Collaborative Learning in Times of Remote Instruction

Categories: GSI Online LibraryTeaching Effectiveness Award Essays

by Jonas Teupert, German

Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2020

In my Advanced German courses, students learn about German culture and improve their writing and discussion competencies. The combination of content and language instruction overcomes curricular bifurcation and can increase learning effectiveness. Ideal for this approach are collaborative group projects, which demand a complex skill set ranging from the use of grammar to communicative abilities and creativity. Students support each other in the process and engage in real-world tasks with an overarching goal. Theater projects, for example, allow students to use their imagination in collective interpretations of literary texts. At the same time, they speak German to communicate about the play and negotiate the meaning of the text.

Under the closure of campus and the switch to remote instruction, such projects require an adaptation to the learning environment as students are not physically present in the classroom. Grappling with this problem, I remembered a digital teaching method that I previously designed in a class on German Popular Culture. In this class, students created an online blog with WordPress: My goal with the blog was to orient the students toward a shared final product, to motivate them, and to include diverse proficiency levels and learner types in the process. The method follows three stages, the first of which consists in preparatory work. Students can choose different layouts and names for the blog and vote on one version for shared use, giving those with advanced IT skills a chance to shine. In the next stage, everyone works on individual posts, engages with course material, and applies it creatively. The students for example rewrote literary texts or drew on the course readings to comment on cultural phenomena. The digital nature of the blog further allowed students to link their posts with other websites and to upload multimedia content. One student even made a video that illustrated a commentary on the current trend of boasted boards.

The third stage of the method is the most collaborative. In order to highlight the process character of writing, I ask my students to give constructive peer feedback to each other and correct grammatical mistakes. The students enjoyed editing each other’s texts and improving their own posts’ language and content. Besides, peer-review provides the chance to engage in other students’ work in a communicative setting. Since I wanted to do justice to each individual’s learning progress, I evaluated two drafts and a final version, which together make up one writing grade. Over the course of several blog posts, the students showed significant improvement in their writing and their understanding of the material. While the material was still discussed in regular class sessions, the students chose which area to deepen based on prior knowledge and interests.

In a mid-semester evaluation, the students expressed their excitement about the blog method. Most significantly, they found it motivating that their writing would be published online; that they got insights into other people’s projects; and that they improved their writing in an interactive setting. One student summarizes: “I have enjoyed writing the posts and also reading other students’ blogs. I feel that I have learned a lot about writing through these assignments and I am learning about current events and media, which has been very interesting. These are fun and creative assignments and it has been nice to be able to pick our own topics!” In this sense, the blog method both facilitates remote instruction and makes collaboration an enriching learning experience.