George Siemens, as an advocate of online learning, notes that distance education has developed its own distinct personality apart from traditional classrooms. He lists global diversity, communication, and collaborative interaction as elements that distinguish distance education from face-to-face instruction (Laureate Education, 2008a).
I believe that the most relevant of these elements as an improvement over the traditional classroom is the ability to interact and collaborate on learning projects. Where it was once necessary for groups to work together in a room, web-centered projects allow people from all over the world to contribute, suggest changes, edit documents, and work together as a virtual team. Today’s online applications make this a simple process, and as technology improves, collaboration becomes easier every year.
Two methods of collaboration are live online meetings with voice and video, and cloud-based document editing. For business professionals as well as for learning groups, meetings are made feasible by applications such as GoToMeeting (Citrix, 2014). This allows participants to sign in online and participate in group phone calls or group video conferences. Simple meeting set-ups are free, and institutions needing more features or greater capacity can purchase a “pro” version. GoToWebinar is another product by the same company, allowing for greater presentation abilities where instruction can take place in a virtual classroom. For less formal, impromptu collaborative discussions, Google Plus offers “Hangouts,” a place for text, voice, or video chats (Google, 2014a).
Document creation, which includes spreadsheets and presentations as well as ordinary documents, is made possible by online editing processes such as Google Docs (Google, 2014b). Microsoft’s Office suite also has an online presence (Microsoft, 2014) where users can give permission to collaborators to make changes on any of the available online document types. Using these web-based capabilities, users from diverse locations can work together on individual documents. The work stays “in the cloud,” eliminating the problems caused by multiple versions of the same document.
Online collaboration is one of the great strengths of distance education over the traditional classroom. Students can use these applications and others to enhance their learning, exchanging ideas and gathering the best ideas from each member of a group a comprehensive package of work. Parker (2008b) noted that quality is one of the essential elements required in distance education. Using the web to collaborate in learning is one way that online courses can produce a high quality of instruction.
Citrix, Inc. (2014). GoToMeeting. Retrieved from https://www4.gotomeeting.com
Google. (2014b). Google Docs. Retrieved from https://docs.google.com/
Google. (2014a). Hangouts. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/
Laureate Education, Inc. (2008a). Principles of distance education: The future of distance education [Video].
Microsoft. (2014). Collaborate with Office Online. Retrieved from https://office.live.com/start/default.aspx
Parker, N. (2008b). The quality dilemma in online education revisited. In T. Anderson (Ed.). In The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Edmonton, AB, Canada: AU Press.
Collaboration illustration. http://web2visit.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/online-collaboration_1.jpg
GoToMeeting Screenshot. https://www.support.citrixonline.com
Google Docs illustration. http://www.edudemic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/googledocs-tips.jpg