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Student Collaboration

This page introduces Student Collaboration using the following e-Learning tools and provides a brief overview of ways you can use it in your teaching:

  • Mahara – Groups and Portfolios
  • Wikis
  • Lightbox Gallery
  • Workshop
  • Database
  • Glossary
  • Discussion Forums
  • Useful Links

Collaboration2Student centered teaching and learning is gaining credence in educational settings, Higher Education also recognises that reflective and lifelong learning are significant goals in education. Effective learning requires access to academic and social networks for both study material and moral support; as such, online communities offer a holistic knowledge construction and support mechanism and recognize that affective activity is effective. Most of the students come to Higher Education with a technical experience and new expectations for communication due to the growing popularity of social networking sites. Consequently, more and more academics now incorporate collaborative projects, team building activities and online platform for their students, as students when collaborating, are more engaged in sharing their ideas. Some other major benefits of student collaboration includes –

  • It encourages students to share their knowledge
  • It requires a group of students to work together to achieve a common objective.
  • It shifts teacher’s role from being a deliverer of a course material to a facilitator of learning.

However, developing students’ collaborative skills remains a challenge in Higher education particularly with a group of students with different demographics. This becomes more difficult when students have very limited time to interact with each other. Fortunately, e-Learning Technology allows teachers to develop online platform for collaborative work. QMplus dedicates a whole aspect of QMUL’s OLE called Mahara – Groups and Portfolios to carry out collaborative activities. Mahara provides a platform to express and share ideas, evidence and feedback with evidence of a person’s learning, interests and/or ability. Furthermore, following are some of the major tools available in each course of QMplus for student collaboration –

Wiki – In QMplus, wikis can be a powerful tool for collaborative work.  A wiki page is a web page everyone within a course/module/group can create together, right in the browser without installing a software or plugin. A wiki is a collection of collaboratively authored web documents (also called wiki pages). Wiki starts with one front page, each author can add other pages to the wiki by simply creating a link to a page. This is a fast an popular method for creating content as a group. There is usually no central editor of a wiki, no single person who has final editorial control. Instead, the group edits and develops its own content.  The entire class can edit a document together, creating a class project, or each student can have their own wiki and work on it.

Lightbox Gallery – The Lightbox Gallery allows course participants (staff and students) to create image galleries within a QMplus course. A course teacher can create, edit and delete galleries. Small thumbnails of the uploaded images are generated  automatically, which are used for the thumbnail view of the gallery. Clicking on any of the thumbnails brings that image into focus, and allows you to scroll through the gallery.

Workshop – Workshop is a peer assessment activity in QMplus. Students submit their work via an online text tool and attachments.  Course participants can be asked to assess selected set of their peers’ submissions. Every participants submit their own work during the Workshop activity. The submission may consist of a text and attachments. However, one submission per group of participants cannot be achieved via Workshop tool.

The submissions are assessed using a structured multi-criteria assessment form defined by the course facilitator (teacher).  Course participants get two grades in a single Workshop activity – grade for their submission (that is how good their submitted work is) and grade for assessment (that is how well they assessed their peers). Workshop activity creates two grade items in the course Gradebook and they can be aggregated there as needed. The course facilitator can select some submissions and publish them so they are available to the others at the end of Workshop activity.

Database – The database activity module allows the teacher and students to build, display and search a bank of record entries about a topic relevant to all participants in a QMplus course. The format and structure of these entries can be almost unlimited, including images, files, URLs, numbers and text amongst several other elements.

Glossary – The Glossary activity in QMplus allows course/module participants to create and maintain a list of definitions, like a dictionary. Teacher can set the glossary as a collaborative activity or restrict it to entries made by the teacher. The entries can be put in categories and searched or browsed in different formats. The auto-linking feature highlights any word in the course area that exist in the glossary.

