Instructional Design

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Course Design

Instructional Design Unit

Office of Faculty Support and Development


Teaching Principle 2


Encourage Student-Student Interaction
    One of the best ways to deepen your understanding of something is to explain it to someone else. Good learning is not isolated. When you are interacting with others it stimulates ideas, questions, reactions, and disagreements. It improves your overall thinking on the subject. When students interact with each other, it greatly deepens the learning experience.

In the traditional classroom, there are a number of ways to do this. A common way is to create assignments that require students to collaborate. Often, larger classes are broken up into smaller groups for discussion and for presenting information back to the class. Similar types of collaboration opportunities can be created in the online environment.
“Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race”

Best Practices

Instructors find it beneficial to have an icebreaker discussion assignment during the first week of class. This helps students to get to know one another and also gets them used to interacting in the online forums. Jane Dwyer, a psychology professor at Rivier College asks questions like: “At what age did you become an adult, and how did you realize it happened? Is your adult personality the same or different than your adolescent personality?”

A different type of question might be better geared for an IT or Engineering course.

Another approach, if students are not comfortable sharing personal information, is to have students post pictures of their pets or their friend’s pets and information about them. It still serves to break the ice and have students get more comfortable with each other.

Just like in a face to face class, it is easier for students to communicate and interact with each other when they are split up into small groups. In fact, the online environment does this very effectively. In a traditional classroom, only 35% can participate in a 60 minute period. Online, everyone can talk… at the same time!

  Creating a place for students to engage in non-course related chat also helps to foster an environment where they are more likely to help each other. In the traditional setting, students gather in the cafeteria, quad, lounges, etc to interact. That can be beneficial in the online environment as well where it is easy to feel lost, confused, and isolated.

In fact, you might even decide to name such a discussion area "Student Lounge" or "Coffee House"! A collaboration area can even be created outside of BlackBoard (Yahoo Groups, for example) so that students can keep learning from each other even after the course is over. Another effective practice is to create a space on the course site to house material that students have discovered ("Resources") so that they can share these with each other.

Wimba Classroom allows instructors to create individual rooms for students to interact in.
Persistent rooms allow group meetings any time.
Participants can share their computer desktop as well as contribute in multiple ways, visually, audibly and textual.