Three Strategies for Online Credit Courses to Stay Competitive in 2013

Finish line.How will online courses for credit at traditional tuition rates be able to compete in 2013?

The year of 2012 is the year of the MOOC in the higher education sector. MOOC mania has me rather ‘MOOCed’ out by trying to keep up with the latest news and updates, though these massive open online courses are transforming education, despite a handful of details that still need to be worked out. The MOOC influence is so great, not only are schools changing policies on credit equivalency, the Carnegie Foundation the founder of the credit unit, is reconsidering its model.

These changes are significant, and no doubt will affect not just face-to-face courses, but online courses offered for credit. I’m referring to the hundreds of courses offered online by colleges and universities across the US. These courses serve a need for students looking to obtain general education credits [or other] towards a Bachelor’s Degree or certificate. Yet even these online credit courses may be threatened by MOOCs if the trend continues towards the granting of credit for certain xMOOC courses (courses offered through platforms such as Coursera or Udacity).

What can institutions that offer online courses for credit at traditional tuition rates do to compete? The answer is to differentiate—offer an educational experience that goes beyond what the MOOC offers. Below I’ve listed three strategies that can provide a unique and alternative experience to massive open online courses.

1. Limit class sizes for Personalized Learning Experience

Class sizes of up to twenty students is an ideal size for an instructor to facilitate discussion, provide meaningful feedback on assignments and give instruction to individuals and small groups. Up to thirty may be manageable, but beyond that, it becomes a challenge. One premise of MOOCs is the massive component, which usually means students are not able to develop a personal connection or receive individual feedback from the instructor.

By emphasizing personalized learning, students will be able to discern the difference in the learning experience between massive and personalized.

2. Create an Interactive Community with Synchronous Meetings

One significant drawback to online learning [in credit courses] mentioned frequently (by its critics and students)  is the lack of an interactive component as most classes are asynchronous. Though it is possible to create a connected learning community with a strong instructor presence, research shows students frequently cite lack of interaction with, and/or feedback from instructor as a significant drawback.

The solution to this conundrum seems obvious— offer a synchronous component where the instructor at least once a week addresses the entire class perhaps with a short lecture followed by a discussion, or break-out group sessions (possible with some tools such as Elluminate Live).  Instructors can also conduct one-on-one meetings with students for specific instruction or support. Offering synchronous class meetings in the past was challenging because of the lack of accessible tools for real-time meetings. Now there are numerous options that are accessible, offered at little cost to the institution and/or no cost to the student (if going outside the learning management platform) including:

  • Free video conferencing and screen sharing
  • Google + Hangouts: Free with Google + account
  • Go to Meeting: Free trial period, fee based afterwards
  • Big Marker: Free video conferencing and collaboration tools
  • Elluminate Live (which is available through most LMS platforms or independently outside of the LMS)
  • Skype: video calls

The second barrier often mentioned is the issue of students living in different time zones making meeting times challenging. In my experience with synchronous lectures offered in an online credit course I took in grad school, most students were able to make the meeting time. Our class included students all across the US and several in other countries. The session was recorded for later viewing for students unable to make the meeting. I suggest that time zone differences should not be a reason to rule out using synchronous meetings. Most conferencing tools have a recording option allowing the meeting to be posted later for students to view for the first time, or for review.

collaboration3. Build in Collaborative Group Work:

Building community with group work meets the needed social component, where students feel they belong, and are recognized as an individual. Research has found that the psychological distance, or rather lack of community in the online learning environment can result in student isolation, frustration, boredom, overload, and low course completion rates. Conversely, students that feel a social connection, which can be accomplished through group work, achieved deeper learning and higher grades (Young & Bruce, 2011).

Well-constructed group activities that require students to collaborate and not just cooperate (this post reviews the difference), have the opportunity to acquire knowledge through creating a product that represents their learning.  Furthermore, when groups create a product (i.e. slide share presentation) that is openly shared with other class groups, further discourse ensues which can promote deeper learning.

The key to successful group work is small groups, ideally between three and four group members, instructor guidance and sometimes involvement (usually at the beginning phase), and an application(s) that groups can use to meet both synchronously and asynchronously.

