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4 Ways to Collaborate in the Virtual Classroom

Since its beginning, online education has been criticized for its struggle to facilitate quality collaboration in the virtual classroom. In an effort to combat its critics, pioneers in the industry have tried almost anything – from required learning teams, to the adoption of discussion thread posts and conference calls, and even overhauled learning management systems.

As history tells us, holding students accountable for participation in a collaborative environment has proven to be a difficult task in the online classroom, but thanks to a few recent social trends it’s becoming easier with each click of the mouse. Whether you’re an instructor searching for ways to help engage your virtual students or a student trying to make a group project assignment work, consider trying one of these options to create a more pleasant online collaboration experience!

Document Sharing

If you’ve worked in an online group setting, you know that one of the most difficult tasks you face is combining every document submitted in to one “master” document. Good news! You can get rid of that headache by choosing one of these easy document sharing methods.

Google Docs

Google Docs simplifies the task of updating a running master document by allowing your entire group to access and make changes to the same document. Just log in to your Google Drive, open the desired document, make your changes and save for the group to see. If your students or classmates are concerned about access, rest assured – it’s free when you sign up for a Google account!

Evernote

If you’re looking for something a little more mobile-friendly, try Evernote. You can share documents, download the mobile app for on-the-go viewing, and even make lists of items still needed for project completion. Just share with your group members to ensure you’re all  on the same page. The basic account is free, but you can choose to pay for an upgrade that unleashes a whole list of sharing possibilities!

Face-to-Face Time

Google+ Hangouts

If you’re looking for a little face time with your document sharing, try hosting a Google+ Hangout!  Invite everyone in your group to a video conference call to discuss your changes to documents in Google Docs, talk through questions you have about topics in class, and work together to make your final product the best it can be. The best part is it’s free! If you’re interested, sign up for a Google account (also free) and you’re good to go!

iMeet

Do you take your studies on the go? iMeet can help you stay connected with your classmates or students wherever you may be. You can connect with up to 15 people at once, share documents, take notes and chat with attendees all from your computer, smartphone or tablet. This one’s not free, but the features are well worth the cost!

Tips on Effective Communication for Online Students

One of the most difficult skills for online students to perfect is communication in the virtual classroom. From emails to instructors to discussion posts and final papers, the online student communicates almost entirely in the written word.  For those weighing a few options for advancing their education, this can be an intimidating realization. Whether you’re already an online student or are pondering the possibility of becoming one, help yourself form a few great habits by browsing the tips below.

Be Professional

This may seem like a no-brainer, but making sure there are no errors, using a proper greeting and closing, and maintaining a professional tone in all communications will help you stand above your classmates. Also, remember to proofread your submissions, no matter how insignificant the assignment, discussion post, or email might be. Your instructors will appreciate the respect given, and your classmates will admire your attention to detail. Want an added bonus? Your professional habits in the classroom are sure to carry over to the workplace!

Stick to the Academics

If you’re required to participate in threaded discussions or you’re communicating via email with your instructor, remember you’re in a classroom, not a chat room. Just because you found a little extra courage by hiding in the protective technology bubble doesn’t mean anyone wants to read details of your latest family argument, how your best friend totally stabbed you in the back, or the fact that your 2-year-old is getting an F- in potty training. In other words – stick to the academics. Your audience – no matter who that may be – will appreciate it!

Avoid the Frantic “HELP!” Emails

Having trouble with an assignment that’s due in 3 days and not sure what to do? Don’t stress out on the details for the first 2 days, and then frantically email your instructor five hours before the submission deadline. As soon as you find yourself questioning your ability to complete the assignment, reach out for help! This helps you avoid the stress while giving your instructor ample time to give you the help you need to complete the assignment successfully.

Save EVERYTHING

You’ve taken the time to craft the perfect discussion post or email, so do yourself a favor and save it somewhere! Try creating a folder on your computer or on a flash drive for every class you take – then use it. Emailing your instructor? Copy yourself and file any response you receive in your class folder. Receive some particularly awesome (or scathing) feedback on a paper? Save it. As you move along in your academic journey, you may find the advice, feedback and general support you received from your instructors helpful in future courses.

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