Promoting Peer Interaction

This section of the guide focuses on cooperation and participation among students and faculty in an online course. It is primarily focused on peer collaboration.

How to facilitate student collaboration and participation:

  • Peer interaction requires a lot of support and guidance from the instructor.
  • Clear guidelines regarding amount of time to spend with peers, relationship to the course objectives, and course expectations really make this a positive experience for both students and instructors (Ruberg et al., 1996).

Encouraging active participation among students is not an easy process but is an important method for creating community and active learning online (Millis, B., n.d.).

How to promote productive interaction

  • Always make sure that you are meeting course objectives.  Students resent busy work and need to know that their participation is important for their learning.
  • Instructors need to model the skills they are asking students to use.
  • Modeling cooperation, mutual respect, group interactions, reflection and feedback are important skills for establishing group success.
  • “Netiquette”
  • Structure activities that will enhance group cohesiveness and interaction.  Assign small group projects and icebreaking exercises to promote group cohesion.

How to help students from becoming overwhelmed in a group

  • Keep the group size small (3 to 5 students; 4 is “ideal” for groups working on a deliverable project; a slightly larger group size of  6 to 9 students is fine if the group is only having group discussions).
  • Encourage individual accountability by asking the group to assign functions like group secretary, moderator or specific roles in a project.
  • Help students find ways to interact outside of “class time”.
  • Heterogeneous groups seem to function better.  People will automatically take on the roles necessary for the group to function.
  • Groups can be assigned in many ways.  Random selection or based on a specialty area etc.  Allowing students to self-select into a group can be time consuming and may not be the best way to meet the objectives of the course
  • Groups need the time to establish a connection before they can work on group assignments.

How to maintain balance in a group

  • Be very clear with your instructions on the purpose, time commitment, deliverable for each group.
  • Set up a non-competitive atmosphere and make sure that the students understand how they will be graded for this experience or assignment.  See Developing Rubrics.
  • Provide students with a sense of closure when the course is finished and a way to share their experience.
  • Be flexible.  Problems always arise when you least expect them.  Plan ahead but be ready to change plans if things change.

Resources and Tools/Strategies for online student collaboration:

Examples of small group formats are:

  • Discussion group or forum: allows the learner to reflect on a subject under discussion and present their views learning from the rest of the group in the process.  This is more than “chat” and often involves other techniques of active learning.  An instructor or another student can take turns moderating discussion groups.
  • The panel or symposium: is usually a group of three to six people who have a purposeful conversation on a topic in which they have specialized knowledge. These discussions may be formal or informal with or without audience participation.  Panel discussions are often accomplished online via synchronous meeting platforms or asynchronous discussion threads.
  • Guided design: encourages interaction and processing of content in order to develop learners’ decision-making skills. Participants work to solve open-ended problems, which require integrating work from outside course. The instructor’s role is to act as a consultant to the groups.
  • Role-playing: involves recreating a situation relevant to a real-life problem in which participants act out various roles. This promotes an understanding of other people’s roles, attitudes, values and helpful ways to diagnose and solve problems.   The use of synchronous and asynchronous discussions is useful in an online format.
  • Games: require competition between two or more groups to meet a set of objectives. The game follows a set of rules and procedures and information is provided to promote decision-making.  Most instructional games reflect typical real-life situations.  Another example is a “Jeopardy”-type quiz created in PowerPoint that can be used for testing or study within an online group.



Bart, M. (2009, December 14). How wikis streamline student collaboration projects.  Faculty Focus, available online.


Millis, B. (n.d.) Managing—and motivating!—distance learning group activities. Takoma Park, MD: The TLT Group. Available online.

Parker, K. R. & Chao, J.T. (2007). Wiki as a teaching tool.  Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, Vol 3, 57-72. Available online.

Ruberg, L. F., Moore, D. M., & Taylor, C. D. (1996).  Student participation, interaction, and regulation in a computer-mediated communication environment: a qualitative study. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 14(3), 243–268.