Supporting students in collaborative online activities

Collaborative learning activities build students’ critical thinking skills and encourage them to reflect on their learning. However, students can struggle to engage with them if they don’t feel supported. Use these steps to build in support for students before, during and after online collaborative activities.
The steps are based on a study by Zheng et al. (2015)

Before – Explain and guide
  • Explain the purpose of, and the benefits of completing the activities by linking them clearly to learning outcomes.
  • Remind students when they need to be available for this work, and to flag to the group if there are periods when they won’t be available.
  • Provide preparatory activities to build up students’ skills and experience with group working.
  • Provide opportunities to practice using any technology involved to help students build confidence.
  • Provide some examples of finished work from previous cohorts, or provide one or more example answers that students can use as a reference.
During – Reassure
  • Make sure there’s a mechanism for identifying and supporting students if they get stuck.
  • Ensure that students are clear on how to ask for help or clarification, and make sure they feel comfortable requesting guidance.
  • Keep an eye on the mood of the students and find ways to keep morale high.
  • Be ready to point out interesting findings coming out from other groups or even set up some element of competition or reward if morale drops.
After – Relax and reflect
  • Ensure there’s an opportunity for students toreflect on their experience. Usually this is via assessment, but this could be done in other ways.
  • Provide a bit of breathing space this will have been an intense experience for some students.
  • Don’t launch them straight into another high-stakes activity.
  • Consider providing a way for students to share their finished product with the rest of the cohort.
  • Reiterate how this has helped with the learning outcomes, skills and with their PDP employability.
  • Provide opportunities for tutor and peer follow up.

Arang. B. Niya M & Warschauw, M (2015) ‘Wikis and collaborative learning in higher education’ Technology, Pedagogy and Education, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 357–74