequently in classrooms. As for online classes, this approach is only feasible for live cohort-based courses where students interact in real-time. Here the instructor introduces an idea by asking a thought-provoking question and then over the course of discussion acts as a devil's advocate stimulating further series of questions.
The 3-2-1 is a quick reflective activity that encourages students to reflect on a course experience and analyze the contents and identify problem areas. It provides an easy way for teachers to determine how well the students are picking up the learning materials. The technique follows three simple rules. Towards the end of the course ask your students the following questions in the sequence below:
- Ask them to give 3 key ideas presented in the session.
- Mention 2 examples that implement the idea.
- State 1 unresolved point or question.
Students are then asked to share and go over these points with the rest of the class. For online classes, teachers can easily convert the activity into an online discussion board or even a quiz using Quizlet, where they can share their responses.
The rationale behind incorporating collaborative learning strategies during online learning is to help combat the feeling of weariness that often students complain of. Learning off a computer is already a tedious task and having to learn alone on top can be depressing too. Which in turn lowers student participation and learning. By including these strategies in your online courses, teachers can effectively make their students participate more in the classes and perform better overall. And not to forget, collaborative working prepares one for teamwork which is an essential skill for professional life.