Lesson 1

Lesson 2

Lesson 3

Lesson 4

Lesson 5



Creating Distance Learning Courses

Lesson Four
Using Technology For Collaboration and Feedback


In this lesson you will be exploring electronic tools for collaboration and feedback. Frequent interaction and prompt and effective feedback are important to the continuing motivation of distance learners. They also assist learners in judging their accomplishment of course objectives.


Book Icon Required Reading
  • Read through the following lesson, keeping in mind your particular topic area and potential learner population.
  • Access & review the Catalyst tool documentation.

When you finish this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Access and use a few online tools for course communication and collaboration, including the Catalyst tools QuickPoll, VirtualCase, and Peer Review; and
  • Enumerate the advantages and disadvantages of these kinds of electronic interactions.

Collaboration at a Distance

Collaboration involves learners working together on a product. This is most often done in distance learning courses when there is a cohort of learners enrolled together who are progressing through the course at the same time and about the same pace. Just as in the classroom, collaboration helps learners constructively build from each other's unique knowledge, insights, and perspectives. When students work together they learn from one another and extend their interaction and learning. But not being physically present in the same space can make group work difficult to coordinate.

The ongoing work of collaboration requires significant communication among team members, so the communication capabilites of the distance learning media used become critical to success. Ideally there should be opportunities for both real-time synchronous communication such as chat, teleconferences, or electronic blackboards, and delayed, asynchronous communication such as email or threaded discussion.

When properly applied, technology can faciltate communication and eliminate barriers to collaboration. Electronic interaction offers these benefits to distance learners:

  • a comfortable setting for contribution by all group members;
  • convenient collaboration without regard to time or place;
  • archiving capability for meeting notes, materials, and communication exchanges;
  • experience and support in teamwork; and
  • possibilities to learn from one another.

It's more challenging to collaborate in independent study courses where learners in the same class enroll at different times and move through the coursework at different paces. Collaborative work can be designed that asks learners to contribute their own unique part to a larger whole that is being built through time. For example, in Los Angeles County Office of Education TEAMS Distance Learning Classroom Projects such as The California Guided Tour and the Sensational Soil Sampling Project , learners add information about particular places and conditions to a map or database which is being built collectively. Each person adds individual information according to uniform parameters so that a comon product emerges.

Effective Instructional Use

Many UW faculty members are making use of electronic means for collaboration, including Beth Kalikoff, Writing Center Director and Senior Lecturer at the University of Washington, Tacoma campus. Beth uses online discussion and peer review forums to facilitate communication among staff and within courses - promoting student collaboration and critical thinking.

Kimberlee Gillis-Bridges, lecturer in the English department, uses EPost message boards to help students think critically. In her Summer 2000 class Race in U.S. Cinema, she posted questions to her EPost message board before each film screening. Students were required to respond both to her question and to another student's response. This technique not only guaranteed an active EPost discussion, it also brought students to class ready to critically discuss the topic at hand; participation in the message board helped students to begin critical thinking.

Phillip Thurtle, lecturer in Communications, found that EPost helped his students discuss topics that they found uncomfortable bringing up in class. In his Spring 2000 class The Cultural Impact of Information Technology, he found that a non-directed EPost message board gave his students a space in which to discuss controversial topics.

Bill Talbott, instructor of PHIL 410 Social Philosophy-The Priority of Liberty, uses Peer Review to provide students with input on writing assignments from other students. Students evaluate their peers' work online prior to turning it in. This assignment has raised the quality of students' work, Talbott says, and provides students with greater feedback. In addition, online reviews free up valuable class time.

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