Collaboration and Peer Communication

Collaborating and communicating in a face to face classroom is second nature to most of us but meaningful student to student to communication and collaboration in an online environment requires more planning and thought. For group projects students may be able to work out a collaboration method themselves but they would benefit from some structure and guidance. An online discussion can be quite engaging and meaningful but it won’t happen organically just by having an open forum on a Moodle site. Consider the following suggestions when thinking about how you want your students to work together:

  • Establish clear roles and responsibilities for group work
  • Suggest and explain technologies for collaboration, don’t assume everyone knows how to share and collaborate with One Drive, Google docs etc
  • Provide support/help with technologies they will need to use – maybe use a peer support forum
  • Link asynchronous and synchronous class components to make sure they are meaningful and relevant. For example students may post a reading reflection to a Moodle discussion board which you could then refer to and discuss in a synchronous session, then, follow up again asynchronously.

Synchronous sessions can provide valuable opportunities for students to work collaboratively and apply their understanding of course content. 

However, in order to maximize the value of synchronous class time, it is important to structure your sessions to facilitate peer communication and collaboration. Below, find tips for optimizing your synchronous session.

General tips for engaging students in synchronous collaboration and communication:

  • Collect information from students before class: 
    • Send a quick email or survey a day or two before class asking students about their experiences or opinions related to the session topic.
    • This information will help you plan appropriate questions and materials.
    • It will also show students you are interested in what they have to say and help spur class discussion.  
  • Prepare your students to engage fully during class: 
  • Plan your learning objectives: 
    • Synchronous sessions should be fully embedded in the flow of your course. 
    • When you plan a synchronous session, frame your objectives in terms of what students should know and be able to do at the beginning of the session, during the session, and after. 
  • Do a quick social check-in at the beginning of class: 
    • Instead of leaving an awkward silence while students are arriving, use the opportunity to chat. Just as in a physical classroom, some chitchat helps to break down social barriers while creating the expectation of interaction. You might consider pre-loading a slide that features a current event, cartoon, meme, or trivia question to spark conversation in the minutes before class begins.
  • Use synchronous sessions as consultations:
    • If it suits your topic, rather than using synchronous sessions for didactic purposes, have students bring challenging dilemmas or problems and get the group’s input and advice. This can be particularly effective in project-based courses.

Additional best practices for Planning an Online Synchronous Session and Teaching an Online Synchronous Session.

(Source: Boston College Center for Teaching Excellence and Faculty Focus)

Synchronous methods:

1. Video conference 

2. Live chat

3. Voice calls are a low tech option

Asynchronous Collaboration and Peer Communication

Moodle discussion forums

Engaging online discussions don’t often happen by themselves. By structuring the discussion, using questions or prompts, and setting clear expectations, you can build an engaging and meaningful experience for your students.

Suggestions for a successful online discussion:

Consider using a Moodle Q&A forum:

  • Unlike the standard forum, a Q&A forum requires students to post their response to a question or prompt before viewing other students’ responses.
  • You can use a Q&A forum to have students:
    • respond to a reading, 
    • hold an online debate-  students post their positions, read their other side, then post rebuttals
    • post a story, performance, etc. and have students comment on each other’s work

Other Moodle activities that encourage students to work together as a whole class or in groups:

Moodle Wiki

A wiki is a collection of collaboratively authored web documents. Basically, a wiki page is a web page everyone in your class can create together, right in the browser, without needing to know HTML.  The entire class can edit a document together, creating a class product, or each student can have their own wiki, visible only to them and their teacher.

Moodle Database

The database activity module allows the teacher and/or students to build, display and search a bank of record entries about any conceivable topic. The format and structure of these entries can be almost unlimited, including images, files, URLs, numbers and text amongst other things.

Moodle Workshop activity

Workshop is a powerful peer assessment activity. Students submit their own work and then receive a number of submissions from other students which they must assess according to the teacher’s specifications. They may also assess their own work if the teacher requests this.

Moodle Glossary

The glossary activity module allows participants to create and maintain a list of definitions, like a dictionary. A glossary can be a collaborative activity or be restricted to entries made by the teacher. Entries can be put in categories. The auto-linking feature will highlight any word in the course which is located in the glossary.

Collaboratively comment on, and discuss pdf files and web pages with

Overview of using can be used to add notes and annotations to pdf documents (within and outside of Moodle) and web pages. Rather than having a conversation in a separate discussion forum allows students to discuss ideas and collaborate right on the document itself.

Document Sharing and Collaborative Editing:

Use Microsoft OneDrive or Microsoft Teams to share documents and other files and facilitate collaborative editing. 

  • Once a document has been created and shared, students can easily add comments, make edits, and write collaboratively.
  • When you assign a group project or peer review activity, ask your students to collaborate using one of these tools. 
  • Alternative tool: Google Docs