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February 23, 2007

Collaborating in a Virtual Classroom

A lot of talk about collaboration recently has centered on wikis and Web 2.0 products with discussions concerning the willingness of people to collaborate and whether or not massive group collaborations work. For example, only a small number of people (relatively speaking) contribute to Wikipedia although anyone who wants to contribute could.

I recently conducted an online collaboration session using the virtual classroom software Centra. Centra_group_sessions_and_collaborationThe collaboration was a great success.

One of the featues of the software is that it allows the instructor to create breakout rooms for the online session. The software allows you to either assign learners to specific rooms or to randomly assign them to breakout rooms. I used the random assignment feature.

Then, as instructor I can go from virtual room to room and check in on how the students are doing. For the first collaboration assignment I had the students create an image on a PowerPoint slide using clip art with no words allowed. Each of the five groups did their thing and then uploaded their completed PowerPoint. I then debriefed the exercise with a discussion of how performance objectives can focus the learner or the designer and make it easier to learn or to design the instruction.

For the second group collaboration, I asked the learners to write a task, performance objective and an assessment item. Again the students uploaded their completed slide. I then I brought all the students out of the breakout room and reviewed the slides with them as a group.

The collaborations worked very well. It is possible, engaging and fun to add group collaboration to your virtual classroom sessions. Most of the time e-learning is thought of as self-paced or a one way webinar with a few questions at the end. Break out of that thought pattern and add group collaboration activities to your online sessions, you will find that the learners get a lot more out of the sessions and the learning is much more engaging.

Karl Kapp is the Assistant Director of Bloomsburg University’s Institute for Interactive Technologies and a professor of instructional technology. See his own blog, Kapp Notes for information on the convergence of learning and technology.

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