Assessment can be done in four to help maintain a sense of strong community online by following these four steps, “ students assess their peers, students receiving feedback from online communities, educators assess based on student contributions (discussion questions and class participation), and educators assess based on metrics from learning management systems” (Siemens, 2009). One of the most important things in a learning environment is that educators create an environment that provides students with a comfortable environment for learning as well as interacting with the instructor and fellow classmates. According to Siemens (2009), when educators are designing their learning experiences, it is important to create a mix of individual and community-based environments. Variety is the key to success in a learning environment and instruction should be tailored to every student’s learning ability and achievement level. Online collaboration, in the form of peer work groups and learning communities, increases engagement in the learning process (Gay & Lentini, 1995; Moore & Kearsley, 1996). The most important and essential responsibilities of members in a learning community are to make sure that all members communicate their goals, roles, and expectations for work/projects in a group. It is important for members of a group to come up with rules and guidelines that communicate when they will meet, how they will meet, and contact information in order to reach all members. Some important guidelines that could be offered to make a learning community more productive are: to determine the purpose of an activity chosen, determine how to complete assignments given, and operate based on guidelines or schedule when completing a project or assignment (Palloff & Pratt, 2005).According to the text, a team charter is a good way to help team members outline responsibilities in a group (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). The team charter would act as a contract between members within a learning community and between learners and the instructor. If a learner chooses not to participate or uphold the charter, then the members have a right to inform the instructor and the instructor can remind the student of his/her agreement (Palloff & Pratt, 2005). In this way, the instructor acts as a mediator between group members. Through email or a phone conversation; problems can be made right again in order to get full participation out of members of a team. In order for instructors to assess student learning in collaborative groups successfully, the instructor must be comfortable with collaborative learning themselves. If they are not then the way they teach and assess will be determine more by their discomfort than the challenges their students face by trying to become adjusted to collaborative groups. Members within a learning community should also exercise patience as well; many things can happen within the busy lives of learners that knock them off track. With a little consideration and care, these individuals can get back on track to becoming productive members of their communities. Several blogs exists that give great tips on how to use collaborative groups to improve problem solving and critical thinking skills in the workplace and the classroom. How to Plan and Launch Learning Communities gives details on how to set up groups in the work place to ensure success in developing new products and creating business proposals. Collaborative Learning Environments is a study done that details the benefits the use of collaborative groups in a classroom setting.
Blanche, M.T. (2002) Collaborative Learning Environments. Retrieved on October 11, 2009 from http://www.criticalmethods.org/collab/news.htm.
Shahidi, L. (2008). How to Plan and Launch Learning Communities. Retrieved on October 12, 2009 from http://blogs.humancapitalinstitute.org/laleh/.
Gay, G., & Lentini, M. (1995). Communication resource use in a networked collaborative design environment. Ithaca, NY: Interactive Multimedia Group.Moore, M., & Kearsley, G. (1996). Distance education: A systems view. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating Online: Learning Together in Community. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Siemens, G. (n.d.) Learning communities. Retrieved October 7, 2009 from the EDUC-7102-2/EDUC-8842-2 Principles of Distance Education Web site: http://sylvan.live.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=3649021&Survey=1&47=5797856&ClientNodeID=984645&coursenav=1&bhcp=1