Use Shared Templates to Enhance Collaborative Online Learning and Skill Building

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Online learning activities using shared documents to promote collaborative work is one approach that may facilitate student engagement and learning. By creating shared templates for students to complete in groups, students collaborate with classmates to apply learning and ultimately contribute to a shared outcome. While a great deal of academic work is produced independently, this does not necessarily reflect the work environment where employees must collaborate within teams. Whilst group work is important, in graduate school, getting time off to participate may sometimes be a challenge (Martin & Bolliger, 2018), as such students are provided with the option to complete learning activities either synchronously or asynchronously depending on group preferences.

Further to promoting the development of collaborative skills, this strategy supports the development of individual leadership skills, as each week, a student is assigned to lead the activity. Here, their role is to coordinate the logistics of how to approach the work, as well as to facilitate the activity and ensure that the template is completed. Each activity across the term builds on the next and in the end, students will have solved a problem that they collectively identified at the start of the semester. After completing all the templates, students can collate these to create a final presentation showcasing their work.

The development of this approach to collaborative online learning activities was informed by Garrison et al.’s (2000) Community of Inquiry model. This model highlights that the creation of a meaningful learning experience involves the development and interaction of three forms of presence within the online learning environment, including cognitive, social, and teaching presence (Garrison et al., 2000). Cognitive presence involves the student’s ability to create meaning through communication and interaction with course content (Garrison et al., 2000). According to Moore (1993), student-to-content engagement contributes to changes in student perspectives and understanding. Using shared templates that reflect real-world application of projects allows students to interact with content and engage in authentic learning opportunities (Britt, 2015). Social presence occurs when students can connect authentically with others (Garrison et al., 2000). Providing students with opportunities to work collaboratively with group members using shared templates facilitates engagement and interaction with classmates. Finally, teaching presence involves connection with the instructor through facilitation and the overall course design (Garrison et al., 2000). Teaching presence is promoted by introducing the learning activities during the weekly introduction video and by reviewing shared templates upon completion of each activity, providing students with formative feedback throughout the term.

Link to Example artifact(s)

In a graduate level course focused on planning health related programs, students were invited to sign up for a learning pod comprised of five students using the Canvas self-sign-up tool. There were five learning activities over the semester which provided each student with the opportunity to lead one activity of their choosing. Learning pod leadership included coordinating how the learning activity would be completed (e.g., synchronously or asynchronously), as well as facilitating the activity and ensuring that the shared learning template was complete.

Learning activities were guided by shared Office 365 templates available through the Collaborations Tool in Canvas. During the first learning activity, students started by identifying a health or healthcare related problem. Allowing students to select a topic of interest to focus on throughout the term ensured that they would find relevance and meaning in the work. The first activity involved analyzing the problem using a shared Fishbone diagram template to understand the modifiable causes of the problem. Over the course of the semester, students worked on bi-weekly activities related to the identified problem, including creating a logic model, identifying, and developing a solution to the problem, along with the creation of implementation and knowledge translation plans. The learning activity templates were collated into a final presentation which was shared with the class through the uploading of an asynchronous recording.  

Collaborative learning activities were evaluated using a brief midterm check-in survey. Students highlighted how learning activities allowed them to practice skills and apply theory that was taught during lectures. The ability to connect with colleagues and collaborate were also noted as positive outcomes. While learning activities were not included in the final course evaluation, students rated the course highly and noted that it was very engaging overall.

These learning activities were used in a graduate level health professions course, however this strategy, including the use of shared templates can be used to facilitate the application of theory to practice, as well as collaboration and group work in any online course. Moreover, while the students were focused on solving healthcare related problems, this collaborative approach could be used to promote problem solving in any discipline.

Learning Activity Artifact: Logic Model Template

Learning Activity Artifact: Knowledge Translation Strategy Template

Artifact: Final presentation description and guidelines

Student comments suggest that they dedicate a lot of time and effort to these learning activities, as such, ensure that they receive appropriate grade weighting for this work.

Provide an outline of the various learning activities at the start of the term so that students can elect to lead an activity of interest.

Consider staggering learning activity due dates with other course assignment due dates to avoid placing additional burden on the group lead.

Link to scholarly reference(s)

Bond, M., Buntins, K., Bedenlier, S., Zawacki-Richter, O., & Kerres, M. (2020). Mapping research in student engagement and educational technology in higher education: A systematic evidence map. International journal of educational technology in higher education17(1), 1-30.

Britt, M. (2015). How to better engage online students with online strategies. College Student Journal, 49(3), 399-404.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education model. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2–3), 87–105.

Martin, F., & Bolliger, D. U. (2018). Engagement matters: Student perceptions on the importance of engagement strategies in the online learning environment. Online Learning22(1), 205-222.

Moore, M. J. (1993). Three types of interaction. In K. Harry, M. John, & D. Keegan (Eds.), Distance education theory (pp. 19–24). Routledge.

University of Wisconsin-Madison (2016). Logic Model Template.


Thomson, H. (2023). Enhance Collaborative Online Learning and Skill Building with Learning Activities Using Shared Templates. In deNoyelles, A., Bauer, S., & Wyatt, S. (Eds.), Teaching Online Pedagogical Repository. Orlando, FL: University of Central Florida Center for Distributed Learning.