Resources developing group work activities:
5 tools for Group Collaboration Online, Online Learning Insights
Strategies for Effective Group Work in the Online Class, Online Learning Insights

Are institutions out there promoting courses with this kind of interaction as discussed here? Maybe. But there is a soon-to-be-launched consortium of ten schools Semester Online, that is planning on offering a differentiated online experience. They have  identified a gap between what traditional learning offers and MOOCs offer to students. Semester Onlines’ announcement in November seemed to slip under the radar, it wasn’t picked up by many of the online higher education newsletters. Here is an excerpt from Semester Online’s press release:

“We anticipate worldwide interest and demand for Semester Online courses. With that said our live classroom environments will be limited to 20 students per course section and we will closely monitor all courses to ensure the highest quality academic experience.” Chip Paucek, Co-founder and CEO, 2U Inc.

Closing Thoughts
No doubt 2013 will shape up to be just as tumultuous as 2012. It is an exciting time for education; barriers to learning are coming down like never before. Students are changing too; they want to be able to learn anytime, anywhere, and are seeking value. Any institution offering online courses for credit, is almost obligated to consider differentiating the learning experience by offering personalized learning, interactive learning communities and opportunities for rich learning through group collaboration. It is indeed an exciting and busy time for educators. Cheers to 2013!

Related Resources:
Tools for Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom Discussion,(2012) ProfHacker
Classroom Community and Student Engagement in Online Courses, (2011), JOLT
Semester Online, Press Release

5 Tools and Strategies that Support Group Collaboration Online

Collaboration, where students work towards a common goal, interact and co-create is an essential component of online learning, yet the challenge for the course instructor is how? How can instructors create activities where students collaborate effectively in groups when separated by distance and time? In this post I review strategies for implementing collaborative activities, and review tools that can be effective in supporting students work within their virtual groups. I’ll begin by highlighting why educators might want to consider investing time in creating collaborative activities in the first place.

Why Collaborative Activities?
It takes considerable time and effort to develop group learning activities for the online class, which begs the question, is it worth it?  Absolutely, and for several reasons. One is that group activities in online communities support learning as described in Garrison’s Community of Inquiry (COI) model. According to Garrison’s model students who “collaboratively engage in purposeful, critical discourse and reflection will be more likely to achieve a successful educational experience” (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2000).

From another viewpoint, a recently introduced learning theory by Siemens and Downes connectivism, supports the idea that collaboration is critical in our networked world. From this perspective, learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, rather it relies on the connected learning that occurs in social networks and group tasks (Brindley, Walti & Blaschke, 2009).

Whether you agree with these above mentioned principles or not, collaborative activities should be included in online learning communities if only for the fact that it ‘forces’ students to engage with peers in a digital context which is a required skill for students and workers of the 21st century.

Strategies for Group Learning Activities
In a previous post Online Groups – Cooperative or Collaborative, I reviewed briefly how to create effective group activities as part of an overall instructional plan, and in the following strategies I focus on practical implementation. I’ve included strategies that I have used in my work with online course development that have proved to be successful in supporting group work.

  • Create Transparency of Expectations and Purpose: Make the activity relevant for students by describing how and why working within a group will help them [the students], and be of benefit. Clarify what is expected in the syllabus. Outline the requirements for participation and the process for participation that includes a description of the online tool(s) students will use for facilitating group communication. Identifying the tool will also allow time for students to become familiar with the application as needed.
  • Provide Clear Instructions: Barriers to successful group work include lack of clear objectives and vague directions. Taking the time to explain the purpose of the activity, providing clear due dates, and outlining instructions is essential. Also, a due date that is near the end of the course is recommended as this allows students to complete the orientation phase and establish relationships within the group.
  • Form Small Groups: Small groups are most effective for online activities – three or four students is ideal. With larger groups [over five participants] students can lurk in the background and not contribute. There is literature for online instruction that suggests it is beneficial to have students create their own groups, though as a student I always preferred that the instructor create the groups.
  • Monitor and Support: It’s important that the instructor be available to answer questions and ‘be there’ for groups, especially for those that are struggling. Holding synchronous video sessions with groups is an effective method of instruction. I experienced this type of support as a student with a difficult group project; it was helpful and appreciated.
  • Include Etiquette Guidelines: Create guidelines for students that outline how to  participate effectively in an online group. Highlight the difference between cooperative work and collaborative work, cooperative is individuals giving input to peers, yet collaborative is group work where ONE product is created, submitted and graded as whole.

