Working with Group Activities as a Foundation for Active Learning in the Online Classroom

Saturday, February 13, 2016
Christopher J Smith, College of San Mateo, San Mateo, CA
Group activities in the classroom have been investigated for many years and the potential benefits and application for active learning and community building are numerous.  However, most of the studies and research presented about group classroom activities have been performed in traditional face-to-face classrooms.  The purpose of this work was to extend our understanding of the overall approach of active learning to the online classroom by developing and applying a group activity model to the online classroom at a California Community College.  Some of the problems with group work in an online classroom are the same as in a traditional face-to-face classroom, but there are some differences.  The main difference is the mode of communication between the students, the rate and persistence of communication and the time needed to accomplish the assigned tasks.  Several years of modifying the face-to-face classroom group models and approaches for use in the online classroom has resulted in this model which is meeting with success. There are 5 parts to this model, three of which are student activities and the other two are instructor activities that bracket the student activities.  First, the organization of the groups should be equitable, but not random.  The level of student activity and participation was considered in organizing the groups.  The students go through a set up period where they set norms and rules for their group, next is the activity itself, and then the students reflect on their experience working in a group for an online activity.  The last part is assessment, both by their peers and by the instructors.  Although, this model has expanded to a much longer time than a similar activity in a face-to-face classroom, we feel that the time is warranted for an online classroom activity that has the potential to improve the learning environment of the online classroom.