From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

Students do not want to learn in a social vacuum. Use a wide variety of activities and technologies to create a sense of community.

Message board postings, Zoom (or Collaborate or Skype) chats, and group work help students take ownership of their learning.

Students can communicate with their peers on a regular basis and learn together once they get to know each other.

Be sure to set guidelines and expectations, and provide feedback on a regular basis.

Facilitate and moderate interaction, but also give students a chance to be responsible for their own contributions.

Faculty Tip: Roger McHaney – Professor – Management


Learners will...

  • Understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication.
  • Review the different forms of collaboration.
  • Review some issues that can arise from group work.

Main Concepts

Peer to peer interaction is one of the key building blocks to a successful online course. Collaboration between students, whether as partners, in small groups, or with peer review, requires thoughtful consideration and deliberate design. Building opportunities for students to interact and work with each other is the first step in fostering a learning community in your course. However, collaboration does take more time and effort than many other forms of instruction.

Setting ground rules and outlining expectations are essential for establishing the tone for your student groupings. Make sure your students know what constitutes appropriate behavior, such as netiquette. Whenever possible, provide rubrics, or other grading instruments, to help students to clearly understand what their responsibilities are. Providing examples, assigning students roles, and providing assignments in an incremental fashion can help promote successful student interaction.

How to

K-State Online has a full suite of tools for student groups, in addition to the more traditional online communication tools such as the message boards, chat rooms, and Wimba. Which method of interaction you choose for your students should be based upon the size of student grouping and whether you are communicating in real-time or not.

Zoom, chat rooms, Skype and similar applications allow your students to communicate in synchronous fashion, in other words, real-time like a telephone conversation. Whereas message boards, email, wikis, and blogs are all asynchronous tools that do not require students interact with each other in an immediate fashion. For more elaborate group work, a combination of tools is often best.

Determining group size is determined based on instructional preference as much as anything. Students working with partners can often be easier to manage, but does not provide as great of diversity of experiences as larger groups.

Grading is also an element of group work that is a very preferential decision. Whether students are graded individually, or as a group, or as a combination of the two, will be determined often on what your instructional goals are. Many instructors will also have students evaluate themselves and/or their peers as a way to let students have a voice in the process.

Possible Pitfalls

  • Failure to contribute

Some students just do not put forth effort with group work. Assigning roles, shifting group members, requiring both peer review and self-evaluation will often help mitigate these issues.

  • Contributing too much

Periodically, individual students will completely take over the contributions to a group project. In those instances it is important to investigate if this being caused by a lack of effort by their peers or not. You may need to talk to the individual student and intercede on the behalf of the group.

  • Conflict

Conflict does occur. Do NOT ignore it. Miscommunications and misinterpretations can, and do, escalate quickly in the online environment. Step in quickly to defuse misunderstandings and reinforce existing ground rules for appropriate conduct. If necessary, you may have to reorganize your groups.