Collaboration in an Asynchronous World

In my post last week, I explored the different ways I have worked to build relationships and community in an online learning environment. Opportunities for student collaboration are a key factor in building and maintaining relationships among students and teachers. A challenge in an asynchronous online class is that collaborative activities are often more difficult to organize and manage. Expectations and guidelines must be set in advance and teachers do not have the ability to shift an activity in a different direction if they find it to be unsuccessful. Instead, they have to try something different with the next activity.

In the A.W. (Tony) Bates text “Teaching in a Digital Age”, Section 4.4 – Online collaborative learning, specific design principles are introduced that have been associated with successful online discussion. Many of these practices are important to incorporate in any student collaboration online. For example:

  • appropriate technology (choosing the right tool for your intended goal);
  • clear guidelines on online student behaviour (being respectful in comments or discussions);
  • student orientation and preparation (make sure the students know what to do!);
  • clear goals (that are understood by students);
  • clearly defining learner roles and expectations (determining the frequency of comments, for example);
  • regular, ongoing instructor ‘presence’ (how will you monitor the activity?).

Student Interaction and Collaboration Ideas

In my course, “Exploring the Elements of Art: Grade 3 Arts Education Unit“, I have a few ideas that could be incorporated to encourage student interactions and collaboration. It is important that I consider the parameters of my course, as it is for younger students in an online, asynchronous environment.

  1. Seesaw Blogs – to share student artwork with classmates in a safe, teacher-moderated and password protected blog.
  2. Google Jamboard – to share student artwork.
  3. See Think Wonder – as a framework to support group or breakout room discussion in online meets (although not part of the asynchronous model of my course, it is a possible extension activity if online meetings are offered).

Seesaw Blogs

As my course activities are posted on Seesaw, using the blog feature would be a great way to share student artwork and allow students to comment and reflect on other classmate work. A note – check with your Seesaw division administrator, as this feature may not be activated with your division accounts. In Arts Education, self-reflection and critical response to artwork are all part of the curriculum and learning process. Learning how to provide a useful comment, like using the TAG Method is also building our learner’s 21st century digital literacy skills as they think about what they post online. Furthermore, this tool works great in an asynchronous environment as students can post at any time. To be successful, I would ask students to post one piece of their artwork per week and expect students to write at least 2 quality comments on other student work. Teachers can monitor and approve comments before they are posted, so it is an excellent opportunity to teach good comment expectations.

Google Jamboard

I have tried using Jamboard on many occasions with my students, and through trial and error I have found that there needs to be a lot of guidelines and instruction before students use the tool. For example, setting the expectation of what is appropriate to put on the Jamboard (to avoid the random scribbles and unnecessary pictures and comments) and the teacher frequently monitoring the board. For this collaborative activity, I would place students in small groups of about 4 students. Each group would have their own Jamboard with multiple pages/boards with different student artwork from that group on each page. The expectation would be for each student to use the sticky note to write a quality comment about each piece of student artwork. I like the idea of keeping the groups small, because then you can make sure that every student receives the same number of comments and it will likely be easier to manage from a teacher perspective. I imagine it would look something like this:

See Think Wonder

This activity was suggested to me by Erin as “Think Notice Wonder”, and this is a similar version of the thinking routine. This blog post gives great examples of how to incorporate the routine in many different subjects. It would also be a great tool as an assessment piece in a Seesaw activity examining artwork, but we will save assessment for another post! Although my course is asynchronous, this could be used as an enrichment activity if you host online meetings for your students.

As a collaborative activity in an online meeting, it would be fun to use this routine to look at different artist work (either professional artists or student work). Students could be in breakout rooms (if your meeting platform supports breakout rooms), or in smaller group meetings. Teacher presence at different points during the process would be beneficial to keep students on task, but I think letting students be on their own (similar to group work in a physical classroom) would allow for meaningful student connections to develop.

To facilitate the process, I would do an example with the whole group to demonstrate the process, then I would allow students to repeat the process with different artwork in smaller groups. They could collaborate in a shared Google Document or Jamboard to answer the questions together. The opportunity for real-time discussion would hopefully allow for deeper connections and understanding of the artwork. In particular, it would help meet the Critical/Responsive curriculum outcome of responding to arts expressions.

What is the Goal?