Discussion Forum – Forums can be set up for courses or for programmes providing a common area for teachers and students to come together and discuss/share/exchange educational topics and ideas  by posting comments. Forum posts can also be graded by the teacher or other students. A forum can contribute significantly to successful communication, collaboration, gathering feedback and community building in an online environment. Following are the few ways Forums can be used –

      • News Forum – QMplus courses have a News forum which automatically subscribe all participants in a course. This is a useful feature and many use this forum in a QMplus course to announce special events, assignment/exam dates, times or changes to deadlines, lectures or seminars, as well as important information about course work.
      • Student Centered – Students can experience a greater sense of community within and a sense of belonging to an educational institution or individual department having had the experience and convenience of the social together with educational forums on their course.
      • Teacher forums – A teacher only forum may be added to a course by creating a hidden forum. Teachers are able to view hidden course activities whereas students cannot.

When you decide to use a discussion forum as an activity in an e-learning environment, it is important to be aware that your time and effort will be needed in order to make the activity successful. If your goal is to encourage discussion, the forum will only work if:

  • participants feel there is a need/reason to participate and they will gain something from the experience. Incentives for learning, gathering support, etc. should be explored and encouraged early on in order to clearly convey the purpose of the forum to others.
  • a sense of community and purpose can be fostered amongst participants. This sense of community can be fostered through tutor/teacher initiative, or through the students/participants themselves depending on the intentions of the activity.

Selecting the right forum – QMplus has several kinds of forums in order to meet the various teaching and learning requirements, each with a slightly different layout and purpose. In order to understand which forums will best suit your needs for a particular activity, it is useful to think how you might lead such a discussion in a face-to-face environment.

  • Would you throw the question out to the class and observe them in their answers?
  • Or would you break them up into smaller groups first and ask them to have discussions within their group before bringing them back to the class?
  • Or perhaps you would like to keep them focused on a particular aspect of a question and ensure that they do not wander away from the topic at hand?

All of the above approaches are valid and useful, depending on your learning outcomes, and you can replicate all of them in QMplus forums. The different types of QMplus forums are as follows –

1. A Standard Forum for general use – Is an open general purpose forum where anyone can start a new topic at any time. It is useful for large discussions that you intend to monitor/guide or for social/academic forums that are student led. Providing overall remarks for particular topics can also be a key aspect of your responsibilities in the discussion. Alternatively, you could ask students to summarize discussion topics at agreed points, once in a while or when a thread comes to an agreed conclusion. Such a learner-centred approach may be particularly useful once the online community has been established and you have modeled the summarizing process.

2. A Single simple discussion – A single topic discussion developed on one page, which is useful for short focused discussions (cannot be used with separate groups). The simple forum is most useful for short/time-limited discussion on a single subject or topic. This kind of forum is very productive if you are interested in keeping students focused on a particular issue.

3. Each person posts one discussion – Each person can post only one new discussion topic (everyone can reply to them though); this is useful when you want each student to discuss their reflections on a particular topic, and everyone else responds to these. This forum is most useful when you want to achieve a medium between a large discussion and a short and focused discussion. A single discussion topic per person allows students a little more freedom than a single discussion forum, but not as much as a standard forum where each student can create as many topics they wish.

4. Question and Answer Forum – Instead of initiating discussions teacher poses a question in the initial post of a discussion. Students may reply with an answer, but they will not see the replies of other Students to the question, until they have themselves replied to it. After the initial posting and once the editing time (usually 30 minutes) has elapsed, students can view and respond to others’ postings. This feature allows equal initial posting opportunity among all students, thus encouraging original and independent thinking.

When the Question and Answer mode is selected, QMplus hides the replies to the initial thread post by the teacher but not the entire forum itself. When using Q&A Forum type –

  • post each question as a new thread in the forum and then have students post replies to the question. In this fashion, QMplus will protect the replies from being viewable by other students but allow the initial post/thread visible for reply by all students.

  • do not post the question in the forum summary because every student answer will become a thread and visible to all students. In this scenario, it may appear as if the Question and Answer forum is not working correctly, since the new initial posts in the thread are intentionally designed not to be hidden, just their replies.

5. Standard Forum displayed in Blog format – This forum behaves in the same way as the default standard forum for general use, allowing users to start their own discussions. However, it displays differently in that the first post of each discussion is displayed (as in a blog) so that users can read it and then choose to respond by clicking the ‘Discuss this topic’ button bottom right of the post.

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