In the article, Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning, Caroline Haythornthwaite makes the following recommendations:
- Be aware of the model students have of how class work progresses and work with that to ‘sell' the change from individual, proprietary, single-owner work to joint, collaborative work.
- Factor in the extra time needed to collaborate and to collaborate online when establishing course requirements.
- Make students aware of the collaborative process, including the need to get to know others, create common goals, and establish their own communication practices.
- Make students aware of the differences between offline and online work and learning practices.
- Keep message load manageable by limiting class or group sizes, and by creating ‘small within the large' both for groups within larger classes, and for message threads within larger topics.
- Teach collaborative online skills as part of the practice of being an online student: e.g., use of conventions such as message subject headings, proper message thread use in bulletin boards, topic management. (Haythornthwaite, 2006, p. 1)
Considering these constraints, why is collaboration so important? Haythornthwaite points out that collaboration is more efficient than learning alone. It also supports a constructivist theory of learning. "The goal of the collaboration is to create a community of inquiry where students are fully engaged in collaboratively constructing meaningful and worthwhile knowledge" (Garrison as quoted by Haythornthwaite, 2006, p. 1).
In my brief observations I still see some of the same time constraints and limitations in the online environment that I see in the brick and mortar school. Change takes time. Once fully ingrained in the prescribed curriculum, there is just no time for teachers to think creatively. Yet effective collaboration requires time to plan, time to organize, and time to teach students how to do it properly.
Haythornthwaite, C. (2006). Facilitating Collaboration in Online Learning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, 10(1). Retrieved Apr. 8, 2008, from http://www.sloan-c.org/publications/JALN/v10n1/v10n1_2haythornthwaite_member.asp