Unit 3: Building Community and Collaboration

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1 Unit 3: Building Community and Collaboration This unit, Building Community and Collaboration, is designed to provide a framework for supporting instructors in building community, engaging students, and designing collaborative projects in a blended course. Learning Objectives To learn how to facilitate and assess online discussions To describe the importance and value of interaction in the blended course To identify and list various types of student interactions for a blended learning environment To explore strategies and techniques to infuse student-student and instructor-student interaction and engagement About Community and Collaboration The goal of this unit is to provide strategies and clarify the importance of promoting collaboration and community for instructors teaching blended courses. Building community and facilitating collaboration among students is a best practice in undergraduate education. Both the National Survey of Student Engagement 1 and the Community College Survey of Student Engagement 2 empirically prove that student engagement through collaboration and community positively impact student success and achievement. To begin this unit, suggest to participants that special attention needs to be given to building community and fostering collaboration, especially in a blended course, because community can be a part of the face-to-face portion of a blended course as well as the online component. Therefore, building and establishing community needs to be planned. It is important to mention to participants that not only is it important to foster community and collaboration in both the online and the face-to-face portions of their class but that they might also consider leveraging and reinforcing the interaction in one mode with what takes place in the other. In other words, what occurs online should be closely connected to what occurs in the classroom; and what occurs in the classroom should be connected to what occurs online. Jane Livingston provided a useful graphic 3 at the 2006 NERCOMP Conference indicating that instructors have a more challenging task of establishing and maintaining community in a blended course than in face-to-face or entirely online settings because the classroom community exists in both venues (see Figure 1). In a completely online course, participation is crucial and therefore occurs out of necessity. In a blended course, the online portion is not vital since there is also a face-to-face component where community can occur naturally through visual cues and interpersonal skills. Therefore, to ensure that the online community thrives, it needs to be integral to the course. At the same time, the face-to-face portion of the course, if not designed to facilitate and encourage community, can remain inactive if students are not encouraged to participate ELI Discovery Tools are practical resources designed to support the development and implementation of teaching, learning, and technology projects or processes on campus. This unit is part of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Discovery Tool: Blended Learning Workshop Guide. Each unit can be used as a stand-alone activity, or all units can be combined for a multiday learning event. The units typically include articles, discussion exercises, and questionnaires. You are welcome to add your own material or modify what you find. The complete Blended Learning tool set is available at Access to this discovery tool is restricted to ELI members for six months following its publication date of November EDUCAUSE and Veronica Diaz and Jennifer Strickland This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

2 Unit 3 because sometimes physical presence is assumed to be sufficient. What results is the added responsibility of the instructor to design the course so that the communities developed in both spaces experience continuity between each other such that what happens online contributes to the face-to-face experience and what happens during the face-to-face learning experience contributes significantly to what happens online. Doing so will ensure that community is sustained throughout the course regardless of the location and time. Figure 1. Effort Required to Build Community in Different Teaching Models The benefit in a blended environment is that the instructor has more dynamic, varied opportunities for building community by maximizing time, resources, and student engagement beyond the traditional seat time. The stronger the community, the more engaged students will be in all areas of the course. Suggested Videos Ferris Bueller s Day Off Traditional Teaching: Learning in Today s World (Marco Torres, 2008): Education Today and Tomorrow (Tom Woodward, 2006): Building Community As a whole class or in teams, brainstorm about what participants need to feel as though they are members of a successful community. Possible answers might include feeling safe, feeling as 2

