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Part III - Creating Interdependence/ Distributed Learning

Within a collaborative environment it is important that students have individual accountability, but also share responsibility with the other members of their group. To create this type of shared learning environment teachers need to use activities that foster student interdependence. The idea is to create a distributed learning environment, which distributes the responsibility and workload of knowledge construction among all of the students (Blocher 2005, p. 270). The following are some activities that help create this type of learning experience.

It is important to create a community of shared knowledge where the students rely on one another for the completing of group assignments. Students may have experience and expertise from many different fields, which makes them resources for the rest of the group. They will teach one another and, as a result, the group becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The teacher's role is to act as a leader holding the umbrella of ideas. However, the students should be in control of their own learning. In this way the learning is more meaningful for them (Fisher, 2003).

Jigsaw

A jigsaw is a group activity in which each student is required to do individual research on a subtopic, within a larger theme, and then share their findings with those within their group. Once all the students in a group have shared their findings, collectively constructed meaning and become "experts" on the subtopic, they break apart and form new groups with students who completed the same activity on a different subtopic. This type of activity makes learners individually responsible but also makes them dependent on their group for knowledge acquisition (Blocher 2005, p. 272).

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Peer Review

Peer review is a good way to teach students to give and receive feedback while also increasing student participation (Moreira & Silva, 2002). Peer review also helps create interdepence because students must use the criticism from the peer review to improve and evaluate their own work. Having positive comments about one's thoughts increases enthusiasm and eagerness to continue as well as willingness to comment further (Fisher, 2003).

"..., to fully engage learners in a distributed learning environment it is needed to be presented to the larger community for evaluation and feedback." (Blocher 2005, p. 273)

Tools and environments for peer review should be agreed within the group. To manage composing a peer review some collaborative tool should be used. For communication purposes asynchronus or synchronus communication tools should be used. Finally, to present the review to peers the simple way is to send an email, or instead to post the review in a previously specified blog or to use a file sharing platform.

Group Projects

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Assigning group projects is a good way to guarantee that students in an online course interact with their classmates. When designing a group project it is important to make sure that the tasks are interdependent to insure that students are collaborating, not just cooperating.

Cooperative work is a division of labor, while collaborating requires that everyone in the group work together to solve a problem (Dillenbourg, Baker & O'Malley 2006, p. 190).

To manage projects online there are project management tools that allow to manage and follow the project commonly. A project management tool allows to assign roles, tasks, deadlines, milestones and easily follow the group's process. A project management tool can easily be combined with external links other collaboration tools.

References:

Blocher, M. J. (2005). Increasing learner interaction: Using jigsaw online. Educational Media International, 42(3), 269-278.
Dillenbourg, P., Baker, M. Blaye, A. & O’Malley, S. (1996). The evolution of research on collaborative learning. In E. Spada & P. Reiman (Eds) Learning in Humans and Machine: Towards an interdisciplinary learning science. (Pp. 189.211). Oxford: Elsevier
Fisher, Mercedes (2003). Designing Courses and Teaching on the Web: a "how to" guide to proven, innovative strategies. ScarecrowEducation.
Moreira, D. A. and Silva, E. Q. (2002) A method to increase student interaction using student groups ad peer review over the Internet. In Proceedings of ICTEM 2002 – IFIP Working Group 3.2 Conference: Informatics Curricula, Teaching Methods, and Best Practices, Florianópolis-SC, Brazil, July 10–12, pp. 183–191.
 

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