Saturday, July 16, 2011

Assessing Collaborative Efforts

Assessing students an online collaborative learning group is a difficult task.  It is difficult enough assessing a traditional learning group in a “brick and mortar” classroom.  In a virtual classroom you do not have the luxury of see the group interact and notice who is and isn’t participating in the group and to what degree.  I think in order to truly get a valid assessment of the group, an educator must become more involved in the group itself by sometimes acting as an initial facilitator by getting the group together for their initial visit then handing it off.  This is especially true if the group is using technology such as Skype or some visual medium that not everyone is familiar with.  Once the group is comfortable together then they will have a better chance of being productive. 
In terms of assessment, Seimens (2008) provide three models for assessing an online collaborative group.  They are students assess their peers, students receive feedback from online communities, and educators assess based on student contributions.  All three of these have the potential to provide adequate assessment.  I do feel that student and community assessments can tend to be a little subjective just because of a lack of criteria.  One solution might be to provide each group member a rubric that tells of the expectations each member.  That might allow the members to be more informed in their assessments.  Assessing students on contributions could also be effective.  However, while an educator can get a good idea of student participation, how well can the educator assess the quality of work completed? 
If an individual desires to not be a part of a collaborative leaning group, the educator should encourage him to do so but at the same time understand that there is probably some anxiety of participation in an online group.  Some anxiety might be due to the fact that group learning goes against the way he has learned in the past.  Most students are raised to learn individually.  Siemens (2008) states that “students are evaluated as an individual and that their individual contributions to the class are graded and these contributions are being used as a premise for schools t hat they will eventually enter into.”  Students are most comfortable when they have total control over their academic performance.  Collaborative learning groups tend to put this control at risk thus, impacting their academic performance.  Educators, especially those that teach online must recognize and be sensitive to this.
So what should be the most effective way to assess online collaborative learning groups?  According to Palloff and Pratt (2005), there are six elements that can contribute to an effective online learning community.  First there is people.  Despite the virtual environment, there must be physical presence by both instructor and student.  This can be done through a visual technology such as Skype or it may be as simple as a phone call and a human voice to connect to.  Second is a shared purpose.  This is definitely enhanced with communication.  Individuals in the group should be encouraged to all share interests, ideas, information, and resources in order to make the group effective.  Third are guidelines.  This is important to set expectations and rules for deadlines and due dates in insure that all participate.  Fourth is technology.  The better and interactive the vehicle for course delivery is, the better the collaboration.  Fifth is collaborative learning.  The interaction among student ultimately determines the meaning and creation of knowledge that dictates the success of the group.   Finally, the sixth one is reflective practice.  This helps determine what was learned and was it understood among all the group members.    
References
Palloff & Pratt (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
Siemens, G. (2008). Assessment of collaborative learning. Vodocast. Laureate Education, Inc. Retrieved from:  http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5260644&Survey=1&47=8479298&ClientNodeID=984645&coursenav=1&bhcp=1
Siemens, G. (2008). Learning Communities. Vodocast. Laureate Education, Inc.  Retrieved from:  http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5260644&Survey=1&47=8479298&ClientNodeID=984645&coursenav=1&bhcp=1

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