Collaboration in distance learning has evolved quite dramatically. It began with snail-mail correspondence between student and teacher. As digital technology emerged, work was submitted via email and classes were open through an online environment, with little to no student-to-student interactions. Now student collaboration through a course is expected; students discuss classroom materials as a requirement for successful completion of the program.
There is a large range of mediums for students to collaborate through. Students may use simple discussion boards or chat rooms to converse. Collaboration on projects is made possible with technology such as Google Docs or wikis. Even face-to-face discussions are possible with programs such as Skype or Google Hangouts. Truly the biggest obstacle to overcome is time-zones.
In an 2011 Edutopia article, Andrew Marcinek discusses the importance of student collaboration in today’s classroom. He discusses how students will enter a workforce that requires them to work collaboratively with one another and how the classroom is where we must start teaching these future employees how to do so. I believe that this is one of the strongest aspects of distance learning. As a second grade teacher with limited means in the manner of technology, I do not have many options for allowing my students digital collaboration. In my personal life, however, I watch as my husband coordinates jobs internationally; working with various companies all over the globe to complete a job. It requires a lot of collaboration and communication in order to be successful, something that can be difficult to achieve in different time zones and different languages. The collaboration that is built into distance education simulates the expectations students will encounter in the real world.
Lev Vygotsky, a noted developmental psychologist, discussed his theory of that “social interactions play a fundamental role in learning”(Instructional design.org, 2013). In the distance learning classroom, those social interactions can be more difficult to achieve, however this can be overcome with careful planning. The Te@chthought author, Mariam Clifford, comments that, “Collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually.” (2014). They recommend using various tools, such as Google groups or Mikogo for virtual meetings.
I think that for distance learning to truly rival the brick-and-mortar classroom, mastery of online collaboration is a must. Students not only learn best through their peer interactions, but thrive in such an environment.
Clifford, M. (2014, September 23). 20 Collaborative Learning Tips and Strategies for Teachers. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://www.teachthought.com/learning/20-collaborative-learning-tips-and-strategies/
Culatta, R. (2013). Social Development Theory. Retrieved June 22, 2015, from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/social-development.html
Marcinek, A. (2011, February 6). Importance of Collaborative Assessment in a 21st Century Classroom. Retrieved June 20, 2015, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/collaborative-assessment-digital-classroom-social-media-tools
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