When instructors consider the most important aspects of classroom facilitation they often think about requirements that involve the majority of their time and effort, from planning learning activities to providing feedback. Instructors are likely to find that managing classroom interactions also demands a significant portion of their attention because it has a direct influence on working relationships. The dynamics of classroom interactions can be enriched when adults are productively working together with each other and their instructor. Collaboration is a strategy that instructors may add to their facilitation practice as a means of accomplishing this goal.
Collaboration is a process of bringing adults together for the purpose of mutual learning, self-development, and building a sense of community. By implementing activities that encourage students to work together they are developing a sense of rapport. Moira Murphy, PhD and Cecilia Valdez believe that “rapport is an integral part of preparing a classroom for the implementation of collaborative learning techniques,” and more importantly, that good rapport “means that individuals can relate to each other.” The element of rapport is important because communication becomes meaningful when students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, questions, concerns, and contributions to the class.
Within a traditional classroom students are encouraged to work together during class discussions and group projects, and they are able to physically observe interactions with others. They obtain feedback from visual cues such as body language. For an online environment the class discussions, including synchronous and asynchronous discussions, become a primary method of promoting collaboration among students. The technological tools involved, including discussion boards for asynchronous communication and live chat features for synchronous communication, then take the place of physical interactions. Online students are represented by their words and the tone perceived within those messages. Melanie Misanchuk and Tiffany Anderson emphasize the importance of discussions within an online classroom and that “without active participation in discussions and other class activities, the learner is not part of the community; indeed, the learner does not even exist.” When students do not feel connected to the class they are likely to become disengaged from the class.
The process of collaboration in any classroom environment provides students with an opportunity to share their beliefs, views, opinions, prior experiences, and knowledge. When adults are encouraged to work together they are provided with an opportunity to examine those beliefs, while working with new information and ideas. Collaborative activities provide a new context and way of thinking as students discover alternative solutions, ideas, outcomes, and knowledge. Throughout these interactions students can discuss their similarities and differences, which in turn will promote knowledge creation. Students become co-creators in the process of learning.
When students are effectively collaborating together they are experiencing an environment that is conducive to an exchange that welcomes and respects diverse viewpoints. The benefits of a collaborative classroom environment also extend to the potential these interactions have to develop productive relationships. Adults that are working together often feel a sense of community with their class and in turn their engagement in the class may improve. Adults who learn to collaborate are likely to have an enhanced relationship with their instructor. They become more receptive to feedback provided and develop a willingness to discuss potential issues and challenges that occur throughout the class. Overall, the use of learning activities that promotes collaboration results in an enhanced learning environment, classroom activities, and working relationships.