Guest Contributor: Melisa ‘Joey’ Bryant, Forsyth Technical Community College (Winston-Salem, North Carolina).

Teaching hardware classes, specifically certification courses, such as an A+ course, can be challenging on the best of days. Not only do we have to concentrate on the requirements of the class, we must also make sure we are covering the certification exam requirements. We can be so focused on these requirements that collaboration between students becomes secondary. Throw in the challenge of an online class and it becomes more difficult still.

At Forsyth Technical Community College, we offer our A+ Hardware and A+ Software classes in multiple formats – seated day class, night hybrid class and fully online class.  One of the challenges we face is how to have the students collaborate in an online setting and how to give them the hands-on work. The hands-on portion is the easy part. We incorporate Cengage Learning’s LabConnection software into the class. The software gives us both study material and online simulations for the students.  The student collaboration is the hard part.

One method we use is the discussion board posts. We have students to research different hardware components and then comment on two others. Two advantages of this type of collaboration is that the students are “talking” to each other and are researching additional hardware. I have noticed a trend that students are quite open with their advice – more open than in the seated class. The anonymity of the online format gives them freedom to explore more options.

As a result, the students have increased their productivity and critical thinking skills. Most students now give me the correct answer and why the other answers are wrong.  There are many ways to collaborate and not all of them are face-to-face. Keep in mind that most students today are communicating via text or social media. Use these tools to generate a sense of teamwork in your online class and you will have a successful class.

How do you encourage collaboration in your classes? What tools and strategies are most effective? Share your ideas in the comments.

Melisa ‘Joey’ Bryant is a Program Coordinator in the Thomas H. Davis iTEC Center at Forsyth Technical Community College. She teaches Basic PC Literacy, Introduction to Computers, Excel and Systems Analysis and Healthcare Business Informatics. Joey obtained her Bachelor of Science in Computer Information Systems and a Masters of Business Administration from High Point University. She also has a Post-Master Certification in Information Technology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In 2008 Joey was named the Outstanding Professional of the Year in IT from Cambridge Who’s Who for her work as a software design and project management consultant. She is also a member of Who’s Who Among Executives, Professionals and Entrepreneurs. Joey has been using Cengage Learning’s SAM: Skills Assessment Manager for some time and is looking forward to helping other instructors in using this product.