3 Building Community and Collaboration though opinions matter and will be respected, being free to ask questions, having the ability to engage in conversation, experiencing a shared identity, having the ability to get support, or sharing common goals. This activity is intended to illustrate that all of these needs are in fact crucial to any successful learning activity and that intentionally fostering community, regardless of course content, can help facilitate an understanding of content by encouraging students to ask questions freely and reach out for support. It is important to point out to the participants that fostering community and encouraging collaboration needs to begin early in the class, and although this can happen either online or face-to-face, it is often more successful if this can be accomplished primarily in face-to-face meetings. This encourages students to feel comfortable early in the course establishing relationships and openly discussing course content with peers. Cultivating a strong sense of community takes time the earlier it begins, the more effective the communities can be in accomplishing their common goal in the course. These early engagement opportunities should be relevant to the course content while also encouraging active student participation, as well as providing opportunities for students to make connections to each other and to the content. Consider asking participants to think of a time when they successfully collaborated with a group of people. Then ask: What were some benefits of that collaboration? Could you have completed their task or objective without that collaboration or group effort? What was gained by the collaboration? Possible ideas or themes to highlight in the discussion include: The sense of experienced community Individual versus group responsibility for the outcome/learning The building of interpersonal skills The gained ability to construct individual knowledge Involvement or engagement in learning (not passive learners) Engagement with content in meaningful ways Increased retention through collaborative work Ross Mayfield s graphic 4 is useful in depicting the power of participation in courses (see Figure 2). This image can be helpful to illustrate the power of building community in the classroom. It highlights a variety of activities and how they not only contribute to collaboration but also actively engage students. As students are engaged in these strategies, they move from being consumers to producers of information, thereby becoming more engaged with the course content. The types of activities Mayfield suggests involve the use of Web 2.0 technologies. For example, a blog is designed to be a forum for writing. Along with writing blog postings, students can tag their posts, comment, and subscribe to other blogs. Help make this correlation for your participants by aligning technologies to these verbs. For example, encourage participants to ask students to read blogs, government websites, or news sources; tag via social bookmarking tools or images in Flickr; and moderate by leading discussions, organizing online groups, writing or managing a blog. 3

4 Unit 3 Figure 2. Power Law of Participation There are many traditional activities that can help facilitate high engagement as well. Mayfield s image does not specifically draw connections to specific technologies, although the terms Mayfield uses can be connected with various Web 2.0 tools, such as those suggested above. These terms are equally aligned with traditional pedagogies. For example, moderate in a faceto-face course can mean to moderate an in-class discussion. Likewise, online it can mean to moderate an online discussion or forum. Pedagogies that instructors have been using for decades can effectively facilitate community and encourage collaboration online. Mayfield s Power Law of Participation can be applied to both online and face-to-face environments. Instructors tend to be comfortable identifying activities they use to build community in their faceto-face courses. Employ the use of one of these more traditional activities to draw out these teaching practices that instructors have been using for years. For example, do a think-pair-share activity where you break participants off into pairs and ask them to brainstorm activities they use in their courses that promote collaboration. Then ask them to synthesize their ideas and report out their ideas in 60 seconds or less. Activities that promote building community might include: 6 Think-pair-share In-class writing assignments Note checks Case studies Group projects Five-minute discussions Group discussions 4

5 Building Community and Collaboration Role-playing Summarizing Venn diagrams Discussion Builds Community In both online and face-to-face environments, discussion is a crucial community-building activity that can also serve as a way to get students to interact with the course content. In a blended instructional environment, discussions should, as stated earlier, start early in both the face-to-face and the online settings. Setting ground rules or expectations for discussion is crucial to establish the safety and respect needed to foster engaged participation in the discussions. These guidelines, applicable in both online and face-to-face, can include but are not limited to: Establish clear expectations (including netiquette, if online) Offer prompting questions or other prompts throughout the discussion Establish a presence in the conversation, though less than full engagement Remain neutral when possible Encourage and establish rules for respecting different opinions Redirect when needed Focus on topic of discussion Model appropriate responses Discussion Boards Discussion boards can facilitate classroom discussion beyond the face-to-face class time as well as introduce discussions before class meetings. Moreover, if designed strategically, discussion boards can engage students in course content continuously throughout the course. An essential component to successful discussion board participation is asking the right question. A good discussion question can prompt engaged conversation and will draw on students experience while encouraging them to relate this experience to the course content and possibly build on new ideas from the course. Less successful questions elicit from students essentially the same response, encourage little feedback with each other, or do not draw out student experiences. Finally, it is crucial that discussion board participation be graded to ensure student engagement. Ask participants to select the most successful discussion board questions from a list including examples of both. After doing this a few times, brainstorm the characteristics of a strong discussion board question. For example: 1. Post a weak discussion board question, such as Name and describe three social systems theories that apply to community development. 2. Display a strong discussion board question, such as What theory of community development did you find yourself relating to most? Why? How would you apply that theory to our learning community? Discuss reasons why the first one is weak and will not generate the level of conversation the second question will foster. Encourage participants to keep in mind that if students all answer the same way, they will have little to say to each other beyond I agree or That is what I said, too. 5

