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Successful Models for Use

Online collaboration is an essential tool that aids educators, students, and professionals in day to day communication. Interaction among students is a powerful way of teaching and learning. Working together online facilitates the construction of knowledge, but there are possible drawbacks. To become successful in today’s society, collaborative skills are needed and can be attained by working together with the help of the Internet, electronic mail, and discussion boards.

The collaborative learning that takes place in online group work requires various characteristics to be in place to be successful. Online Group Work: Advantages, Disadvantages, and Successful Models for Use Society is based on the interdependence of its members. Increasingly, as technology grows, members of society are required to communicate in new ways. Through the use of the Internet and communication devices, such as electronic mail, chat rooms, and instant messenger (IM), people are able to communicate instantly, regardless of location, socioeconomic circumstances, or status.

To become more effective and efficient collaborators, whether it is in a work environment, school setting, or other facility, people must become aware of its uses, develop habits that require its use, and maintain or follow certain protocols to facilitate best practice. Group work is the collaboration of

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a number of individuals to undertake some kind of project. Online group work involves using the Internet to facilitate collaboration by using tools, such as electronic mail, discussion boards, whiteboard discussions, and chat rooms.

In order to use this type of communication, participants must be aware of the implications of its use. Therefore, several advantages and disadvantages must be noted before its successful use. Online group work creates and invents opportunities for rich learning environments, creates a sense of responsibly for learning (Clark 2003), enables participants to take on various roles ( Clark, 2003 ), and allows each participant to share and engage. Each interaction among the groups’ members can provide additional insight and opportunities for growth.

This is also possible because of the amount of resources the members have online. As group members share ideas, information, and resources online, rich learning environments are created. Participants can come together from a variety of backgrounds and locations. Varying heritages and perspectives can be shared to create avenues to new understanding. Learners will be able to construct their own knowledge from the various viewpoints and information. Interacting in this way broadens the participants’ background of knowledge and enables them to build upon it in the future. Knowledge is constantly being changed and constructed.

Rich learning environments, such as online group work and discussions, build a knowledge base and a sense of responsibility for learning (Clark, 2003). Online group members must participate to engage in and complete the given task or project. This allows each member to feel responsible for their learning. There is a sense of pride and ownership (Kleem, 2001). This type of motivation empowers the members to achieve. He or she must make the connection with the other group members, research information, give and receive feedback, and actively participate in each stage of the process.

The leader is not “feeding” information to the other members. This type of learning environment is active and student-centered (Klemm, 2001). One must engage and become part of the group to benefit. Each person has a responsibility to accomplish the goal. Therefore, being part of an online group enables one to take and perform particular roles and engage with different learning styles and abilities. The various roles, learning styles, and abilities allow for different types of interactions.

Group members may be formal or informal (Baskin, 2001), take initiative, or participate in a way that is comfortable for them. Communicating through computer networks provides an exchange of ideas without isolation or intimidation (Lay, 1996). Even the shy, less verbally articulate, slight of voice and perhaps more considered or slower respondents [have] equal access to having their words displayed or “heard” (Clark, 2003). This collaborative, student-centered learning environment can be customized for different learning styles, abilities, and interests, but often is not.

Because of the range of other work, family, and other commitments and because of technical ability, technical access and ease and enthusiasm for using online discussion and written English, students vary in the level of participation and commitment to online despite their knowledge and capability in the area of content that the course covers. In group projects often individual research interests are abandoned in order to pursue the most likely best generalized but not excellent result under the circumstances of a diversity of interest and abilities and the constraints of time and Internet communication (Clark, 2003).

Among technical ability, other commitments, and individual interests lie several drawbacks related to online communication and group work. [Miscommunication and the threat of misinterpretation] stem from the lack of social cues such as facial expressions or tone of voice that are missing in e-mail or online discussions (Gurak & Siker, 359). “Most often the tone of voice of an e-mail was misinterpreted or someone was accidentally left off of the address list and felt alienated (House & Seigelman, 2000). These areas of concern should be closely examined before working on an online group project.

If each member is aware of the difficulties that may lie ahead, he or she can proceed with “open eyes” in a more favorable and successful direction. Being successful in an online group does not only mean becoming aware of the possible difficulties, but also of the best practices. David D. Curtis and Michael J. Lawson, using the work of Johnson and Johnson (1996) describe five categories which will allow for successful online group work. The categories involve: planning, contributing, seeking input, reflection and monitoring, and social interaction. The first step is the most important.

Without it, there would be no direction or organization of the tasks ahead. The planning stage not only involves organizing the activities, such as setting up chat sessions, tasks and deadlines, and roles of each of the participants, but also emphasizes group skills, such as encouraging group participation. Participation is also involved in the next category. Contributing involves six areas of development. They include: giving help, giving feedback, exchanging resources and information, sharing existing knowledge, challenging others, and explaining or elaborating.

When group members adhere to using these guidelines, there is a wealth of knowledge that is freely exchanged. Each group member is participating at this stage and is contributing to the construction of knowledge. This knowledge will lend itself to process or completion of the task or project. Care must also be taken at this stage due to the amount of feedback and allowance of challenging others. When members receive feedback, they may need help. Assistance from others, using effort to contribute to the group effort, and seeking feedback fall into this category of successful online collaboration.

A relationship is maintained within the group that allows for the exchange of assistance. Members have varying abilities and learning styles therefore seeking input from others, especially those within the group, builds trust. Members can feel comfortable asking for help and not feeling negatively about it. Once help is given and the participant has learned from their group member, he or she can reflect on the experiences. Monitoring the group’s effort and social interaction also describes online collaboration. Assessment of the progress and achievement of the group must constantly be made in order to facilitate the best results.

Students must maintain a certain amount of interaction within their group to produce favorable outcomes. Instruction for students in the use of the software and better preparation for the challenges of collaborative learning, especially negotiation and other group skills, are likely to produce a more effective learning system (Curtis & Lawson, 2001). When the advantages and disadvantages are keep in mind during the process of online collaboration and learning, participants are aware and can proceed so as to gain the most from their experience.

References

Baskin, C. (2001). The Titanic, Volkswagens and collaborative group work: Remaking old favourites with new learning technologies. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 17(3), 265-278. [On-line]. Available: http://www. ascilite. org. au/ajet17/baskin. html Clark, T. (2003). Disadvantages of collaborative online discussion and the advantages of sociability, fun and cliques for online learning. [On-line]. Australian Computer Society, Inc. Available: http://crpit. com/confpapers/CRPITV23Clark. pdf

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