Helping Students Work Collaboratively
An important first step in helping students work collaboratively is to provide them with tools for working with one another. Blackboard offers a number of such tools, all of which are available to students who comprise a Blackboard Group:
- Group Blog: Users within a group can add entries and comments to the group blog to share ideas. You can grade group blogs, but after you enable grading for a group blog, you cannot change that setting. When you add a grade for a group blog, the grade is automatically given to all the members of the group.
- Collaboration Tools: Users within a group can create and attend real-time chat or virtual classroom sessions.
- Group Discussion Board: Users within a group can communicate as a group, as well as create and manage their own forums. The group discussion board is available only to group members, not to the entire course. Unlike other graded group activities, when you set a group discussion board to graded, each member is graded independently of other group members.
- Email: The group email tool allows for efficient communication. The recipient list is automatically populated with group members, so you can quickly select all or some of them. Emails are sent to members’ external email addresses.
- File Exchange: You and group members can use this tool to upload documents to the group area, and delete files, regardless of who added them. Files appear in the order they were uploaded. Uploaded images appear in a new browser window. This tool is only available to groups.
- Group Journal: Users within a group can share their thoughts with each other and communicate with you. Journal entries made in the group journal are visible to all group members and you. You can grade group journals, but after you enable grading for a group journal, you cannot change that setting. When you add a grade for a group journal, the grade is automatically given to all the members of the group.
- Group Tasks: Users within a group can define and separate the workload into tasks, while distributing the list to the entire group. Each task has a status and a due date to help keep members on track. Group members can view the group assigned tasks in the group tasks tool or in the course tasks tool. You and other course members will not see tasks for groups they are not enrolled in when viewing the course tasks tool.
- Group Wiki: Use group wikis to create a collaborative space for group members to view, contribute, and edit content. By default, all course members can read group wikis, but only members of the group can make a comment on their group wiki page. You can change the default setting to allow only group members to view a group wiki. You can grade group wikis, but after you enable grading for a group wiki, you cannot change that setting. When you add a grade for a group wiki, the grade is automatically given to all the members of the group.
In addition, Blackboard Collaborate enables you and your students to conduct synchronous video-conferences, using audio, video, and recording capabilities. Other tools within Blackboard Collaborate are private and public chat, whiteboard, application sharing, and a clip-art library.
The Pedagogy of Collaboration
According to the Center for Teaching Excellence at Cornell University, “Collaborative learning is based on the view that knowledge is a social construct. Collaborative activities are most often based on four principles:
- The learner or student is the primary focus of instruction.
- Interaction and “doing” are of primary importance.
- Working in groups is an important mode of learning.
- Structured approaches to developing solutions to real-world problems should be incorporated into learning.”
Among the benefits of collaborative learning are the following:
- Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
- Promotion of student-faculty interaction.
- Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility.
- Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.
- Preparation for real life social and employment situations.
The Cornell Center for Teaching Excellence maintains an excellent collection of web pages about collaborative learning, with information on collaborative learning activities, designing group activities, managing group work, and evaluating group work.