Collaboration online

When learning online you become part of an international network of students studying online, on the same programme and on the same module. Students and staff are engaging with each other 24/7 in discussion forums. Through the Student Portal you will be able to communicate and collaborate with your peers.

Your tutor will encourage you to discuss aspects of your subject with your peers and there may also be opportunities to collaborate together on assessments.

Being part of an online community of practice requires particular skills and, in this section, we’ll provide you with guidance on how to interact well and get along with people online.

Reaching out to others

When studying online it can be tempting to sit back and watch discussions unfold on the screen in front of you, but, just as if you were on campus studying with others, you should reach out and make contact with your peers. Take time to interact with others and engage in the communities of practice.

“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger-Trayner, 2015)

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner are thought of as leaders in the field of social learning and coined the phrase communities of practice, though such groups have always existed. At the University of Derby, we have recognised the benefits that learning socially brings and have designed our online courses so that you can interact with both tutors and fellow students. This approach has led to an increase in student engagement, retention and achievement (ref, 2017). Learners with high levels of interaction with the teacher and other learners are more engaged in online learning (Veletsianos, 2010).

The social approach is embedded throughout your studies. At the start of a new trimester your tutor will encourage you to introduce yourself to your fellow students. This is a great way to get to know each other and build your network. Don’t be shy – say ‘hi’ to your online classmates and discover more about them, where they are in the world and what they do.

Often, activities will encourage you to debate or consider a point further in the discussion forums. Have a read of other people’s posts. You don’t have to respond to everyone’s messages. However, the process of formulating your response will help you understand the subject further, as will engaging in critical debate more widely. On your Programme and Module pages in the Student Portal there are both tutor-led discussion areas and student-led discussion areas. You can focus your online conversations around the course, or pop into a café forum where you may discuss something unrelated to the module content, but benefit from the wide range of experiences of your global peers - or simply talk about the weather!

Communicating online

As an online student, you will be mostly relying on your written skills to communicate with your peers and the academic team. Communicating online is a skill which we are all still learning, as interacting online is relatively new in comparison to ‘older’ technologies such as pen and paper.

Here are some tips to help you communicate well online:

Try to hear your voice

Non-verbal cues and tone don’t come across as easily when written online. When you draft a message to post, read it back and ‘hear’ how it comes across. Could it be interpreted that you are being positive or negative? Adjust your tone accordingly.

Take your time

One of the benefits of discussing with others in an online forum is that you can take your time to respond to others’ posts. Use this to your advantage - draft a post and reflect on and review it before finally posting.

Don't shout

Capitals and exclamation marks come across as if you are shouting – make sure you don’t accidentally leave the caps lock on!

Don’t make it personal

When debating with your peers, you may not agree with their perspective or stance. However, focus on the topic of the discussion rather than the student/s who are debating.

Working in groups

In your course you may have the opportunity to work in a group with fellow students. Learning together and working as part of a team is an important skill.

When working together in a group, there are steps you can take to ensure it is a productive study arrangement:

Make a plan

As a group, create a plan outlining key dates and organise group activities into smaller, manageable tasks.

Assign roles

In a group you will have people who will take different roles from, for example, leader to project manager. Agree who will take responsibility for different activities in a group project.

Use online communication tools

By communicating online you will be able to easily share with each other the work you are creating and discuss the project. In the learning platform there are online collaboration tools (such as group wikis) that you can use with your peers.

Activity: Experiences of Group Work

Reflect on your personal experiences of group work either at school, at home or in the workplace. When did group work succeed? When did it not? How could you take what you have learned about working successfully in a group in a face-to-face environment to working in a group online?