I definitely want my students to collaborate. Two reasons, primarily: 1) I see this kind of interaction as a fundamental remedy for the distance in distance education, and 2) it’s also a key component of my on-the-ground courses.
In the spring I often inserted a caution into my discussions of online learning whenever the conversation drifted toward synchronous tasks/learning, and I think that the topic of collaboration certainly knocks on this door. The text, in part, discusses the topic with this in mind. And, my first reason above for wanting to integrate collaborative learning into the online environment — drawing down the distance between online learners — would certainly benefit from a little synchronicity. Yet, I feel like students sign up for online course to take advantage of the flexibility the courses offer, and that contract begins to erode when instructors establish time, day, and place requirements. I often have students in the military taking my online courses from distant time zones or on submarines, which really limits their ability to participate synchronously.
I like my on-the-ground group assignments. They rock the course outcomes. And they definitely need synchronicity — in their current form — to maximize their benefits. Small groups that can set their own schedule for synchronicity begin to address the issue I mention above, but they, too, make impossible demands on some of my online learners, which is why, in the past 10 years, I have assigned no synchronous work in my online courses. I have made some on-the-ground group assignments into individual assignments, but I have mostly scrapped the collaborative work that needs synchronicity in favor of other methods.
The collaborative assignment I’d most like to migrate is a group quiz I offer in my on-the-ground English 100 courses. The quiz is assigned to groups of three to four students and takes a full meeting to complete (1:50) if the students are diligent, know their stuff — and collaborate effectively. The students are presented with an article to read that articulates a position on an issue of the day, then the quiz requires that they demonstrate competence in critical reading, writing, researching, and MLA Style.
I know that in Canvas you can create quizzes and assign them to particular cohorts of students, so that is not difficult. However, in class (I just administered one of these today) the students delegate, huddle in pairs or triplets over computer screens then jump to another computer and compare, check each others work, teach each other, separate the pages on the quiz and pass them around, scribble, cross out, use scratch paper, reference multiple web sites — in other words, they collaborate, and they do it in a messy, real-world way that is hard to translate to the online environment. (I would say this parallels the issue I discussed two weeks ago with translating my written feedback to the online environment.)
To approximate this on-the-ground experience, I think they’d need a live video chat/conference, to be able to see each other’s screens, and to be able to all work off of the same live document (the quiz) — to start.
Oh, and they all need to be able to schedule a time to collaborate.