facilitate collaborative learning (Lai, 1999). Synchronous communications are critical for establishing team deadlines, responsibilities, roles, goals, and for deciding differences of opinion. Group chats are also important for structuring relationships, helping one another supporting momentum, and celebrating accomplishments.
As is true of all courses in education, begin each collaborative session with a clear understanding of course content and requirements. Clearly stated assignment requirements give group members a common starting point and provide a structure upon which to build. They also assist students with the preparation of collaborative work responsibilities. In planning your courseware design for online education the instructor must provided the following:
Provide effective technology workshops for students if new hardware and software will be used in the session Provide a technology help desk with appropriate days and times users can receive help Provide students purposeful asynchronous and synchronous help sessions Use creative chat sessions for office hours with appropriate days and times.
Additionally, flexibility in meeting assignment requirements facilitates students to develop ownership of the assignment, aids in the development of critical thinking and problem solving skills, imparts room for originality, and encourages a sense of group individuality and unity. If subject matter is very large, the course instructor (teacher), by effective layering a task, assignment, or project can help group manage a challenging job. This can encourage groups to keep on schedule, and provide opportunities for important course instructor feedback during the online education process. This strategy may allow students to receive both individual and group feedback early in the term. Providing a plan for group formation is imperative for team success and cannot be underestimated. Helping students choose team members intelligently will aid in the formation of group member roles, allow members of the group to fill needed areas of expertise, and provide a solid foundation for shared esteem among group members.
In a collaborative group effort, certain individuals may be chosen as project manager for the purpose of setting task deadlines or resolving conflicts of opinion. Group members must also be convinced that the work can be completed in the allotted time. Once set, group members should hold each other responsible for meeting deadlines with weekly meetings and encouragement. In every group effort there will be differences of opinions. Group members must be reminded that conflicts concerning the assignment can be resolved by listening to all arguments, debating, and coming to an effective decision. Decisions must be based on ideas and not on personalities. In the rare cases where conflicts could be at an impasse, group members can put the issue to a vote.
This paper has provided insights into the nature of cooperative learning as a teaching strategy for online education. Online collaborative project-based assignments can be a rewarding experience if certain factors are incorporated into the teaching strategy. A skillful facilitator, capable of balancing guidance with flexibility is one crucial factor. Another is a group with the skills, both technical and social, to truly collaborate the learning process. When those crucial factors as well as other pedagogical issues come together in a learning setting, collaborative online assignments can result in a product exceeding the expectations of the teacher. It is hoped that a useful model will be developed to enable instructors to use online software management systems like Blackboard. It is also hoped that the pedagogical issues of teaching online discussed throughout this paper will be used by educators. As higher education institutions seek to make decisions about how to structure online courses for collaborative, cooperative learning, it is hoped that administrators and faculty alike can gain valuable perspectives and insights for the decision process.