Promoting collaboration is a highly effective teaching strategy, and student-to-student interaction is a foundation of successful online courses. Many online instructors want to encourage interaction among students but find it challenging to bring collaboration into a fully online environment. Nevertheless, by keeping general best practices for collaboration and group work in mind and considering the opportunities and barriers posed by technology, online courses can be interactive, collaborative, and engaging.

Best Practices

  • Start with the technology that is already in the learning management system. Discussion boards, conferences, and chatting or messaging can be easily accessed and used by all students.
  • Be specific about what types of interaction you expect. For example, when assigning a discussion post, explain clearly what students should include in both the initial post and any responses to classmates.
  • Consider synchronous sessions like conferences, but also consider what challenges those will pose for students. Are all students in the same time zone? What will you do for a student who cannot attend a synchronous session?
  • First decide what students need to do and how they need to interact to achieve the learning goals for the course. Then find technology that allows them to do what they need.
  • Ensure that any technology students use to collaborate is accessible and useable. Provide tutorials for tools that students may not be familiar with. Consider a practice assignment to allow students to learn to use a complicated or unfamiliar tool and have a plan for when technology fails.
  • Keep groups small. Managing communication between large groups of students online can be a challenge, so keep group sizes small so everyone can participate and follow the conversation [1].


  • An instructor receives feedback from students that the material in his lectures is difficult to comprehend, so he starts a group document and allows students to collaboratively take notes. Students can add to and edit the notes, and the instructor periodically corrects any inaccuracies.
  • An instructor assigns a paper and asks students to trade and edit a partner’s paper. They are graded on the initial draft, the feedback they provide to their peer, and how well they incorporate the feedback into their revisions.
  • An instructor divided students into working pairs to solve a problem. The instructor used a conferencing tool and divided groups into breakout rooms. They then switched between the “rooms” to provide help and encouragement [1].
  • An instructor asks students to use a collaborative presentation tool to showcase what they learned in a group project. Students contribute images and text and can leave audio or video comments on what their group members add.
  • An instructor creates a community space on a social media platform and asks students to participate by sharing content relevant to the course.

References and Additional Resources


[1] Stockleben et al., 2017. Educational Information Technology. “Towards a framework for creative online collaboration: A research on challenges and context

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