Five Collaboration Tools
The tools below are just that – tools that are designed to support group collaboration, which is the discourse that is the means to their learning. For that reason I’ve selected tools that are highly rated, but at the same time are easy to use, with a minimal learning curve. The one exception is BigMarker, I have yet to work with this tool and for that reason I reserve judgement on its ease of use, but it looks promising.

  1. MindMeister:  This tool allows groups to work on one mind map document that can be used in the early phases of group work for planning or brainstorming, or it can be used as the primary collaborative document for the duration of the project depending upon the nature of the assignment. There are numerous templates, mind maps, project planning, SWOT analysis and more. It can be used asynchronously, but also includes a live chat feature.
  2. Google Docs: Another excellent tool given its ease of use, flexibility and comment tools which are conducive to group work. I worked with this tool throughout graduate school for group projects, and still use Google Docs for project management at my workplace. It includes several document types, including Word, Presentation and Excel. It also features live chat.
  3. BigMarker: A new tool, it looks comprehensive, it includes live synchronous video chat (useful for groups wanting to discuss in real-time) with the added capability of recording which can be viewed by group members unable to attend the live chat, and collaborative document sharing similar to Google Docs for asynchronous communication. It looks powerful and promising.
  4. SlideRocket: A top-rated application that creates ‘stunning’ presentations that allows groups to work collectively on one presentation document. The application is easy to embed within discussion forums of the Learning Management System platforms or web pages.  Each document has a unique URL, which can be submitted to the instructor for viewing.
  5. Skype: Tried and true, Skype was one of the first video chat tools offered for free, and is reliable and easy to use. Another benefit is that students are likely to have Skype accounts and be familiar with it. It is a synchronous tool, a negative factor, however in many cases group members can agree upon a convenient time.  Skype is also an effective tool for course instructors to have video meetings with groups or individual students to discuss progress or concerns.

Collaborative group work is present in any workplace, face-to-face college classroom or K12 institution. Implementing group work activities in online learning is necessary, almost a given in today’s learning climate, though it is challenging due to time and space barriers. With thoughtful instructional design and implementation strategies, and use of tools that support student communication seamlessly, online students can benefit from the enhanced learning and skill development that group collaboration can offer.

Collaborative Learning, R.I.T. Online Learning
The Importance of Collaboration in Higher Ed,

Online groups – Cooperative or Collaborative?

“Work teams Cooperate; learning teams Collaborate

What is the difference between collaborating and cooperating? Online communities and group work in particular has generated much discussion lately, and I’ve written several posts about group work, peer evaluations and more. Interesting, though the definitions differ ever so slightly, [cooperate: the process of working together to the same end, versus collaborate: to work jointly on an activity to produce or create something] yet how each is executed in the online learning environments differs significantly.

I’ve experienced both as a student in online communities – there is a stark contrast between the two – the process, experience and outcomes were all different. Most group work happening online today is likely cooperative in nature. Cooperative group work is not a negative – essentially students are engaging at a different level of cognitive skills (in context of Bloom’s Taxonomy). When online groups cooperate they apply, plan, develop. When collaborating, students analyze, synthesize and construct knowledge, problems are solved collectively. Higher order thinking skills are engaged.


When virtual [online] groups cooperate, it’s a ‘divide and conquer’ approach, usually each group member is responsible for completing his or her ‘section’, which usually involves discussion and negotiation. From this point on, the work is done individually, and an ambitious (and gracious) team member puts all the various sections together and attempts to create a common ‘voice’ and consistency.

How do you create Collaborative (or Cooperative) group activities?

As most online educators know, creating virtual teams, and placing students into groups within the online learning platform, and providing assignment guidelines does not make cooperation or collaboration happen. From experience both as a student and as instructional designer, the type of interaction and learning (and success) of the group experience depends in a large part on the instructional strategy. A good place to start is by asking the question – ‘what learning objective does the assignment need to achieve’?  It is at this level that the instructor determines what kind of activity can be developed, and which approach is most effective in context of the learner (i.e.level of course, experience with online format etc.), and online environment. Choosing what one wants the student to do to achieve the objective, (i.e. synthesize or analyze) drives the instructional strategy, in that the group activity is constructed incorporating actions around the content to be learned or problem to be solved. See Bloom’s taxonomy below for ‘learning in action’ verbs.

