Effective eLearning requires collaboration tools where students and instructors share ideas and join in discussion. The advantages of asynchronous discussion allow participants to log into their accounts and read their classmates posts at any time. This is especially helpful for globally located students when language presents communication problems, because they will have more time to read and translate messages, as well as formulate their own. For students with learning difficulties, online discussion boards are often the answer. Canvas Instructure was used to meet the needs of autistic students at Bellevue Washington:
Synchronous discussions simulate face-to-face learning, which is spontaneous. This requires all parties in the conversation to be available at the same time, and essentially share a common language. One of the drawbacks is the same thing as face-to-face meetings – the student cannot go back and read the discussion. Although these contacts can be effective when everyone is up to the same speed in understanding, often there will be students who did not understand.
Emergent technologies provide tools to meet the needs of designers and users of discussion boards and other forms of collaboration and communication (Alexander, 2006). Instructors facilitate learning by using web-based discussion forums only in as much as students participate and became engaged in the conversation. Web-based communities provide sources for problem solving in many areas of daily learning (Alexander, 2006).
Asynchronous discussion activities include a variety of formats. Some virtual learning environments have discussion boards built into the framework of their platform. For example, Blackboard and Canvas Instructure both have this discussion forum as part of the learning platform. Canvas Instructure offers both synchronous and asynchronous methods of collaborating. Web conferencing uses real-time video and audio, as well as the use of a whiteboard. Students can collaborate and make presentations in real-time. These are two screenshots of the pages in Canvas for instructors to produce their own web conferences:
Teachers can also set up discussion boards outside of their virtual learning environment by using other sources. Wikispaces offers an easy format for course discussions where teachers invite class members to create an account and contribute. This might also be considered setting up a discussion board within a platform, because designers often use Wikispaces for an entire course (Alexander, 2006).
Instructors can also stay in contact and relay information to their students through blogs and vlogs. In this format, comments must be turned on, and students leave a message with regards to the content. Dialogue develops as other students make comments. This post is an example of a blog that has had comments enabled, using the Disqus platform. Google offers a free blog called Blogger, and Wordpress is a self-hosted blog that is the primary choice for professionals. Vlogs are video logs, similar to blogs but on a platform that only supports video and comments. Examples of this are YouTube and Vimeo. An instructor posts a video for discussion, and open comments to the class.
Social networking sites are another form where students collaborate and share ideas. Within the social network of Twitter, students can use hash tags (#) to form groups for sharing. This idea was used in a course where students were required to make comments and share sites and links on Twitter, using the hash tag, #CNSoMe, for Canvas Network, Social Media course. The class also had a Facebook page for students to post and share assignments. Social networking is a productive way to reach a global audience and collaborate information. It is not advisable for younger grades, or K-12. Higher education courses and instructors are more likely to have success with this form of dialogue.
It is also possible to use free-standing discussion boards for collaboration. Several options are available to designers and include, Boardhost.com, Forumotion.com, FreeForums.org, Yuko.com, and VanillaForums.com. One of the concerns in any format is to ensure privacy for students. Therefore, it is best to have logins that are required and registrations to sites for discussion. Privacy can be enabled on many social networks.
Video conferencing is a method of collaboration and discussion used by UCLA in a graduate level course in screenwriting. At first they used Skype, but then switched to OpenTok. Live video study sessions are available using Open Tok, enhancing discussions beyond the board, bringing it to synchronous sharing.
Alexander, B. (2006). Web 2.0: A new wave of innovation for teaching and learning? EDUCAUSE Review, 41(2), 32-44. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM0621.pdf
Canvas Network. (2013). Retrieved from https://www.canvas.net/
Open Tok. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.tokbox.com/industry/education
Vimeo. (2013). Your videos belong here. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/
Wiki Spaces. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.wikispaces.com/