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Halló frá Íslandi!

For the next two weeks I will be testing the limits of distance learning. I am in a remote part of Iceland and have very limited access to technology and WiFi. So, I apologize in advance for any typographical errors (the keyboards are different here!) Naturally, I will do my best to communicate, but simply might not be in a region that will allow me any access via WiFi.

This week we are reflecting on Warnock’s discussion of collaboration in virtual groups through group posts and group work (Janet Wilson) in efforts to build and develop a sense of community (Cameron et al., 2009) in our digital classrooms.

Initially, I’ve felt that I had much more success with building strong teams that near the idea of building a true sense community within the f2f format. Naturally, with 9-15 hrs of face-to-face  communication time, I’m afforded many opportunities to observe non-verbal communications between groups that provide me some idea of how the group dynamics are developing. It allows me not only to observe behaviors among members of a group, but also among groups.

Although, I still have this ability of observation in my hybrid classes, I’ve begun transitioning most of the the collaborative components into the online space and have been quite pleased with the results.   Below are some of the ideas and tools that I’ve implemented with varying success in my efforts to build community in my digital classrooms.

Group Work:

Google Docs / Slides / Google Groups: Janet Wilson mentions her use of these products and I’ve spoken of them at length in previous posts. Yes, I think they are great for collaborative work and building a team environment. In all my ESL classes I spend some time teaching students  how to use this technology if they don’t already know how to use it.

Group Website Development: With the ease of today’s online web editing software, students are no longer required to know how to use HTML5 to code and build a website. I’ve used both

Weebly.com and Wix.com editors in which I create a teacher account that allows me to have classes and student account. One recent example where I used this for a collaborative project was as part of a character assignment for “The Great Gatsby.”  Teams were assigned a category, i.e., themes, characters, symbols, quote analysis, and then were required to write a page (build a web page within the group website) on their group topic. It appears to have been a good team building activity as some of the deliverables were amazing to see.

WikiStory: The idea here is simply to use a Wiki for a collaborative project. A friend suggested this to me who was doing a 3-word story assignment where students each had to only add three words at a time to their story. My approach was a bit different; I used it to have students respond to plot lines in assigned readings and discuss potential meanings with each other.

Appear.in: I have not yet used this application, but a colleague of mine likes using it so I plan to try it out in the near future. In a nutshell, no registration or download is required and it offers a free version that allows up to 4 individuals to video chat. It also has screen-sharing capabilities. If any of you have used it, please share your evaluation of it with me.

Group Posts:

Survey Monkey: I’ve used this to get group conversations started, especially if it appears to be a group not inclined to jump right in to chatting on message boards. This allows me to control the initial discussion by asking a number of questions to all students, collect their individual feedback, and then (while respecting their anonymity) share their ideas without identifying them as new questions to the group, which are then answered in a message board or chat setting.

Looking forward to reading your thoughts on collaboration and the tools you love integrated into your digital classrooms.