Why and how you should get your students to collaborate and communicate?

Why is interaction so important in education? It is the key to learning, especially when you are using technology, preventing students to be passive thus engaging them to be active. Interaction requires the student to work with learning content. Interaction is needed for navigation and exploration of learning content, to get feedback after assessment, but communication with peers or teachers is the ultimate interaction.

Why?

  • Online courses are usually built for self-paced learning, where efficiency depends on students’ motivation and self-discipline. That’s why the use of communication in online learning is very useful.
  • Online collaboration or discussion might be less frightening than speaking up in the classroom to the introverted students or students that are less confident.
  • Participating in group discussions, in classroom or online, helps students know each other better, and builds relationships and classroom community.
  • When learning, students often relate more to their peers than their teacher, so a fellow student that understands the lesson better, might better answer their question.
  • Students learn through explaining things to their peers.
  • The concept of Community of inquiry is based on the premise that knowledge is necessarily embedded within a social context and, thus, requires intersubjective agreement among those involved in the process of inquiry for legitimacy. This means that for the best learning experience, we need three different presences: teaching (the teacher sets climate and provides content – lessons), social (the students who debate) and cognitive (which is the knowledge that participants communicate among themselves). Online technology can help us greatly, when we are trying to build this kind of environment, which is especially applicable to blended learning.
Picture 1: Community of inquiry

Picture 1: Community of inquiry

How?

There are many ways to go about this: collaboration tools, discussion tools, emails, blogs, chat rooms, curation tools, bookmarks managers, etc. But for best discussions and learning results…

Use forums.

There are several reasons why I believe a forum is an optimal way of online communication:

  • Students can talk to each other or teachers using forums. Teachers can encourage and motivate students using forums by opening debates, assigning goals (see picture 2), giving examples and answering questions.
  • Forum is a tool for asynchronous communication, this means that the students don’t have to be online at the same time to interact and it allows the time to gather thoughts and resources in a way not possible by live online chat. It is often easier to explain something using links to resources (pictures, graphs, Wikipedia, etc.) that are not available offline.
  • It promotes staying on the topic, and when the discussion gets off-topic, a new one can be opened.
  • Students’ participation in online discussions can also serve as a means of evaluating students in the same way as classroom engagement, but this should be predetermined and known to the students.
  • Forum is a more slow-paced form of online communication, which means that students can and should take more time when writing posts. This improves their communication and writing skills.
  • Other forms of collaboration often leave people that find it harder to engage socially out. In a forum participation is visible to the teacher, who can then invite shy students to participate.
  • There are some strong research indices that forums, when done right, promote critical thinking. More about that was written by Debbie Morrison on her blog.

 

Picture 2: Example of an assignment for a forum.

Picture 2: Example of an assignment for a forum.

Some guidelines:

  1. Stay on-topic. When discussion gets off-topic, guide your students to a new one.
  2. Motivate your students with recognition for their participation. This can be done by formal evaluation, or more interestingly; think about quoting your student in the classroom, or writing their statement on the blackboard the next day along with their name.
  3. Establish rules on the forum, i.e. politeness, tone, use of outside links vs. explaining personally, length of answers and so on.
  4. Ask your students good questions that they can use as discussion points.

 

How are forums designed in Edynco:

  • Forums are added inside a Learning map (if you don’t know what a Learning map is, click here). This means, that forums are already attached to the content, and thus promote staying on topic. Every node can have its own forum, which means every topic or subtopic of the lesson (see picture 2 for an example of a forum on a node).
  • Forums are easily accessible when students need them. If they have a question on a certain topic, the forum is one click away.
  • For a more general discussion on the whole subject there is also a forum that applies to the whole Learning Map (see picture 3).
  • The teacher has an overview about who and how much is participating.
  • Learning Maps along with their forums are great for use on mobile devices, which makes it easier for students and teachers to participate.
Picture 3: Example of a forum on a Learning Map.

Picture 3: Example of a forum on a Learning Map.

Resources:

About Tadej Stanic

Tadej is co-founder and CEO at Edynco. Since 2002 he has been working as a project manager designing and building online courses and e-textbooks for formal education. He is creative force behind the idea for Edynco and always open for new technologies which can improve learning experiences.

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  • Debbie Morrison

    Your points about ‘why’ to use forums are right on — there are tremendous opportunities for using forums to facilitate learning as mentioned, yet only when forums are thoughtfully and carefully constructed as is outlined in your guidelines and ‘how’ section.

    Debbie

    • Edynco

      Hi Debbie, thank you for commenting.
      And yes, it is really not about technology, but about how it is used. Here lies the biggest problem why technology “isn’t working” in some cases, doesn’t it? If students are left to themselves it is highly unlikely any meaningful communication could happen. I’m actually thinking of expanding those guidelines…I was thinking about exactly how much of teachers participation is needed in forums and it comes down to the type of students we’re dealing with, how much internal motivation they have, etc.

  • Gani Sait

    Excellent Article. Thanks for sharing.