6 Unit 3 Encourage instructors to postulate the type of answers the second question will get and highlight for them that open-ended questions encourage rather than stifle discussion. Exploring ways to use discussion boards beyond discussion of course readings can be helpful for participants. The type of activities can be varied, so encourage participants to explore various options. Ideas for ways to use discussion boards in a blended course include: Prepare for upcoming in-class discussion (pre-assignment) Respond to readings Review of literature Follow-up to in-class discussion (continue discussion or post-assignment) Extension of in-class discussion and assignments (exploratory, will not be covered in class) Question and answer forum (to create an FAQ page) Pose a problem and have students generate possible solutions; discuss or debate those solutions Students post homework or projects and get classmate feedback Case study Students critique classmates work using provided evaluation guidelines Find/evaluate web resources on lesson/topic and discuss results Invite guest speakers/lecturers Debate a topic Netiquette If students in a blended course are expected to practice netiquette, instructors should create a list of rules that they find pertinent or useful to their course. There are dozens of websites that list netiquette rules, but instructors can generate their own short list from any one of these. Netiquette resources could include: Albion Netiquette Quiz: Edutopia: Study Guides and Strategies: Yale University: University of Kansas: Rubrics At this point in the workshop you might want to address discussion board rubrics. Rubrics help achieve many of the desired online discussion outcomes and quantify successful discussion board characteristics for students and instructors. Rubrics can establish online discussion expectations around posting frequency, posting quality, and type of responses. Using a rubric has the added benefit of taking some of the subjectivity out of grading student postings. Several sample discussion board rubrics are available online: California State University Hayward: ple.pdf 6

7 Building Community and Collaboration Bedard-Voorhees, A. (2005). Increasing Engagement for Online and Face-to-Face Learners Through Online Discussion Practices: Chabot-Las Positas Community College: North Carolina State University: University of Wisconsin Stout: University of Wisconsin Stout: Discussion Rubrics Provide the above rubrics for participants to browse and then, giving a blank rubric template (see Figure 3), have them construct their own discussion board rubric that meets the instructional and content needs of their blended course. Figure 3. Building Your Own Online Discussion Rubric Collaboration The next step is to address collaborative activities that are specific to the online environment. Incorporating online activities allows the instructor to assist groups with more focus and without dividing time between groups. A face-to-face class meeting is limited by time; therefore, assisting all the groups can be challenging in a face-to-face setting as the other groups are forced to wait 7

8 Unit 3 until you are available to assist them. Online groups are not waiting their turn with the instructor. Additionally, depending on the online environment or learning management system being used, various classroom management features exist that enable student contribution tracking, making it easier to ensure equal participation and contribution among students. Some collaborative activities suited for the online environment may include: Case studies Discussions Student-moderated discussions Guest speakers Debates Panels or symposiums Collaborative writing Collaborative presentation Role play Games Demonstrations Online student--led support The Illinois Online Network offers these and other strategies: Keeping their course and specific module in mind, have participants create a collaborative activity that will help meet their module-level objectives. If the activity takes place face-to-face and online, have them plan for that set-up and transition. Encourage instructors to create a collaborative activity that will leverage both the online and face-to-face time by having students do pre-work before they meet during the scheduled class time and/or continue working online in a group after the class time. Have your participants design a discussion board activity that aligns with their module objectives. The activity might include a discussion with a question that fosters conversation, or it could include many of the activities above, such as online debates or case study activities. Using Student Teams and Team Building At the beginning of this segment, take a moment to administer a quick poll: Which best describes your experience with student teams? I have used them successfully (students like them, and I do, too). I have used them, but students don t like them. I have used them, but they are not worth the work. I have never used them. I would use them more often if I could use them effectively. They don t fit well with my courses. 8