SVG version of
SVG version of by John M. Kennedy T. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Can Collaboration work in online environments?

Several educators have suggested that given the barriers of space and time, collaborative work in groups online is virtually impossible. I disagree, challenging – yes, impossible, no. That being said,. according to research it is how the the group task is structured, communicated and supported — that collaboration happens, thus higher order thinking skills are engaged (Paulus, 2005).

Collaborative learning – closing thoughts…

  • Learning happens in the dialogue, the conversation the problem solving (or not solving)
  • When groups come together to solve a problems, they need to use online tools to collaborate, Skype, Google +, Google Docs, Elluminate Live., and need to be introduced to the tools early in the course and have time to practice with them
  • Instructor support for students ‘dialoguing’, is critical to collaboration – this may mean professor prompting discussions among groups and/or providing encouragement and further direction to students at the beginning of the group process.

Related Posts
The Difference between Collaboration and Cooperation,
Why we need Group work in Online Learning, onlinelearninginsights
Making Peer Evaluations work in Online Learning, onlinelearninginsights
Teaching and Learning at a Distance, Collaborative vs Cooperative

Paulus, T. M. (2005). Collaborative and cooperative approaches to online group work: The impact of task type. Distance Education, 26(1), 111-125. doi:10.1080/01587910500081343

Providing relevant learning online…outside the [LMS] Bubble

Let’s face it – the learning management platforms (i.e. Moodle, Blackboard) as they exist today, are restrictive, limiting for both the learner and online educator. The flexibility, value and learning potential available with Web 2.0 tools far exceed the teaching limitations that exist within the LMS platform. CT’s s recent article, Rebuilding the LMS for the 21st Century reaffirmed what I’ve written about before – working within an LMS platform feels as if I’m trying to communicate (from the student perspective) and teach (educators’ perspective) through a brick wall – I said A BRICK WALL – can you hear me? Sorry for the big caps, but that is how it one feels inside an LMS – the need to shout.

Now more than ever as LMS platforms merge into one (Blackboard recently acquired Moodlerooms)* educators need to be independent for lack of a better word, move beyond the walls of the LMS, explore and embrace the multiplicity of tools available to teach, instruct and foster learning online. The agility of  innovative software developers to provide new tools and  applications for collaboration far outpaces what traditional LMS providers can offer, in fact this says it better than I could,

 “Web 2.0 enables and accelerates the transition to a more connected world in which open, user-centered and self-organising networks create value, including public [educational] value. That’s the Web 2.0 proposition with which…people …around the world are experimenting to see ….eGovernment Resource Centre

Why use Web 2.0 tools in Online Teaching?
Just as in the classroom, utilizing a multiplicity of tools and methods is part of instruction though with online there are additional reasons, relevancy, and learning through collaboration with peers. A blog reader, a professor of communications class, shared her approach, “I believe they [students] should be using web applications and not be inside the LMS silos … learning how to make use of the possibilities offered on the Exactly – an illustration of relevant learning.

This clever illustration below uses Bloom’s Taxonomy with its levels of cognitive learning domains presented in the familiar pyramid image, but inserts applicable web 2.0 applications into each, which illustrates Web 2.0 tools that support instruction. I would like to reiterate here, that it is only through a sound instructional design strategy that instruction is effective, with appropriate tools chosen to support learning objectives (my model of choice: Dick, Carey and Carey).

Bloom's Taxonomy and Web 2.0 Applications, by Samantha Penney

The other reason, emerging research suggests students learn better when there is a visual representation of course content to work with, [beyond the text] either through knowledge maps, or graphs with text within boxes [used in context of the visual mapping] (Suthers et. al., 2006). Though the research focuses on collaborative learning and interactions with knowledge maps, this is an interesting concept to consider.  What it does suggest is that online learning needs to move beyond the threaded discussions in the LMS platform.

Where to start…
There are a plethora of tools available and I will admit it will take some legwork to find relevant and applicable tools to meet the needs of the course objectives – I will provide just a few examples below to get you started. Also consider revisiting the instructional strategy, reviewing the learning objectives, the course content, and select learning activities that will support student learning. Next, I like to identify the appropriate level within Bloom’s Taxonomy, which helps with my choice of appropriate tool. Using the verbs associated with the learning level are also helpful – for example, analyze, synthesize will require different learning activities than verbs such as identifying or describing.

