How should online communities be designed to enable collaborative learning? This is one of the questions posed by the CityGo project, which aims to develop and test new digital learning formats. The participating universities from Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Portugal, Greece and Germany want to incorporate the latest experiences with digital learning from the pandemic. The research project started with a literature review to develop an online survey for students. A total of 330 students from the participating universities took part in the survey (cf. Figure 1).

Figure 1: Breakdown of participants in the Student Survey by country (n=330)

On the one hand, almost half of the students stated that they had already had good experiences with online learning in the recent past. The advantages are, apart from the elimination of sometimes long journeys, especially for theoretical teaching topics. Illustrations can be better displayed on one’s own computer and recordings of the course can also be viewed afterwards, according to individual feedback from the online survey. There are also good experiences resulting from the use of various tools:

„The biggest contribution of this online learning experience was that our lecturer used different techniques/ways of learning – besides learning were used also: audiovisual materials, whiteboard tools and MS Office tools as well. Last but not least, we were also asked to use chat, ‚raise hand‘ option in MS Teams etc. Simply Said, it was a complete set of methods for learning online“

On the other hand, the feedback also showed that active collaboration with other students took place only little or hardly at all for about 40% of the respondents.  Reflection on one’s own learning process occurs only slightly or rarely for the majority of respondents (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: “As part of the online teaching, I was asked to reflect on my own learning progress.“ (n=330; 1 = rarely, 4=often)

Just under 88% consider small groups of up to four people to be the optimal group size. Group sizes of 5-10 or even larger are considered not optimal (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: „Which of the digital collaborations enables ou to work on a specific task at ease?“ (n=330)

What is most demotivating and what could be done better?

The answers to the open question about demotivating elements in online teaching include lack of contact, events that are too long, teachers’ poor media skills and boring content.
When asked what students in the teaching role would do differently to better motivate participants to participate, there were 230 responses. The increased use of videos, interactive games, quizzes after shorter learning units are some examples.
Furthermore, the students reflected on the behavioural patterns they felt were necessary for participants in online learning communities. Responsibility, active participation, asking questions and treating each other with respect are frequently mentioned recommendations.
The CityGo project intends to address precisely these problems with the learning communities approach.
The results of the online survey are supplemented by 30 interviews with teachers. The evaluation of the feedback will be used to create guidelines for teachers and learners in the context of online communities.

Maik Jepsen, Europa Universität Flensburg