College is a social experience, through and through. Though your journey to graduation is very much your own, most of your time on campus is spent engaging in real-world interactions, collaboration, and group work. In fact, educational studies performed at Vanderbilt showed a direct correlation between collaborative learning and a higher level of understanding in students.
The question is: What if your learning isn’t happening inside a classroom at all this year? The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing, leaving universities with a tough decision to make, namely whether students will return to campus or continue with online classes. Even if your school opens its campus, there’s a strong chance that a portion of your courses with be digital. However, online classes will require the same level of group work, even without meeting in-person. Before your college semester kicks off, let’s review a few important tips for collaborating across virtual classes.
Explore the Course Software
When classes start, students can expect overview of the curriculum, a week-by-week schedule of relevant assignments, and usually some specific instructions for success. The same is certainly true in digital classrooms, but a wrinkle is added when new software is involved.
There’s a good chance your college already has Blackboard or another familiar online hub where professors can post assignments, offer additional materials, calculate grades, and generally keep the virtual work by students all in one, set place. But this software also is where the conversations and discussions live. You might use forums, shared docs, or web chat, all depending on your teacher’s preferences. Take some time before coursework gets underway to navigate around and make note of where all relevant work lives online.
Engage in Online Discussions
In-class discussions are a great form of collaborative learning, as they allow students to talk through their understanding of topics under the guidance of an instructor. However, when that same discussion is happening in a chat room or open forum, the academic experience can feel unnatural and even leave students disengaged with the process. But just like in front of your peers in college, the only way to get better is simply to trust yourself and try.
If class discussions are held in messaging platforms like Slack, or a course-specific web forum, it’s important to ensure your messages do not send the wrong impression. If you’ve ever felt attacked in a Facebook comment section, you know how easily tone can be misconstrued, or used purposely to insult others. Virtual classrooms should be a safe space for discussion, so do not use vulgar or insulting terms. Remember, these are new classmates, and your conversations will only get easier as you become acquainted online.
Prepare for Group Projects Online
Love them or hate them, group projects are a regular part of college courses. These collaborative efforts can be highly contentious, specifically when certain group members don’t pull their own weight. Vickie Cook, executive director of the Center for Teaching, Learning & Service at the University of Illinois at Springfield, agrees. “Group projects can be really great, and they can be a disaster. The most important thing is that they have a purpose,” she said.
Completing group projects in online classes can be even more trying because you’re unable to meet and discuss in-person. That’s why succeeding in group work during online classes requires careful planning and organization to enable everyone to complete their part. First, choose a leader for the group. This person should assemble and organize all the work, set meeting times, and maintain momentum for the project. From there, establish all tasks that need to be accomplished, and then try to align each of those with group members’ individual strengths. Also, it would help to use a preferred method of communication, whether that’s through Facebook Messenger, Skype, Gchat, or text messaging; keeping all discussions in one place will help with organization and record-keeping.
Make Virtual Learning Feel Just Like Real Life
The possibility of no in-person classes for the 2020-2021 school year is truly disappointing. However, virtual classrooms can still provide you with knowledge and insights from talented professors and peers at your college. It will take some adjustment, but by staying positive and trusting the instructors, you can get the most out of this year of college.