Holistic approaches to online collaborative learning design

Recently I attended the 43rd Improving University Teaching Conference held on the Charles Sturt University Port Macquarie campus. As an international conference it attracted representatives from Australia, Scotland, China, South Africa, USA, Canada, Fiji and more….. This was a small and very friendly event and over the three main days I presented on learning design and processes including the Online Learning Model implementation.This post focuses on the ‘Paper presentation’ which was a 45 minute session about the topic of how Web 2.0 supports online learning, focusing on the subject I facilitate INF537 Digital Futures Colloquium and then we had discussion and questions in the room. Here are some essential artefacts to learn from in the meantime. Thanks to Judy O’Connell (Course, Director, Faculty of Arts and Education) for tweeting this out during the session!



When designing online learning consideration should be given to how a community can be built around subject content and learning objectives and how students can interact with the facilitating academic and with each other. The institutional learning management system affords a safe and reliable albeit often less than inspiring space for learning. New digital learning environments using the affordances of Web 2.0 technologies support connected and collaborative pedagogies. Holistic approaches with a focus on multimodal design extends learning into online spaces for improved engagement, provision for response choices (text, audio, video), online publishing and media creation while fostering new pedagogical approaches.

Essential Discussion

This session shared research-based holistic implementation of Web 2.0 tools (tools that allow for multimodal communication, interaction and collaboration as well as online publishing and media creation), or the ‘collaboration web’ (Harasim, 2017) as a design feature for online subjects in higher education. Emerging pedagogies based on participatory and collaborative online learning were examined with current examples of learning space design using Web 2.0 tools shared via the Case Study of INF537 Digital Futures Colloquium. This is the capstone subject at Charles Sturt University as part of the Master of Education degree in Knowledge Networking and Digital Innovation.

These three essential understandings frame the presentation content:

  1. Subject and learning design in conjunction with management of Web 2.0 tools is crucial. There needs to be a pedagogical purpose for each tool and transparency around why and how each tool is implemented. Design must respect student time and workflow, and not all activities may be mandatory.
  2. Teacher presence in conjunction with online agility and flexibility is a key factor. The ideal approach is for academics to be in the online spaces with the students. Teacher presence is the glue that holds this holistic approach together.
  3. Open scholarship in conjunction with networked and digital learning should be the norm when using Web 2.0 tools. Leaving a digital legacy is a goal afforded by Web 2.0 tools. It can be exciting to see where the learning grows and interconnects with others beyond the class (experts, peers etc.).

Web 2.0 has  drawn attention to online social communication and collaboration and the invention and adoption of social networks (Harasim, 2017). The overall instructional design and active facilitation including the selection of effective tools and design of meaningful assignments is the best use of Web 2.0 tools (Koehler, Newby & Ertmer, 2017). According to McLoughlin and Lee (2010), pedagogical change requires knowledge of appropriate teaching methods and awareness of the learner experience while using Web 2.0 technologies and social media.

Veletsianos (2016) believes that sociocultural factors make technologies and practices emergent and that participatory technologies like online social networks and blogging have become an integral part of open scholarship. However, he questions the pedagogical affordances of these sites and what effect online socialisation with peers via social networking sites might have for online learners. Research by Bennett, Bishop, Dalgarno, Waycott and Kennedy (2012) share tensions between Web 2.0 use and educational practice in higher education where more successful outcomes saw alignment between educational and Web 2.0 practices and highlighted the potential learning benefits from effective use through student content creation and sharing. Lock and Johnson (2016) discuss the need for careful consideration of technology to support student completion of collaborative learning tasks and at the higher education level students should be empowered to make those decisions. Kuit and Fell (2010) found that constructivism underpins the use of Web 2.0 technologies, and the role of the academic in this process is pertinent to foster judgement, synthesis, research and collaborative practices.

Case Study

The INF537 Case Study discussion shares a number of Web 2.0 tools used for interaction and collaboration. One of the tools shared is FlipGrid. This is a vital communication and collaboration tool that has recently been bought out by Microsoft. Kudos to FlipGrid creators for their inspiration and we will wait to see what MS does with the tool – so far it has been made FREE to educators but with the implementation of a mandatory password on each Grid. My thoughts about that as an educational imposition will be shared in a subsequent blog post…..Meanwhile you can access the INF537 FlipGrid where students discuss preliminary ideas for their Research Assignment.  Password is INF537-17



Bennett, S., Bishop, A., Dalgarno, B., Waycott, J., & Kennedy, G. (2012). Implementing Web 2.0 technologies in higher education: A collective case study. Computers & Education, 59(2), 524-534.

Harasim, L. (2017). Learning theory and online technologies (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Koehler, A. A., Newby, T. J., & Ertmer, P. A. (2017). Examining the Role of Web 2.0 Tools in Supporting Problem Solving During Case-Based Instruction. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 49(3-4), 182-197.

Kuit, J. A., & Fell, A. (2010). Web 2.0 to pedagogy 2.0: A social-constructivist approach to learning enhanced by technology. In R. Donnelly, J. Harvey, & K. O’Rourke (Eds.), Critical design and effective tools for elearning in higher education: Theory into practice (pp. 310-325). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Lock, J., & Johnson, C. (2017). From Assumptions to Practice: Creating and Supporting Robust Online Collaborative Learning. International Journal on E-Learning, 16(1), 47-66.

Veletsianos, G. (2016). Digital Learning Environments. In N. Rushby & D. Surry (Eds.), Handbook of Learning Technologies (pp. 242-260): Wiley.


Featured image – photo ‘Round droplets on a cobweb in macro’ by Demi Kwant on Unsplash

Contributed by:
Julie Lindsay, Open Pathways Design Leader, uImagine, Division of Learning & Teaching, and Adjunct Lecturer, School of Information Studies, Charles Sturt University

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