  • A collaborative mapping tool, MindMesister
  • Mindamo, Online Mind Mapping Software, available in Google Apps
  • Collaborative Data spreadsheet tool (think Excel), EditGrid
  • 35 Best Web 2.0 tools for Teachers, Edudemic

Keep Learning 🙂

Related Post: The LMS Divide
* Correction to my original post which incorrectly stated that Blackboard had acquired Moodle, it should have read Moodlerooms.  Moodlerooms is a support provider to Moodle, an open source platform.

Suthers, D.D., Vatrapu , R., Medina, R., Joseph, S., & Nathan Dwyer. (2008, May). Beyond threaded discussion: Representational guidance in asynchronous collaborative learning environments. Computers & Education. Volume 50, Issue 4, pp 1103-1127

Good, Bad and Ugly: Student comments on group work in e-learning

I thought it would be interesting to add an addendum to my three-part series on group work in online environments by including a selection of comments from students from the very same courses I discussed in the previous posts on group work. The series focused on the why, what and how of implementing and executing group strategies, yet I think it may be helpful for readers to consider student feedback, and appreciate the group process from student perspective.

What students say anonymously about group work…
The comments below are a selection of student responses to a feedback survey given at the end of the online courses at the college where I work. I’ve included the ‘good, bad and they ugly’, in order to give an honest ‘snapshot’

Question: “What did you like best about the course?”

“I enjoyed the discussion boards the best.  I enjoyed the topics that were chosen for the students to discuss.

“The interaction with other students.”

“I really enjoyed every aspect of the course.  I thought it was challenging, meaningful and I was very impressed with [the professor]..”

“It really made me think. Although I worked about 15 hours a week I thought about the material much longer.”

“Working in groups is useful…”

What student liked least….

Below are responses to the question, What did you like least about the course?  [I’ve add my own comments after each student comment.]

The group project.  I did not understand how an online class would even attempt to require a group project.  It was shocking to me actually.  It proved difficult to contact people.  The group ended up having to use Google documents to be able to edit and IM simultaneously.  If I could change something about the course, it would be removing this assignment.” [This supports the reason and purpose for having group assignments. I’ve since added descriptions of the purpose for each group assignment and activity].

Teams are too small…” /  “Teams are too large.” [you can’t please everybody]

Working in teams is frustrating...” [agreed, in person too…]

The group assignment was difficult. One of the benefits of taking a class on line is doing things in your own convince, it was difficult coordinating with my group members.” [I have since added instructions that are further clarified with suggestions for coordinating the group work. Though again, we see the value of group work — students not working in a vacuum, being ‘forced’ to collaborate with others].]

Participating in the forums! I had a really hard time figuring out what to do and when.” [I added further instructions with a weekly schedule of due dates].

“I thought the group project should have been worth more points since there was only one other person in my group.” 

There often appears to be more negative feedback than positive, however I find negative feedback crucial to helping students learn and be successful by making changes and adaptations based on their observations and frustrations.

Keep Learning 🙂

Strategies for effective group work in the Online Class

This is the second post in a three part series on group work in online learning communities. Post one, featured why we need group work in online learning,  and post three will be on how to evaluate group work in online assignments.

Quick recap –  why oh why do we need to create opportunities for collaboration and structured learning  in an online class? Because…

  1. Collaboration is the future—collaborative skills are essential skills for the 21st century.
  2. Working with others builds upon existing knowledge. Great ideas were not created in vacuum —post one includes an excellent video about. We need innovators in the 21s century.
  3. Learning now more than ever needs to be social and active. Our culture is about connecting with people using digital and social media, why can’t learning happen this way?

Groups—my Dual Viewpoint
I’ve experienced group work from the inside and out. From the inside, through my fully online graduate program of which I’m a student, where I’ve had (and have) group work in every class. Group assignments contribute anywhere between 20%, and as much as 100% to the final grade.

Concurrently, I’ve worked with groups on the outside, working with professors extensively to create assignments and collaborative activities for students in several online classes at my work place. Each perspective has assisted the other, which helped me to create a pretty comprehensive list of strategies for making groups work…

What Makes Group Work
The group experience can either be painful or refreshing, constructive and enjoyable,  fortunately my experiences have been positive (except for one group disaster, though this in itself provided an authentic learning experience), in fact, I would say that group work has challenged me to learn and grow in ways I would not be able to do solo.