9 Building Community and Collaboration The use of student teams can be an especially effective teaching strategy in a blended course for several reasons. First, it allows the instructor an opportunity to support students in learning a valuable skill: how to work together and support each other in their learning. Second, becoming effective and productive team members allows students to also develop their independent learning skills. And third, integrating teamwork into a blended course can result in more structure to the out-of-class time and increase student accountability for their learning. Obviously, teambased learning is not appropriate for all content, but it can usually be adopted in some form in any course. Larry Michaelsen, 5 a business professor at the University of Central Missouri, finds that successful student teams are built around three components: Promotion of ongoing accountability Linked and mutually reinforcing assignments Practices that stimulate idea exchange Coincidentally, these three components nicely complement those factors required for success in a blended course. In other words, students must be accountable for both in-class and out-of-class work; the learning that takes place in class must be reinforced and well integrated into the out-ofclass activities; and, finally, students must be actively engaged in the entire course. The strategies and tools discussed below can be used to dramatically improve student-learning outcomes in team-based learning. Team Contracts Contracts can be used in instruction in a variety of forms, but it is especially useful in working with student teams. Once student teams have been formed, consider asking the team to develop a contract that includes the following items: Purpose, goal, and mission of the team what the team will accomplish Expectations for the team as a whole as well as for individual members Roles for each individual Conflict resolution strategies to employ when the team encounters disagreements, doesn t meet deadlines, doesn t deliver on milestones Meeting schedules, places, agendas, and minutes Communication strategies: , phone, in-person Decision-making policy: consensus, majority rules, other Project plan The task of developing a team contract is something that can be introduced in the face-to-face portion of the class and then completed on students own time outside class. However it s done, developing contracts for teamwork can be highly effective in proactively addressing some of the frequently experienced team issues. Michaelsen also suggests other activities: Assigning roles Using permanent groups Allowing some in-class group work 9

10 Unit 3 Placing students in groups that have between 4 and 7 members Carefully and clearly outlining learning goals for the teams Spending time to teach team skills Providing clear and detailed instructions for deliverables Providing rubrics for students to evaluate their deliverables before submitting them Purposely selecting and applying concepts from the course to be addressed in the teams Team-Based Learning Video Demonstrations Larry Michaelsen s videos at the following URL are extremely useful in understanding and also demonstrating to students the way in which teams evolve and become productive: At the conclusion of the team-based learning segment, ask participants how the team-based learning approach or parts of the approach might fit into blended learning course. Participants could be given a few moments to consider this teaching and learning strategy and then could be asked to share their concerns (pedagogic, logistic, time), support needs, and modified approaches to team-based learning. Conclusion Developing community in a blended course can greatly enhance the student experience. When community exists in the course, students are more committed to the content and the activities surrounding the content; are more comfortable asking questions; ultimately become more actively involved in their learning; and are more likely to remain in and complete the course. Through a variety of collaborative activities, starting early and persisting throughout the course, participants can foster and encourage community, collaboration, and team building amongst their students. Teaching in a blended environment has the added advantage of being able to experience both in class and online opportunities to create these experiences for students. Endnotes 1. For more information, see 2. For more information, see 3. See 4. Source: 5. Source: Team-Based Learning, Michaelsen, 6. More information on these examples and other active learning strategies can be found at 10

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