The Design and Development of a Theory Driven Process for the Creation of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning in an Online Environment
By Aprille Noe Black
Educators are struggling to meet the ever-increasing challenges of preparing students to meet the demands of a global society. The importance of collaboration and social interaction in online education has been well documented (Berge, 1998; Brown, Collins& Duguid, 1989, Fulford &Zhang, 1993; Gunawardena & McIssac, 2003; Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Kearsley & Schneiderman, 1999; Sardamalia & Bereiter, 1994). Teachers and instructional designers are struggling to change the academic environment to meet the needs of millennial learners. The purpose of this study is to develop a theory driven process for designing computer-supported collaborative learning in an online environment. A careful analysis of the process for creating collaborative online instruction is conducted and a design strategy for the process is developed. The study provides suggested guidelines for practitioners to create collaborative online instruction. The design procedures emphasize social interaction to allow learners opportunities to explore, discover, and negotiate meaning in an authentic context. Online instruction requires the coupling of multiple areas of expertise to be successful. Although the pedagogical principles are the same, the global implications of “flat world” technology require an important weaving of collaborative interaction, graphic design, and pedagogy. Technology provides the transportation for achieving a collaborative environment; and, quality pedagogical practices provide the GPS (guidance positioning system) to direct collaborative instruction to its ultimate destination— knowledge building.
Computer-supported collaborative learning
Based on the work of Koschmann (2002), CSCL focuses on meaning and the practice of making meaning in the context of joint activity, “and the ways in which these practices are mediated through designed artifacts” (p.18). CSCL focuses on both the cognitive processes of group participants through social interaction, as well as the learning events that occur during the interaction.
Collaboration is a coordinated activity where learning occurs as part of the social group dialogue. The activities are not individual-learning activities, but group interactions of negotiations and sharing (Roschelle & Teasley, 1995; Stahl, Koschmann & Suthers, 2006). Collaborative learning involves individuals as group members, but also involves phenomena like the negotiation and sharing of meanings—including the construction and maintenance of shared conceptions of tasks—that are accomplished interactively in group processes (Stahl, Koschmann, & Suthers, 2006, p. 411).
The design of distance education must take into account the following factors: the teaching method, the media attributes, and the delivery mode (Head, Lockee, & Oliver, 2002). Harasim (1997) indicates that the design of online instruction should include student participation in group activities and intellectual dialogue among students. Research indicates that collaboration is one variable that builds a sense of community with distance learners. Instructional methods vary for creating collaborative interaction in distance education courses. “Collaborative learning deals with instructional methods that seek to promote learning through collaborative efforts among students working on a given learning task (Kumar, 1996, p.1). The quality of the design of instruction plays a major impact on learning and on creating a setting conducive to the existence of collaborative learning. Computer conferencing is one technique for facilitating the dialogue and interaction necessary to allow learners to negotiate meaning and construct knowledge (Gunawardena & Duphorne, 2000).
An analysis of the learning processes in a CSCL environment has been conducted using both qualitative and quantitative approaches; however, several studies suggest using a mixed methods approach (Henri, 1991; Hara, 2000; Lally & DeLatt, 2003; Martinez, de la Fuente & Dimitriadis, 2003; Daradoumis, Martinez & Xhafa, 2004; Pozzi, Manca, Persico & Sarti, 2007). Utilizing a mixed methods approach allows the researcher to collect multiple forms of data.
Garrison and Anderson (2003) use a three dimensional model to investigate learning processes in distance education. Their model focuses on social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence. Text analysis in computer-mediated communication can track specific indicators of social, cognitive and teaching presence (Garrison & Anderson, 2003). Pozzi, Manca, Persico and Sarti (2007) propose a five dimension model for the study of learning processes in a collaborative environment. Their five dimensions include the following: Participative dimension, Interactive dimension, Social dimension, Cognitive and Meta-cognitive dimension, and the Teaching dimension (Pozzi et al, 2007). Within each of these dimensions, specific indicators are defined. Within the participative dimension the following categories are established:
Indicators of active participation, which include the number of messages sent by individual participants, the number of documents uploaded, the number of chat sessions attended, etc;
Indicators of passive participation, which include the number of messages read, the number of documents downloaded, etc; Indicators of continuity, that is the distribution of participation along time (Pozzi et al, 2007, p. 172-173).
The interactive dimension uses content analysis of messages and documents shared by students: Passive participation before posting, that is the number of relevant messages read by a student before posting his/her own, the number of documents downloaded before posting, etc. References to other students’ messages, that is the number of answers to other students’ messages, the number of implicit or explicit citations of other students’ messages, etc. Consideration of other students’ contributions in products, that is qualitative analysis of students’ messages and documents with the aim of findingreferences to others’ messages or documents (Pozzi et al, 2007, p. 173).
The social dimensionis investigated through the identification of “cues that testify to affection and cohesiveness within communication acts (Pozzi et al, 2007, p. 173). The following are cited as indicators in the social dimension: “Thematic units characterized by Affection, that includes expression of emotions, expression of intimacy, presentation of personal anecdotes. Thematic units characterized by Cohesiveness, that include vocatives, references to the group using inclusive pronouns, phatics, salutations” (p. 173). Indicators for the cognitive and meta-cognitive dimension also include thematic units: “Revelation, that is recognizing a problem, showing a sense of puzzlement, explaining or presenting a point of view; Exploration, that is expressing agreement/disagreement, sharing ideas and information, brainstorming, negotiating, exploring; Integration, that is connecting ideas, making synthesis, creating solutions; Resolution, that is real-life applications, testing solutions” (Pozzi et al, 2007, p. 173). Pozzi, Manca, Persico and Sarti (2007) include the following indicators for teaching presence in their five dimensions model: Thematic units containing direct instruction, that is presenting contents, proposing activities, diagnosing misconceptions, confirming understanding through assessment and explanatory feedback; Thematic units aimed at facilitating discourse, that is identifying areas of agreement/disagreement in order to achieve consensus, encouraging, acknowledging or reinforcing participant contribution, setting the climate for learning; Thematic units addressing organizational matters, that is introducing topics, planning thecourse, explaining methods, reminding students of deadlines (p. 174).
Using all or several of the dimensions proposed by Pozzi, Manca, Persico, and Sarti (2007), qualitative and quantitative data can be collected to evaluate the learning processes in a computer-supported collaborative learning environment.