Designing for Online Collaboration with Differently-Abled Learners

Online Learning provides multiple avenues for students to "show" what they know and receive support, ideas, feedback, and encouragement.


When designing for online collaborative learning projects with differently-abled students consider:


  • Is the project complex enough to encompass a wide variety of information?

    • This will ensure that there are different types of opportunities for differently skilled students.
    • Try to design for true interdependence--where the product of the whole group will result in a better outcome than if the "most talented" person in the group had simply done it him/herself.
    • Try to design for independence--where the major contributions of individuals are visible and separate from the whole so a person's final grade isn't solely tied to the collective effort.


  • Is the project structured enough so everyone can find a place for success without stepping on toes?

    • If there is individual and group accountability separately assessed, highly skilled students won't feel they need to "take over" other student's work in order to ensure a good grade. 
    • Integrate self and peer assessment opportunities so that everyone has a "voice" in shaping your final evaluation of their work?
    • Make sure everyone knows up front that they are going to be assessed, in part, on how well they collaborate with their team.



  • Is there enough time in your design to ensure student's can get the support they need to contribute meaningfully?

    • Students should be able to use outside resources, building a weekend into a project might afford some more support opportunities for learners with limited means or abilities in some area.


  • Will students easily be able to access the work outside of your classroom?

    • Imagine how frustrating it would be if they couldn't remember how to log in and complete a project once they get the help or time they need to do the work. How will you structure the assignment so all students can remember how to get back in again when they are away from school?


  • Will student contributions be "protected" and "safe?"

    • Choose your providers carefully. Some collaborative tools provide lots of protection for students (like PB Works and Storybird) and others are a bit loose (like Glogster.)


  • Will the technology learning needs overwhelm the intended learning objectives?

    • Are students going to spend so much time trying to figure out how to contribute that they can't spend any time trying to learn the actual content? That wouldn't be ideal. Create choice for those students where technology is not their friend.


Consider options for Example Online Tools.


Learn more about developing assessments for collaborative online learning at this SLOAN November 2011 Conference presentation site: Online Cooperative Learning Assessments  

This video shows how you can see who has done what in a collaborative MindMeister.


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Here is another Social Studies MindMeister Example 


This video shows how to set up your pbworks wiki to be safe and provide notification at intervals you choose.


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Learn how to build your own PBWorks Wiki at WikiStepbyStep.