I’ve compiled a list of essential strategies for setting up groups for successful interaction and meaningful learning that the online instructor or instructional designer might find helpful.

  1. Create a student introductory forum in the first week, or even a few days before the course start date. Frame the activity so learners introduce themselves to other learners, by writing one or two paragraphs about themselves, interests, hobbies etc, and then have them respond to at least two other classmates in the forum.  When Learners feel connected, the barrier of the technological infrastructure comes down, (in most cases the learning management platform).  Learners are establishing a social presence, and feel they are becoming part of a community. I cannot underestimate the importance of this activity. The social presence is a dimension necessary in the online ‘space’ which can be intangible and hard to define for the learner.
  2. Make it real – have learners upload profile pictures of themselves through the learning management platform. Most LMS platforms have this capability. It’s amazing what picture can do to help make a personal connection.
  3. Announce groups early in the session, Group work in online environments, often takes more time to establish group tasks and objectives. Building in at least three weeks time for groups to work on a small-scale assignment is reasonable, obviously the more complex the assignment the more time is needed. As far as assigning groups, my preference is to have the instructor create the groups. One method to creating groups is to observe how students relate to others within the introduction forum. Often students make ‘connections’ with common interests. Another strategy is create groups balancing out experienced online students, with first time online learners. Again this can be identified through the introductory forums.
  4. Encourage group members to make contact early on – create a group discussion board within the LMS dedicated to each group, or a chat room – encourage members to connect, even through outside media, i.e. Facebook, Google+ etc.
  5. Create clear instructions for the  group project. This also is essential. Here is my rule of thumb, if you dedicate three pages in a traditional class syllabus to instructions for assignments, you will need double the number of pages in an online class. Students require clear, specific directions, explanation of ‘why’ they are doing the assignment (see next point).
  6. Highlight the Purpose: When we design group activities in our online classes at my workplace, we are cognizant of giving an explanation to the learner that outlines why they are doing this activity, what they will learn by doing so, why the activity is created for group . No one wants to do ‘busy work’ and students will respond far more positively when they see how the assignment fits in with the course and how they will benefit personally.
  7. Limit Group Size: The ideal group size for online is three or four group members. Though I’ve seen groups of five, from experience it appears that when there are more than four participants, it is not uncommon for one or more group members who tend to be on the lazy side, to fade into the virtual world and not contribute. Smaller group sizes make this phenomenon less likely to occur.
  8. Web 2.0 filosofiaren kontzeptuak.
    Web 2.0 filosofiaren kontzeptuak. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    Encourage teams to collaborate with online applications outside of the LMS environment. A blog reader, a communications professor shared a strategy that got me thinking – why keep the students within the LMS platform? The tools in most LMS platforms are not conducive to effective group work (as I lamented in this post). This professor ‘forced’ her students to use Web 2.0 tools outside the platform, for example Google Docs, Dropbox, Skype, Google + ( which has a great feature of Google + hangouts). I like her strategy.  In order for this to be effective I would suggest providing the teams with a list of web 2.0 tools and links for accessing various tools, and ideally with basic instructions and/or ‘how-to’ links about each tool included as well. This is an extra step, but don’t assume students are familiar with collaborative applications. Some students may have a steep learning curve, another reason why the lead time for given assignments is helpful.

  9. Be available for concerns and questions. Encourage students to contact the instructor for concerns and/or guidance. I even suggest going the extra step to arrange for Skype or conference calls with a given group if needed. I’ve had a professor who arranged for two Skype meetings with a group I was part of, when we were struggling with an assignment and way off track. I can’t tell you how much this supported our group and created cohesion and motivation within. When an instructor is involved and supportive of teams, higher levels of learning are more likely to be the result.
  10. Be culturally sensitive. As I write this, I realize that some suggestions will not work in all cultures.  Instructors need to be sensitive to different communication styles and access to tools for various students. This article, provides some helpful info for those interested in reading more about this, as does this one, Techniques and strategies for International group work: An online experience.

Group work, when used to support learning goals in the e-learning environment, is most effective  in creating meaningful learning, and developing communication and collaboration  skills so very much in demand in our current digital culture and global economy.  Check back later this week for post three, how to evaluate group work in the online environment.