Barbara Fortier, Program Manager for the Science Prerequisites for Health Professions, and Olga LaPlante, Instructional Designer for the Masters of Science in Social Work program, collaborated to present at the international conference, EDULEARN17 in Barcelona, Spain, recently.
While everyone here was celebrating America’s birthday on July 4th, Barbara and Olga were presenting their research paper entitled “Building a Community One Group at a Time.” The presentation went well and elicited some good discussion regarding student feedback on group work in online courses. Although the presentation was during the last grouping of a long day, it was well attended.
Their presentation focused on students’ perceptions of working in groups within online courses. They conducted their own original research, and the paper they submitted discussed their findings on the strategies that worked within group settings. We’ve posted before about “dreaded group work” here on this blog, so it was interesting that they found that overall, students reported a positive experience with group projects. The students cited that one of the main reasons that they liked group work was that the collaborations allowed them to get to know their fellow students on a deeper level.
Barbara and Olga’s main takeaway regarding group work is that for a group project to be successful, it needs to be thoughtfully assembled. Roles need to be assigned and the instructor needs to be engaged through regular check-ins with the groups. The group work also needs to be intentional, so students know why they are doing what they are doing, and what skills they are expected to gain from the exercise.
Through clear instructions and the provision of all resources, online learning allows a student the possibility of mastering a subject with essentially zero interaction with others. But online learning practitioners have found that people learn better when they are networked and engaged. Students respond to other students and to their instructor’s enthusiasm.
Overall, they found that students enjoy group work because the social aspect of the interaction and the exchange of ideas from their classmates appeals to them. Even if all a class offers in the way of group interaction is a discussion board, Barbara and Olga found that the ability to read their peers’ opinions enhances students’ satisfaction.
Another element of the feedback received was the importance of instructor presence, and what a positive difference it made to have an instructor who is engaged with the students through the course materials.
Now that Barbara and Olga have shared their findings on an international level, moving forward they will be working on implications for future course design by modifying group assignments and building in increased instructor presence.
All in all, Barbara and Olga shared that the EDULEARN17 conference was an amazing opportunity – especially since the event afforded an opportunity to network and set up future collaborations with people from over 80 countries. Attendees came from many different backgrounds and native languages, and Barbara and Olga found it invigorating to interact with people from different experiences because participants were eager to report their own research results and hear about the practices of others.
At the conference, it became quickly apparent to them that all online educators share many similar challenges. Not one person has the one true answer, but through collaboration and using different methods to reach universal goals, we can get closer to finding successful solutions.Tags: CGPS
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