Today we continue our exploration of how Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles of good pedagogical practice can be achieved and supported through the use of the Brightspace learning management system (LMS). You can access the entire blog series here.
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.” (Chickering and Gamson).
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 professor—and even then, rarely. 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. For example, we may sit next to someone all semester and never know their name.
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 classlist 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 Discussions area and/or Assignment Folder for each group.
If you’re not already familiar with the Discussions tool in Brightpsace, 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 course content, embed external material, insert a URL, and even record a personalized video note or audio clip. As a result, instructors can utilize private discussion forums in a variety of fashions.
Most commonly, students take advantage of these spaces to collaborate on group projects. As the instructor, you will then always have access to an ongoing trace of each team’s combined efforts, should you wish to browse their rough work, or gauge who contributed what—this is far more efficient than being copied onto lengthy email threads! You might also decide to assign academic debates as a group project (students can incorporate video recordings for authenticity); once each partner has explained his or her position in the class forum, peers can up-vote whoever they believe delivered the most persuasive pitch. Simply select the “Groups of #” (two) option in the Groups tool to effortlessly divide the class into partners for this activity.
Of course, groups need not exclusively support assessment-based tasks. As we saw in Blog 1, peer-to-peer collaboration 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 formative learning and collaboration.
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, as it:
- 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 course content—students are able to teach concepts back to their peers to draw upon their recall of information and to solidify the transfer of knowledge
- Challenges their existing ideas and stimulates critical thinking by incorporating peer reviewing and constructive feedback in order 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 course
- Facilitates building a network of peers who share similar academic interests, where the establishment of peer mentorship circles, buddy systems, and more are possible