Strategies and techniques for fostering collaboration in online learning

Digital networks are an interesting context lending itself very well to implement learning processes based on socio-constructivist theories. In fact, online learning means building and sharing new knowledge based on peers interactions from a distance and this approach can be applied to all major learning contexts, i.e. school, university, adult education and informal learning.

In formal education, a rather frequent setting entails that students interact through a Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) system, i.e. a platform allowing synchronous and asynchronous interpersonal communication through tools such as forums, chats, wikis, videoconferences. These platforms therefore allow to create virtual communities, where groups of participants collaborate to carry out tasks assigned by tutors, who guide learners and facilitate their interactions. The assigned tasks are very diversified, including discussion of specific topics, problem solving activities, case studies, etc. Groups are generally required to produce a written final essay which acts as a catalyst of interaction and collaboration and consequently triggers the production of both individual and group fresh knowledge. In such learning contexts the process is intrinsically learner-centred and strongly based on group work, opinion, ideas and information exchange as well as negotiation of new meanings. However, both research and practice show that triggering real collaboration is not easy, especially when learners do not know each other, even if such collaboration is essential to carry out the given task by exploiting the competencies of all members of the community. The reasons for such resistance and sometimes even inability to collaborate, are manifold - lack of motivation, reluctance to rely on technology-mediated communication, little confidence in collaboration as a fruitful learning method. Other reasons are of a pragmatic nature and consist in lack of time, scarce confidence in learning tools and modalities as well as difficult web access. Consequently, many recent research projects have focused on understanding whether and when interactions within a group are likely to create effective communication from a qualitative rather than quantitative standpoint. Researchers and tutors have devised models to study and analyze online interactions and proposed techniques and strategies to facilitate and "catalyze" the collaborative process, some of which borrowed from face-to-face formative contexts.

The book Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities.

is a selection of contributions from international experts in the field concerning methods for modelling, facilitating, boosting, controlling and improving collaborative learning as well as technological tools to design and manage this kind of learning processes.

Among the themes dealt with in the book, it is worth mentioning:

  • Strategies such as Discussion, Jigsaw, Role Play and Peer Review, intended to regulate the interactions among peers and make the most of knowledge sharing and building. These strategies are described and discussed to identify pros and cons of their use in different contexts and to stress their formative potential along with criteria for their use;

  • Methods such as "design patterns" to capitalize competencies and good practice in the design of formative interventions;

  • Technology Enhanced Learning techniques, such as scripts and content schemes, aimed at promoting and structuring individual and collaborative activities;

  • Innovative technology such as 3D virtual worlds and their added value.

Bibligraphic reference

Pozzi F., Persico D. (eds, 2011)

Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities. Theoretical and practical perspectives

Information Science Reference, Hershey:NY, pp.397
ISBN 978-1-61692-898-8 hardcover, disponibile anche in e-book.

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