Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cooperative learning in online classes

So obsessed is the education establishment with cooperative learning that even online classes attempt to have students working in groups, even though the greatest potential benefit of group work, namely brainstorming or the spontanous bouncing of ideas back and forth, is not really possible over email, file exchange, and discussion board venues that online classes provide. Furthermore, when you never actually meet the people you're working with, there's less social pressure to fully cooperate with them.

What I've seen as a result is almost no collaboration and a great deal of frustration. Students typically divide up the work immediately and do their separate parts, spending little or no time giving one another feedback once they're done--perhaps because of that universal human tendency to finish things at the last minute. If one person's part was done poorly, lowering the group grade, the other group members are understandably demoralized.

If I alter things so that each person gets a separate grade for their part, I take away any incentive for collaboration, unless I try to set things up such that part of what each student does builds on something that one of their group members has done. But this falls apart whenever any group member fails to finish their part in time for their partners to add their pieces.

There are already reasons aplenty to question our obsession with groups in actual classrooms with actual classmates; when everything is virtual, what arguments remain?


Nancy Bea Miller said...

That does seem odd...was there some reason given why online classes must include a collaborative segment?

Anonymous said...

Working professionals who take on-line classes can benefit from cooperative projects -- I've taught in that situation. But it works because of the years of experience the students bring to the table.