Bates explains that in designing quality interactions online, it is important to have clear goals for yourself and students in any activities that involve collaboration. Is the purpose to build community? Deepen learning connections? Meet curriculum objectives? All of the above? Whatever you decide to do, be intentional with your activities and have clear guidelines for students.

I would love to know if you have used any of these strategies in your own classroom! What worked? What would you change?

Until next time,



9 thoughts on “Collaboration in an Asynchronous World

  1. Hi Catherine!
    Thanks for sharing your tips and tricks on how to guide commenting. I really like your TAG acronym as it would be a quick reference to promote more meaningful and insightful commenting. My course I chose to design is also in the subject area of art which has allowed me to incorporate plenty of interactions because of the exact reason you stated, “Arts Education, self-reflection and critical response to artwork are all part of the curriculum and learning process.” With this, I’ve relied on my LMS and its capabilities to interact. Do you keep your Seesaw on blog mode all year? Or do you change the settings depending on the topic? I was always hesitant to open it to allow students ‘like’ and comment on each other’s posts at that age level, but looking back wish I would have for certain activities.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leah! Thanks for the comment. I haven’t checked out your course yet, so I would love to learn more and get some ideas for my own course! My division does not allow the Seesaw blog feature, so it was more a suggestion because I think it would be an excellent (and safe!) way to introduce blogging and commenting with students. But, I think I would maybe change the settings depending on what we are doing so it doesn’t become a free for all, but more so an intentional way to practice peer review and commenting. But maybe once students get the hang of it you could make it a weekly routine? Unfortunately I won’t have the opportunity to try it out myself, but I imagine that is how I would use it!


  2. Thanks Catherine, I like your shirt. – Always start with a compliment…the more and more I use seesaw, the more I like it. It’s functional for students (both readers and non-readers) teachers and parents. Over the past few years, I’ve seen how it’s changed and adapted to make things so much easier for communication between home and the classroom. I’ve never been on the teacher end of the LMS but I would assume it’s fairly simple to navigate? Once things slow – whenever that might be- I’ll have to give it a try and see if it’s something I can use in my world! Thanks! Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Darcy! Seesaw is very user friendly and easy to navigate for teachers! I especially like the ability to use folders, schedule activities and archive old activities. There are lots of features that make it a simple and organized tool for everyone (teachers, students and families). One thing I hope they add is direct student to teacher messaging, since right now you can only send out whole class announcements or private messages to individual connected families.


  3. Hi Catherine. I appreciate your early elementary view as it helps me to get a better sense of what digital learning can look like for younger students and allows me to support teachers in my building better. I have never seen the SeeSaw blog option in full effect so I would be curious as to how that works. I love the idea of younger students sharing ideas and feedback with others as they usually are genuine and truly love to help each other out. I also enjoyed your perspective on the chaos of Jamboard. It seems like no matter how much work goes into preparing students for that type of space there will always be some who just can’t help themselves. I liked your idea of placing smaller groups of students in one particular Jamboard space, which likely simplifies the management of behaviour. Great read, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Devin! My one general comment in teaching online has been the relief of dealing with day to day classroom management. But, then I think of the Jamboard issues, and it’s just classroom management but on a different level! I hope that smaller groups alleviate these issues. I hope to try it in a few weeks with my students!


  4. Hi Catherine, I loved the two methods you shared, “See, Think Wonder” and TAG. Those seem like two great teaching approaches that would set clear guidelines for student interactions online. I love seesaw, the more I use it in my classroom the more I see the benefits of using it as a LMS. I have not used the blog feature, but I am planning on it this year. Reflecting on my classroom dynamics this year I do think a clear guideline such as TAG would allow students to interact in more meaningful ways. Without a guideline I wonder if students would struggle to comment on each others blogs or if you would have the same students doing all of the commenting. Just a thought!


  5. Catherine, thanks for sharing your TAG acronym. I think that this would be a useful tool to implement in the classroom, and it is a good reference for students and other teachers. I like how you wrote about giving meaningful feedback, and some of the ways that you do it. I also like the idea of getting students to learn how to give meaningful feedback in their younger years, so they have a lot of time to practice before they get into situations where they need to use it. Giving good feedback doesn’t always have to be positive, but I like how you said to start with a compliment or something that they liked about it. That way, students know that they don’t always have to be 100% praising or positive to let others know of something they would have changed, done differently, or a different way to look at things.


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