In distance education, one will find that successful collaboration depends greatly on whether a strong learning community existed from the beginning of a course. Successful collaboration in distance education involves working with various learning styles and often working with different cultures. Virtual groups go through various stages, in which members are in disagreement, resolve issues or become productive (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). However, if a strong sense of community was build from the beginning of the course, virtual teams will be able to successfully work through these tough times.
When assessing a collaborative learning community in distance education, there are numerous factors to bear in mind, for example the instructors’ roles and students’ roles. For instance, distance education instructors are responsible for ensuring that cultural sensitivity within virtual groups is present. Students on the contrary, are responsible for developing their team charter as a form of coaching and management.
If a student does not want to network or collaborate in a learning community for an online course, other members could attempt to rally around such an individual in a manner that would allow such a person to feel a sense of trust and warmth. However, the distance learning professor should have in the first place, allotted time for virtual team members to become acquainted with each other (Duarte & Synder, 2001). In other words, networking is essential in collaborative efforts. Most importantly, the instructor should have already set goals and objectives and established rules at the beginning of the course. Rules such as how students will be assessed should have been established from the beginning of the distance education course. Assessing students online according to Palloff & Pratt (2003) include: 1) design learner-centered assessment which involved self-reflection; 2) design and include grading rubrics to assess contributions to the discussion for assignments, project and collaboration itself; 3) collaborative assessments through publicly posting papers along with comments from student to student; 4) encourage students to develop skills in providing feedback by providing guideline to good feedback and modeling what is expected; 5) use assessment techniques that fit the context and align with learning objectives; 6) design assessments that are clear, easy to understand, and likely to work in the online environment; and 7) ask for and incorporate student input into how assessment should be conducted (pp. 101-102). This student who does not want to collaborate will clearly not thrive in an online environment, since collaboration is the main vein running through this learning mode.
Interestingly, the question is asked on Beth’s blog, if online collaboration is effective without ever meeting, or should persons need to meet face-to-face to build trust? The answer was no. There is no difference between weaving networks face to face and weaving networks online. The author noted that Artifacts are critical for effective collaboration for both face-to-face and online environments. I particularly liked the tic-tac-toe example used in which playing the game without the paper drawing would be almost impossible in either environment. However, there are trade-off to both environments in terms of scalability and keeping individuals engaged. For scalability, online collaboration enables dissemination, since this method is inherently replicable and shareable in which geographical limitations do not apply. Therefore, there is a potential to reach a much larger audience. In terms of keeping team members engaged, face-to-face is somewhat easier, since one cannot guarantee that a person is present online. Note though that at times individuals might be present face-to-face, but their minds are elsewhere. For detail information on Beth’s blog see: http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2010/03/weaving-together-onlineoffline-collaboration-in-a-network-context.html
Beth’s Blog (2010). Weaving together online/offline collaboration in a network context. Retrieved from http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2010/03/weaving-together-onlineoffline-collaboration-in-a-network-context.html
Duarte, D., and Synder, N.T. (2001). Mastering virtual teams: strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008). Distance Education: The Future of Distance Education [Video]. Baltimore, MD: Author.
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.