Online Collaboration -- and Politeness
I couldn't agree more with Moller, Huett, Foshay, Coleman, and Simonson that collaboration is key in online and distance education. My agreement with the authors is based on my experience in an online environment of nearly 10 years, which began with an intense M.B.A degree and continues today with the Walden Ph.D. program in educational technology. While collaboration among members of the online learning community is pivotal in any program, some of the problems I experienced first-hand in the learning communities, particularly in my pursuit and completion of a master's degree in management this past decade, resulted from some members of the community behaving in ways that were not only non-collegial or disrespectful among some learners in the online community, but they bordered on unacceptable behavior that has no
place in any educational environment.
Posting openly that another learner has no idea what he or she is talking about, or making snide comments in a discussion forum in an embarrassing way about another learner not participating in a collaborative class exercise, is a recipe for collaborative disaster. Obviously, such bad behavior muddies the learning process. Perhaps, I like to think of myself as overly gracious or respectful of fellow classmates, and that any behavior not in lock step with learning is unjustifiable or inexcusable. However, I have witnessed situations in in the online and distance learning communities over the years that simply boggle the mind, if not thwart the learning process. Ally in his article of couirse focused on behavior and the connectedness necessary for a thriving and effective online learning community. Ally also pointed out the importance of cognitivism and constructivism as important and parallel keys for wholesome learning environment. As instructive as these theories are, they don't mean a thing to any learner in the online or distance education community who is bent on disruption in as a means of camouflaging any academic weaknesses -- or, worse -- settling some sort of score because of the ill-advised but misdirected belief that they have been wronged by a system that has served the overall academic community well.
At the risk of sounding condescending, I can honestly say that instances of incivility in the Walden online learning community have been almost non-existent in my nearly five years as a student in the educational technology program. Granted, every once and awhile there is an unfortunate moment of non-colleagial behavior involving one or two students. But for the most part, Walden learners have been commendably gracious to each other in the the virtual classrooms, and such laudatory behavior speaks well of not just the college of Education, but the entire institution.
So, the distance education authors seem to be right on point when they advocate collaboration and a wholesome interactive relationship as important factors in an effective online learning community. While these same online learning and distance education experts have various approaches to online navigational and preparation, they all share the same goal for educational stakeholders: improved student learning. Such goals should be difficult for any member of the learning community to disagree with, including wayward or disruptive learners, who obviously have their own agenda.