Unit 2 Communication and Collaboration

Overview and Objectives | Required Activities | Optional Activities | Commentary | Study Questions | References

Overview and Objectives

Communication and collaboration are important to learners. This should be possible and easy, and for the most part, students should be able to choose whether to engage with others or not, even though it is known that this kind of engagement tends to greatly enrich learning. This can be accomplished online using

  • the News forum (the News forum is for tutors and administrators to send messages, which appear on the upper left in the Latest News block of the course homepage).
  • Course Mail (under Course Communication on the course homepage).
  • messaging (click on Participants in the People block of the course homepage to send a message to an individual.).
  • discussion forums (under Course Communication on the course homepage: may also appear under individual unit headings).
  • student-created glossaries (under Resources on the course homepage).
  • blogs (on the left side of the course homepage; for help go to http://www.athabascau.ca/moodletrain/blog.htm).
  • wikis (under the Unit 2 heading on the course homepage: for help go to http://www.athabascau.ca/moodletrain/wiki.htm).
  • sign-up sheets (under the Unit 2 heading on the course homepage).
  • and so on.
Moodle is rich in this kind of tool, which can also be used for required assignments. Again, you can offer students a few options even in required assessment activities .

In this unit, you will

  • become familiar with the communication and collaboration tools in Moodle.
  • try out some of these tools.
  • consider how they might be used in teaching your course.

Required Activities

  • Read these notes for Unit 2.
  • Go to the course home page (click on the Jump to... menu on the upper right of this page to navigate to other parts of this guide) and try out the News forum, Course Mail, messaging, Course Discussion Forum, Student-created Glossary of Key Terms, the blog, Wiki, and Sign-up Sheet. Feel free to click, add, explore.
As you complete the Unit 2 activities, consider the following questions (you may want to write about your ideas in the blog, wiki, or discussion forum for this course; please share any links you have found useful):
  1. Would students in the course I am planning benefit from one assignment for credit that requires participation in a discussion forum, blog, or wiki?
  2. Would a student-created glossary be an appropriate optional activity to help students learn key terms and concepts?
  3. Do I know of other ways to foster an online community of inquiry that I can bring to the course team?

Optional Activities




Self-Paced Individualized Study

It is well established that collaborative and social components are important both to learning and to student satisfaction and retention. The majority of the more than 700 AU undergraduate courses are offered as self-paced individualized study packages on a continuous enrolment basis. Students can start at the beginning of any month, and typically enter a 6-month contract for a 3-credit course. This model serves the busy adult learner well, but it does present challenges to the creation of the important social components of online courses.

Planned Interaction

No matter what the delivery medium, engaging learners is especially important for distance education, even more so for self-paced individualized study where the learner does not have a distinct cohort for support. This means fostering:

  • Learner–tutor interaction
  • Learner–learner interaction
  • Learner–content interaction
  • Learner–self interaction (reflection/metacognition)

The learner–tutor interaction is built into AU's delivery system. Tutors are available to learners in well-defined modes and time slots. As a course designer, you can plan certain aspects of this interaction through the assignments and quizzes. The level of clarity or difficulty of certain parts of the course will affect the amount and kind of learner–tutor interaction likely to occur. You can consciously take these factors into account in your course design and plan for positive learner–tutor interactions around your course content.

Where possible, online courses should encourage communities of inquiry through discussion forums, student peer review, collaborative and co-operative learning, or other student-to-student or student-tutor-student interactions. Most learners find the addition of opportunities for social interaction welcome, but these do not in themselves create a community of inquiry or deepen learning. At the same time, we recognize that some courses, particularly non-paced courses that have new enrolments every month and individual learning schedules, do not readily lend themselves to student interaction. This is an opportunity for innovation. For example, a well-designed discussion forum, wiki, or blog that requires structured responses and multiple postings could replace one traditional assignment as an assessment tool. The entries accumulate over the life of the course, giving students a sense of connection to the other learners as they add their contribution. Feel free to contact the learning designer or instructional media analyst (IMA) assigned to your course team to work together on generating ideas.

Important: if you create an assignment that depends on online access, you should create an alternative one that does not.

The online environment allows for learner–content interaction in addition to the relationship of reader to text. Active learning requires the learner to respond to the content. This is to some extent always present on a trivial level online where the learner must click the mouse to navigate. Interactive practice quizzes and learning objects such as the student-created glossary can provide an opportunity for the learner to become engaged with the content in nonlinear interactions that engage the ear and eye in ways that text alone does not. Assignments can also be designed to send learners into their physical surroundings, to visit places and people in their communities, or to interact with objects that engage touch, smell, and other senses. An obvious example in the sciences is the home lab kit, but innovative assignments in other disciplines can provide similar kinds of learner engagement and stimulation.

Learner–self interaction should especially be encouraged in self-paced environments where interaction with other learners may be difficult or even undesirable. Students can be encouraged to keep online journals (blogs) about their learning trajectory as a learning activity or as an assignment for credit.

Study Questions

  1. What communication and collaboration tools are available to use in AU online courses?
  2. What challenges does the most common model for AU undergraduate course delivery present?
  3. What kinds of interaction should I encourage in my course?


Dron, J. (2007). Control and constraint in e-learning: Choosing when to choose. Hershey, PA: Idea Group Publishing.


Last modified: Wednesday, 10 October 2012, 1:18 PM MDT