Today we continue our exploration of how Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles of good pedagogical practice can be achieved and supported through use of the Brightspace learning management system (LMS). You can access the entire blog series here, or start from the top with Blog #1.
Principle 2: “Develop reciprocity and cooperation among students”
Chickering and Gamson write: “Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning.”
Despite its advantages, modern technology can often lead to social isolation, as many of us have grown accustomed to connecting with one another from behind screens: physical barriers that quite literally do not exist when we engage in face-to-face communication. There is thus a negative connotation sometimes tied to online learning, whereby students exist in silos and only communicate with their teacher – and even then, rarely, and through email alone. As a result, online learning frequently gets a bad reputation when, in fact, even those participating in blended or face-to-face learning can feel disconnected under the wrong circumstances.
As such, let’s explore a few tools in the Brightspace platform that will aid you in forming a collaborative digital community among you and your students, no matter which method of delivery it may be.
Groups and Discussions
The Groups tool in Brightspace allows you to create groups of students from your class list in any of three ways: randomized auto-enrollment within the system, self-enrollment to encourage learner choice and agency, or manual enrollment done by you. Additionally, you can create custom “workspaces,” a practical feature whereby the LMS efficiently sets up a private Discussion area and/or Assignment folder for each group.
If you’re not already familiar with the Discussions tool in Brightspace, students actually have access to a plethora of options in addition to text when writing their discussion posts: they can choose to upload images or file attachments, link to relevant class lessons, embed external material, insert a URL, and even record a personalized video with auto-generated closed captions. As a result, teachers can choose to use discussion forums in a variety of ways in conjunction with the Groups tool.
Most commonly, students take advantage of these spaces to collaborate on group projects. As the teacher, you will then always have access to an ongoing trace of each team’s combined efforts for security and visibility, should you wish to browse their rough work, or gauge who contributed what! You might also decide to assign presentations as part of a group project, whereby students can incorporate video recordings. Simply select the “Groups of #” option in the Groups tool to effortlessly divide the class into partners, trios, etc. for this type of activity.
Of course, groups need not exclusively support assessment of learning As we saw in Blog #1, peer-to-peer communication can effectively empower students in different ways. Although Discussions can indeed be aligned to our Grades tool, they are also a fantastic way to enable resource sharing, assessment for learning, and collaborative models.
Using the Discussions tools in Brightspace will allow you to draw upon the notion of collaborative learning, which can have numerous benefits for your students:
- Increases their sense of accountability and involvement in their own learning as they build a connection to a more collective experience
- Deepens their retention and understanding of class lessons – have your students teach ideas back to their peers to draw upon their recall of information and solidify the transfer of knowledge
- Challenges their existing opinions and stimulates critical thinking – incorporate peer review to highlight new perspectives
- Scaffolds their learning – you can choose to require that students post their own responses before they can read and reply to their peers’ contributions
- Heightens levels of engagement within the class
- Facilitates building a network of peers who share similar interests – why not try establishing peer mentorship circles, buddy systems, and more!